Social Media Is Becoming Part of the Main Screen Experience

"By providing viewers a voice during live programming, they become engaged with the program itself.”
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Social media services including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have led the way in the so-called “second screen experience,” where viewers can watch a program on the TV and follow along on a mobile handset, tablet or PC—tweeting, posting and generally engaging with fellow fans and even stars of a program in real time. Now the two screens are beginning to converge, where the interaction isn’t limited to the second screen but is becoming integrated with the main programming content.

“By providing viewers a voice during live programming, they become engaged with the program itself. This has been proven in a number of cases, which makes them be more loyal to the brand or channel,” says François Laborie, Ph.D., chief commercial officer at Norwegian-based Vizrt, which creates content production tools for the digital media industry. “We’ve found that the social media engagement not only drives ratings up, but it keeps people tuned to one channel for longer periods of time.”

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Vizrt’s social media integration helps broadcasters drive engagement for viewers both at home and inside a stadium or at a sporting event.

A good example, Laborie says, is Canada’s Corus Entertainment. “They were able to increase viewership by 700 percent for a marathon of a popular show for teenagers by embedding tweets during the marathon,” he says. “As tweets aired, more interest was gained and the broadcast had a snowball effect as ratings increased.”

Powering Social Experiences Between Media and Fans

While Facebook only celebrated its first decade in business this past February and Twitter only launched in 2006, already both have become integral to the convergence of social media and TV. Some established companies have found new opportunities thanks to the meteoric rise of social media platforms.

“We’ve actually been around for a quite a long time, about 12 years,” says Jason George, CEO of Telescope, a Los Angeles-based firm that provides audience participation, consumer engagement and social television solutions in real time via multiple devices and across multiple digital platforms. “For much of that time we’ve actually been focused on the primary screen, where the mechanic has been about driving greater interactivity with the viewers.”

Until more recently there hasn’t been a need for it in the production end, but as social media has taken off, Telescope has stepped up to build that integration.

“Social media has poured rocket fuel on this for shows to provide that interactivity as part of the viewing experience,” George says. “We see that social media can fuel the conversation before, after and most certainly during a program. We are bringing that rich media to content on the screen.”

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For FOX’s American Idol, Vizrt’s social TV solution uses Facebook avatar pictures to create real-time visualizations for the live show and then leverages the Telescope platform to filter and curate television-driven conversations across social networks and displays them with their real-time audience visualization platform.

Some reality series are looking to merge the screens. American Idol on FOX, which this past season generated more than 5.9 million comments online, brought rich media content to the screen by posting it on a wall behind the contestants. This summer, ABC’s Rising Star has taken it further by providing a video wall that allows performers to see votes from the audience at home in real time.

“There is lots of opportunity for this,” adds George. “People can tune in and comment, and for the networks it provides a huge incentive to watch the TV live instead of on DVR. This also provides that ‘15 minutes’ of fame for the fans. The Facebook avatar appearing on the wall on American Idol became a huge part of the show. This can motivate viewers to become more engaged. It creates a VIP experience when watching it live.”

Another example of the integration of social media and television viewing occurred during the recent World Cup, an event that also set the record for the most tweets ever sent in response to a live event.

“As the match was happening, we could analyze the tweets with the hashtag #worldcup2014 and get a broad metric of not only how many tweets were about Germany or about Argentina, but also if they were negative or positive tweets and the age groups associated with these tweets,” says Laborie. “This is valuable information that can broaden the story broadcasters are able to tell about an event.”

Vizrt’s technology, which utilizes an open API and SDK, allows broadcasters to integrate other data sources and feed types. “The technology has changed but largely the idea is still the same: to provide viewers a voice during live programming and allow the presenters to respond to individual viewers,” says Laborie. “The technology does provide a lot more than just viewer comments, though. A large amount of viewer metrics can be gained through the built-in metadata associated with Facebook posts and tweets. We are able to get a broad understanding of viewer sentiment of a topic, location data and demographic information.”

Cloud Connectivity for Social Media

Silicon Valley-based ActiveVideo is using its cloud-based technology to virtualize CPE or STB functionality and bring advanced user interfaces to the TV viewing experience, thus creating an integration of the first and second screens.

