Television networks and shows are using social media to enhance the viewing experience, encourage tune-in and foster conversation among viewers. With the rise of internet-connected TVs, growth in consumers’ use of smartphones and tablets while watching television, and new social media applications designed around television, the TV industry is at a turning point.
Take CBS, for example. While the network is typically known for its older audience, it is learning to infuse social media into its programming, bringing top-rated shows such as “NCIS,” “Survivor” and “The Mentalist” to life online. And with on-air talent actively involved in sites like Twitter, the network views social media as a way to build stronger relationships between CBS shows and personalities and their fans, said George Schweitzer, president of the network's CBS Marketing Group, in an interview with eMarketer.
“Technology is an enabler,” he said. “It’s enabling us to engage our viewers in the conversation—a two-way conversation where it used to be just one way.”
Schweitzer outlined several ways the network is working to build that two-way conversation:
Turn a potential negative into a positive. “Social media has allowed us to have a voice in interactivity, in that we can be part of the conversation while it’s all happening,” Schweitzer said. “It’s really shown, yet again, another thing that was supposed to be a negative for our industry has become a huge positive. More people are watching television than ever before, and they’re enjoying and talking about it.”
Leverage celebrities’ fans and followers. Several CBS shows and personalities are active on Twitter, including “Survivor” host Jeff Probst, “NCIS” star Pauley Perrette and Daniel Dae Kim from “Hawaii Five-0.” From April 3 to 11, 2011, CBS hosted Tweet Week, where celebrities interacted with fans on Twitter live during the airing of their shows.
While CBS' shows and personalities are constantly involved in social media, Tweet Week was about curating it all together and highlighting network personalities’ work online. CBS hosted Twitter chats every night that featured sports, news and primetime shows. In total, all participating talent, including Probst, Perrette and Kim, gained more than 50,000 Twitter followers during the week.
Allow fans to enjoy content and programming without distraction. Schweitzer added that, in general, CBS does not want to incorporate tweets on-air, so as to not take away from the content. “We’re all for using multiple screens—your phone, your tablet, your laptop,” he explained. “You can simultaneously tweet and have a conversation, but we’re not going to put that on the air because that’s going to distract from the pure viewing experience.”
Value the power of social recommendations. “We want people engaged. We want to hear what they have to say. We want people talking about it to others,” Schweitzer said. “There’s nothing greater than a social recommendation for getting people to follow television programming.”
Takeaway: By getting fans to talk about shows online, CBS builds up word-of-mouth and social recommendations—powerful forces for getting people to watch TV. Yet, there is still the challenge of connecting what is happening online with ratings.
“It’s really hard to point to one specific thing, like Tweet Week, that affects ratings,” Schweitzer said. “From the amount of tweeting that there was, the responses we got, and the thousands of new fans, we know that it was successful. But in terms of ratings, we’ll never know.”
According to 24/7 Wall St. and Harris Poll, about 40% of internet users in the US are a Facebook fan or Twitter follower of a TV show or network.
For more information on the intersection between television and social media, look for eMarketer’s forthcoming report, “Socializing the TV Experience.”
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