Yahoo’s Tumblr Teams Up With TV Shows to Reach Their Audiences
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- October 19th, 2014
During last season’s finale of NBC’s “The Voice,” as a contestant belted out “Team” by Lorde, animated illustrations inspired by the lyrics swayed on the screens behind her. The graphics were created by Cindy Suen, an artist popular on Tumblr, the social media and blogging platform owned by Yahoo.
“The Voice” placed Ms. Suen’s work center stage in an effort to reach Tumblr’s audience. This season, NBC has expanded its relationship with the site, allowing several of its bloggers backstage on the “Voice” set.
Tumblr is a “very interesting piece of the puzzle” for the show’s fans, said Audrey Morrissey, an executive producer of “The Voice.”
“Facebook and Twitter are very immediate,” she said, “but Tumblr is something they sort of take in and then create something about the show at times other than when the show is happening.”
Yahoo is betting that Tumblr’s alliances with popular television shows like “The Voice” will help drive its growth. Still, 16 months after Yahoo paid $1.1 billion for Tumblr, the company’s investors are questioning the success of the acquisition.
The company has not disclosed much about Tumblr’s finances since the purchase, but the independent online research firm eMarketer says that while Tumblr’s 24 percent growth rate is faster than that of any of its social-sharing competitors, including Pinterest or Instagram, its audience remains the smallest. (Tumblr counts 17 million registered users compared with 40 million for Pinterest, the next smallest site.) Yahoo also has a shrinking share of the digital display ad market relative to Facebook and Twitter.
Investors have grown impatient. Jeffrey C. Smith of Starboard Value wrote an open letter in September criticizing Yahoo’s investment strategy and saying it was not returning value. Without mentioning Tumblr specifically, Mr. Smith said that Yahoo’s recent strategy of focusing on acquisitions had not worked.
Marissa A. Mayer, Yahoo’s chief executive, has been slow to make any big strategic moves relating to Tumblr, in part because when she bought the site she reassured loyalists that she was not looking to shake things up. But one push for Tumblr has been to focus on “second-screen engagement,” the entertainment industry’s term for how television fans interact with their favorite programs on digital devices.
Because Tumblr merges photos, video, text and animation, it is not as intuitive to use as other social media. As a result, it has been less of a marketing priority for entertainment companies than Facebook and Twitter. Tumblr, though, is trying to convince television executives that this complexity, which draws particularly intense and time-committed fans, is an advantage at a time when audiences watch programs on their own time schedule.
Depth and breadth of second-screen engagement has become an integral part of how television shows are marketed and end up prospering, or not. At the same time, strong engagement from television fans is also a way that social media platforms like Twitter have expanded their user bases.
Associations with shows like “The Voice” not only help Tumblr attract an audience it might not have otherwise reached, it also makes the site more appealing to advertisers. A significant percentage of its blogs is made up of art and photography from amateurs, a far less compelling proposition for marketers.
David Karp, Tumblr’s founder and chief executive, says that in an era when people watch television on demand or binge-watch on streaming services like Netflix, Tumblr makes a logical partner for the TV networks.
“They have a tremendous reach,” Mr. Karp said of the broadcasters, “but they are limited to the 60-minute spot and then the show goes dark. That is a bummer. This is an opportunity for them to bring their remarkable content to their fans 24/7.”
At the beginning of the year, Tumblr hired its first director of media, Sima Sistani, whose job is to reach out to Hollywood — anyone from television executives to show runners — and convince them that Tumblr is the best place for “second-screen engagement.”
Ms. Sistani commissioned a study to compare social activity on Twitter and Tumblr around a handful of television shows like PBS’s popular “Sherlock.” The study looked at reaction during a period spanning five days before and five days after the shows aired. The research showed that while chatter spiked on Twitter during the live broadcast, the conversation went on longer on Tumblr. In fact, during the longer window, Tumblr accounted for 70 percent of the social mentions of shows.
Since she has been in place, Tumblr has made several deals. The premiere episode of AMC’s drama “Halt and Catch Fire” was made available to viewers through a preview on Tumblr two weeks before the show’s debut. “MasterChef,” Fox’s cooking competition reality show, gave the ingredients for one of its “Mystery Box Challenges” to some of Tumblr’s most prolific food bloggers ahead of the show’s broadcast. While the program was shown, the bloggers prepared their own dishes alongside the contestants.
Vivi Zigler, head of digital for Shine America, the production company behind “MasterChef,” said that she would not do a special promotion on Tumblr for every show but that it worked extremely well for reaching people with deep common interests and passions, in this case food.
“For me Tumblr is a community-type place,” Ms. Zigler said. “It is based not on your family or work, it is based on the passion point, so it was the right place to go.”