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ActiveVideo’s Social Content Navigator platform supports subscribers of cable TV provider Liberty Puerto Rico.

“The first preference on the first screen is the content itself,” says Sachin Sathaye, vice president of strategy and product management at ActiveVideo. “We’re seeing the social aspect of TV is very much around TV recommendation and search. The old paradigm has been the on-screen guide that has been around for the last 20 to 30 years. Now social media is impacting what people are watching via recommendations from Facebook and Twitter, but we’re also seeing that many users don’t want those social media updates on the main screen.”

To this end, the company’s Social Content Navigator, which was rolled out earlier this year to Latin American cable operator Liberty Puerto Rico, provides a cloud-based UI solution that enables the user to see an eight-screen mosaic of the most popular linear shows. This is compiled via real-time polling from a 10 percent sample of Liberty’s entire STB population. The cloud makes this possible without the need to update existing set-top boxes.

“The way we do this is to virtualize the CPU, GPU, the memory, the set-top box processing power and the browser capabilities and do this in the cloud,” Sathaye says. “There we can render it and deliver it as a video stream to various devices including the set-top boxes. This is necessary because the only thing common across the various boxes is the video coding.”

Social Media As A Channel

Toronto-based Scribble Technologies, a platform that helps media and corporate clients manage and measure their digital presence, has acquired U.S. rival CoveritLive and will provide the content engagement platform for more than 1,500 customers, including the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and three of the largest U.S. television networks.

“Our content engagement platform allows us to use technology from social media to power content that grows the engagement with the audience,” says Scribble Technologies CEO Vincent Mifsud. “With TV as a form of content, we’re seeing that prior to an event—whether it be a show or a sporting event—there is the opportunity for digital engagement. We see social media as a channel to this, and the starting point is the content that can maximize the engagement. In this way Facebook and Twitter are still just a destination. Our ScribbleLive platform is the third-party software that connects the social media content with the TV content.

“The pieces needed to pull all this together reside in our software that allows the TV operator to manage all of this,” Mifsud says. “This is conceptually very easy, but it does require a lot of software behind the scenes. We’ve built out an entire content engagement lifecycle that can help manage the engagement. This provides a way to properly plan how the social media interaction can be utilized. ScribbleLive can analyze what is trending and what is creating the engagement.”

As noted, this is fairly complex because much of this barely existed a decade ago, and now two seemingly different industries—that of the new online social media and old-school broadcasters—work more closely together.

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BumeBox powers user interface applications via iframes on a broadcaster’s mobile and web properties with no development required.

“Our experience is that TV networks question the effectiveness of putting hashtags, Facebook comments or tweets on screen with no explanation as to what they mean,” says Jon Fahrner, CEO and founder of BumeBox, which powers the social experience between media and fans. “Most TV viewers don’t know what to do with a hashtag, and if they do search for a hashtag on Twitter, whether a new or existing user, a long, confusing list of tweets will surface, oftentimes including spam, noise and even obscenity.”

BumeBox is able to power user interface applications via iframes on a broadcaster’s mobile and web properties with no development required by the broadcaster.

“The talent and media access a special moderator tool that we created to surface high value questions from fans quickly,” Fahrner says. “We even allow them to access questions via their mobile devices if they are on the move. Fan questions are also searchable in case talent wants to answer certain types of questions addressing certain topics. They then compose and publish answers to the social network as the event is unfolding from BumeBox.”

Fahrner says that reducing friction for the talent and fans to enjoy these interactions is the “real secret sauce” to the technology.

Telescope’s technology is also offering show producers a better filter from social media to get “the good stuff,” adds George. “There is a lot of conversation, but 99 percent of it is not relevant. We allow the showrunners to search hashtags, find keywords, filter pictures and videos, and search comments from celebrities. This creates a stream of filtered content that can be pushed to the web site, or can go to a producer and compliance person before it is sent to the air. We make it easier for what is trending on social media to become part of the on-air experience.

“We definitely see that this content will be pushed to the first screen, and the distinction between first and second is now being broken down,” says George. “This will have profound repercussions going forward.”