Real-time all the time: how TV interactivity is evolving

Real-time all the time: how TV interactivity is evolving

Major hit campaigns like #voicesave are part of an inexorable move towards real-time interactivity on TV. Photograph: Matteo Bazzi/EPA

As audience viewing further fragments, content creators and broadcasters alike are increasingly looking to real-time audience interactivity as a way to create a better experience around live viewing and ultimately monetise those engaged eyeballs. It’s interesting to compare and contrast our experience in different markets globally, and especially in the UK and US. One of the big issues in the United States are time zones, and the effect the delayed prime time viewing schedule plays on the potential of real-time engagement mechanics.

Time zones obviously don’t affect sports and other event-based television content that is perfect for real-time engagement with audiences who can participate “in the moment” and receive instant feedback and results. An example of this is the NBA Sprite Slam Dunk campaign within NBA’s jamboree All Star Weekend – the viewers get to decide the winner of the best dunk and the result is revealed almost immediately. The result? Instant gratification for the audience, and deep involvement with the live content.

The issue arises with competition shows like The Voice and American Idol which are live to the east coast and delayed to the other time zones across the nation (don’t forget we go all the way to Hawaii!). So, if you go on Twitter at 6pm PT, you’re going to see chatter (and spoilers!) about the show you’re still a couple of hours away from watching on your TV. The networks can’t control that at all – and in fact, they’re realising the value of that engagement and starting to harness it and ultimately monetise it, along with Twitter and other distribution platforms.

So, major hit campaigns like #voicesave are part of an inexorable move towards real-time interactivity on TV here in the US. There’s no way around the issue of different time zones, but through this new paradigm of ‘watch somewhere, participate anywhere’, everyone can be involved with their favourite programming, regardless of their location. As such, network execs are talking about the need to ‘eventise’ their primetime content, filling the need to drive live viewing and to do what only TV can do – deliver a mass audience in one hit to their advertisers, who will pay a premium for that unique marketing opportunity. Real-time interactive mechanics are an important factor in this succeeding. This is a tide that can’t be turned back, and will increasingly apply to other markets.

The UK – which has often led the way in innovation around audience interactivity – is actually a little behind in this area. There are no time zone issues of course, much more live content on air, and the technology infrastructure and adoption is there.

What’s holding back content creators from integrating real-time engagement mechanics across Twitter and Facebook and ‘eventising” TV content is actually the accepted norm for monetising audience engagement – premium rate telephony mechanics – and the need to leave enough window to maximise the now-dwindling revenues in this area.

This is creating a tension between those responsible for secondary revenue streams and those fighting to improve the viewing experience and retain ratings. Digital engagement and utilising free social network capability is seen as a competitor to those existing revenue streams.

There’s only one winner here – the audience – and they’re already talking about and interacting around the show. The next step is for producers to weave this social activity into their programming to best harness to drive engagement. It’ll happen in time, and will open up new revenue streams from advertisers seeking to get closer to content that delivers eyeballs across different complementary platforms and create earned media via social sharing.

The solution will ultimately be the ability for audiences to watch live if they want to, wherever they are, likely via a digital delivery platform and device – rendering the viewer’s time zone irrelevant. The big barriers to this are the outdated ways TV media is bought and sold and the straitjacket of the current ratings systems. As this old model falls away, and distributors and content creators figure out how to monetise their audiences across all platforms and unlock new ways to measure ratings, a new age will dawn. At that point, ‘the schedule’ will be dead.

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