There’s something interesting happening at the crossroads of television programming and social media that is worthy of our attention. While many of us are addicted to consuming TV shows through a DVR for maximum convenience, there’s a sub-event occurring around live programming.
There are certain real-time events that don’t make sense for the DVR – the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and American Idol that you just have to watch live. And recently, the ratings for some of these programs (except the Oscars, but you could understandably lay the blame on the choice of James Franco and Anne Hathaway as the pathetic hosts) have actually been stronger, despite the media fragmentation.
That’s because as Dr. Jeffrey Cole (pictured) of USC Annenberg explained at a recent speech called “The Changing Face of the Internet,” the communal aspects of television viewing is part of that medium’s history. Most of us grew up, sitting around the rec room or den with our friends or family members, watching Cheers, L.A. Law, or Seinfeld.
Dr. Cole says it best:
“We’ve always had co-viewing at home with other people in the room, but now we’re seeing co-viewing through social networking where people who are not together are watching as if they were together.”
This experience is being amplified thanks to real-time social media tools, like Twitter. I can tell you that my TweetDeck silo during the Academy Awards broadcast earlier this year was far more entertaining than what you were watching on the screen, or even whatever quips you were hearing from others in your living room.
That’s become the case every time there’s a major sporting event or TV show that viewers are compelled to watch live. If you remember the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 on The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central where the robot characters quipped throughout old sci-fi movies, then you have a sense for the fun and joy that come from watching TV while enjoying the cleverness, snarkiness, and witty comments from your “friends” and “followers” via social media.
NBC is attempting to corral some of this conversation with the creation of a new social platform, NBC Live. It will contain polls, trivia, photos, and an ongoing social stream where users can comment about what they’re seeing on the screen along with thousands (millions?) of others who are logged in.
For NBC, the aim is two-fold: get consumers away from the DVR habit for a TV event or show, and to attract them from Twitter or Facebook and onto their proprietary social platform.
By the way, there’s probably a third goal here, too. The chances of viewers watching commercials – whether they realize it or not – runs a lot higher during live programming than on a time-controlled device like TiVo.
By the way, this communal phenomenon also occurs on “The Backchannel,” that Twitter community created by anchorman Stephen Clark here in Detroit. We showcased Stephen at last December’s Jacobs Summit, and we’ve discussed the phenomenon of news viewers participating in the content creation of the 11 o’clock news on this blog on our website. In many ways, watching the Twitter comments in real time on #backchannel is indicative of this social viewing experience.
So what’s the application here for radio? Or is there one?
Seven or eight decades ago, people sat around their living rooms and enjoyed the radio together as a group. As radios became ubiquitous and portable, listening became more personal and solitary.
Fast-forward to today. Is it feasible for those who have a favorite morning show or who follow a talk show to log-on, participate, and comment simultaneously? Is it of value when a station interviews a music star to encourage listeners to use social channels to have their own running conversation about the content? Why wouldn't a personality show want listeners to send in content - audio, video, links - in real-time during the broadcast?
TV is beginning to understand the importance of a two-way exchange with its audience. They realize consumers will multi-task – watch, chat, and share feelings, jokes, and observations at the same time. And that dialogue can enhance the experience and build a greater sense of loyalty and a new dimension to the act of consuming video content. This is a different kind of engagement that brings out the emotions, humor, and shared experience of enjoying (or hating) the same shows in real time. It is not like watching a YouTube video.
In radio, we are still BROADCASTING, and the audience is passively listening (with the exception of talk and sports talk radio). Until we figure out that a new dynamic to enjoying media content is to converse and socialize, we won’t unlock some of the wonderful possibilities that come with creating great radio where the audience can interact with us - and with each other in real time.
I cannot envision listening to Pandora and discussing what song comes next with friends on Twitter. But I can imagine listening to Drew & Mike or Preston & Steve or B.J. Shea and having an ongoing dialogue with other people enjoying the same show.
If we open our eyes to new ways for our audience to enjoy and consume our programming, we just might develop new channels, new revenue streams, and better engagement with our rapidly changing audience.
Thanks to the maestro, Dave Martin, for bringing Dr. Cole’s speech to my attention – via Twitter.