The mass adoption of social viewing can be summed up in a single story:
A couple of weeks ago, I logged onto Facebook after dinner to run a quick scan of my “friends” lives before diving into the DVR for the night. It had been a busy weekend and I had a lot of catching up to do if I was going to be part of that week’s discussion on “Sons of Anarchy” in the lunch room. I laughed at a questionable photo of a friend on their trip to Mexico, complained about the Pinterest creations rubbing my uninspired dinner in my face, and took notes on the latest accomplishments of my aunt in “slot-o-mania”. Then, I was horrified to see a post by my mother scroll across my feed, “So sad that Opie died, I loved him!” she wrote. Spoiler alert! The single biggest surprise in the history of the show I was about to watch was ruined!
This is how I knew social viewing had gone main stream…
RULE OF THUMB: If my mom is doing it, everyone must be.
This is just another instance where social media had spoiled one of my favorite shows. It serves as an all-too real reminder that the way we are consuming content is changing. There has been a lot written about social viewing in the last year. Increasingly, consumers are leveraging social media to continue the conversation with their friends online. Entire TV networks are adopting “#myshow” in the corner of their screens and services like Get Glue are trying to control the space by encouraging viewers to “check in” to shows, creating communities where people can safely discuss the shows they love. As a result marketers are scrambling to capitalize on this behavior, but a major component seems to be missing.
All of this conversation is great, but does it really equate too much more than fleeting conversation? The popular argument is that social media helps spread the word on popular programming, thus encouraging new fans to flock to shows based on recommendations from their friends. Shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and American Horror Story have all benefited from loyal followings of fans that flock to social media to discuss the latest story lines The question is does this buzz result in the huge numbers of fans tuning into these shows or is it simply another avenue to create a more social experience around an otherwise solitary activity?
A recent interview with Evan Silverman, of A&E highlighted some of the issues with tracking all of this conversation and attempting to conclude some form of causation. Until now, start-ups like Trendrr, Bluefin & Get Glue have been providing metrics surrounding social buzz, but as Silverman points out, the inconsistencies in reporting make it very hard to highlight the effect that social buzz can have on encouraging new viewership. This week’s announcement of a partnership between Nielsen & Twitter comes as the first step in trying to solve this problem.
Although the details are light, a partnership between the holy grail of ratings services and second most popular social network in the US seems to be a logical next step in understanding social media’s effect on television. Once made available, media planners can be more confident in hedging bets when it comes to choosing prime time programming and large event purchases. Regardless of the methodology, these numbers will at least create a standard system for tracking viewership and social buzz on an even playing field.
I believe the true value of these numbers lies in their ability to shed light on which shows provide value by making themselves hard to DVR for fear of the dreaded spoiler alert I mention above. Regardless of if social media brings new viewers into the fold, it creates a feeling of “event television” around scripted dramas, a title normally reserved for award shows, sporting events and the latest incarnation of “The Bachelor”. Marketers can leverage this excitement by purchasing time during these shows to avoid time shifted viewing and creating social content that allow them to join the conversation. Making event TV a cornerstone of your prime time TV schedules is a logical way to avoid your commercials being skipped. An increasing number of viewers sharing their thoughts on social media means the number of opportunities will continue to grow.
In the meantime, I will continue to avoid social media on any Sunday in the fall where I cannot be in front of a TV and hope that this new partnership adds to our understanding of why people watch.