Shifting social TV for those without Cable

Posted on April 3, 2012 | No Comments

Social TV for cable cuttersIn Cannes recently, a number of top execs gathered to learn everything there is to know about social television – the act of adding the social networking experience to TV watching. Think: adding a hashtag to your live event.  Twitter UK’s top exec told the attendees that social television is happening, whether they want it to or not.  This is true, but maybe the focus should shift slightly.

As the industry works to better personalize the broadcast experience for its viewers, from adding full length content on their own websites to selling their catalogue rights to Netflix, there will be an increased marketing challenge to help audiences find their programs. Why? Because for those of us without cable,  it’s challenging to know what shows to watch because there’s no lead-in from a top rated show, or because programmers are selling preroll ad spaces to legitimate companies, not filling it with in-house advertising to promote their latest show (for the most part).

I find my shows by listening to podcasts, reading tweets (beyond a Get Glue check-in), or overhearing what colleagues are watching. I’m more compelled to watch a show when I see most people on my Twitter feed are tuned in versus seeing a big box ad for the program.  In fact, seeing everyone watch a program live makes me twinge a little for ye olde days of cable because there’s a community building on social media I can’t be a part of because I can’t see the show. I’m missing out.

So, how do you do start a social TV campaign?

– take part in some social listening. What are people saying on Twitter or Facebook about you? About your competition? Gather the data and think up a fun angle to build a community. There are free and paid-for ways to gather this type of data, from Google Alerts to customized packages.

– don’t ask your coordinator to handle your social TV just because he/she is always on Facebook. Hire a professional and check their credentials. Have they created a social media campaign before? Do they understand and take part in social TV?

– Don’t rely only on Get Glue, Miso or other social TV check-in sites. They’re good for creating a reminder to watch, but take the community to the next level now that you know they’re tuning in.

– Let the conversation happen organically – viewers can sense a fake tweet from a mile away. If your staff is writing tweets to support your program, be 100% transparent.

– Concerned about people revealing spoilers? Those without cable are used to hearing the ending of shows – doesn’t mean we’re not going to still watch it. In fact, sometimes letting your fans leak the spoilers results in more people watching.

– Keep your fans interested by holding fun hashtag games on Twitter. Ru Paul’s Drag Race asks its fans to come up with ’70s drag names between broadcasts, for example.

– Don’t rely on contests to build your community. People who enter contests tend to jump in and out without full engagement. Make it rewarding to talk about your show with retweets and engage them in conversations.

Any other tips? Let me know in the comments.

Building an app for your TV Show

Posted on July 22, 2011 | No Comments

This one-hour video highlights how some television companies sync their TV content with apps downloaded on a mobile. If you don’t have time to watch it right now, I’ve got some highlights below, and a tip on how to make it work for your audience:

The most popular new app technology that syncs a handheld with a TV show is Nielsen’s Media Sync. This technology created buzz last February when ABC launched its Grey’s Anatomy app, where users were encouraged to open the app while watching the episode.

How it works

Using Nielsen’ audio watermark, which embeds audio triggers throughout a TV show to gather Nielsen television ratings, show content can be picked up by the microphones on smartphones to launch episode-specific activities, such as behind the scene footage, polls, and other additional content.

The video above shows two different examples of the application, and it does present a lot of opportunities to allow your audience to easily interact with the content, which is important because Yahoo! reported in January 2011 that 86% use their mobile while watching television.

How to Make this Work for Your TV Show

To make an app like this work with your TV show means considering the user experience and providing value for the interactivity.

This type of application seems like a natural fit for sporting events or live reality shows, but what can be accomplished to engage the user of a dramatic series like Grey’s Anatomy beyond providing trivia and poll questions?

As this technology grows, content creators and TV producers need to understand how the content they put into this application will be used by the user, and identify what will make their viewers want to participate each time the show is broadcast.

Producers and broadcasters must also be willing to admit when this type of interactivity may not be a natural fit for their TV program. To maximize this potential (or recognize its usefulness early), it’s important to consider the content implications during the development and scriptwriting phase, in order to properly exploit its opportunities. By engaging in this technology at the earliest stage, there are opportunities to create your own audio watermarks to make the audience do something with their iPad and create a truly interactive experience.

Media Interaction Goes Offline and into the Outdoors

Posted on July 19, 2011 | No Comments

Over the last two days, two different types of interactive billboards have come to my attention. One bus stop billboard advertisement for Vitamin Water, which allows users to charge their phones using a USB port under the guise the drink gives you alternative energy. Another ad, from Australia and promoting the Sun Smart Cancer Council Western Australia, offers passersby free sunscreen. These ads show an incredible use of interactivity and neither of them involve a screen!

This interesting blog post from Razorfish’s scatter/gather discusses how typical digital/interactive approaches are making their way into print and other platforms, and how it affects the digital content strategist. The author points to the increased use of QR codes in print magazines, Wired Magazine’s web-inspired layout and Yahoo!’s Bus Stop Derby promotion where San Franciscans played games with people waiting at other bus stops across the city.

Since traditional media is creating real-world interactive experiences, this offers a great time for the online world to understand these different communication worlds and, as the author says: “start thinking about handoff opportunities, places where our work can pass the baton.”

I feel lucky to have a basic understanding of international TV program distribution, broadcasting strategies and TV series production works as it translates into being able help television show producers effectively create digital media entertainment for their linear experiences.

By wanting to learn how other medias communicate in your industry, you could help eliminate silos and create the next cross-media experiences that reach out to audiences in a new and interactive way.

Giving Up Cable, An Experiment

Posted on February 2, 2011 | No Comments

A friend and reader of this blog suggested I take a look at this Gizmodo article, which reviews the results of a study by an ad agency to see how five families would cope without cable. If you don’t feel like reading the article, I’ll cut to the chase: “mainstream” viewers aren’t happy with cable cutting alternatives because these devices don’t fit with how they watch television. In other words, they don’t want to have to think about what to watch.

An Experiment In Cord Cutting from Hill Holliday on Vimeo.

The main issue appears to be television’s passive nature versus the activity required to browse content, choose content, wait for that content to load, etc. Consuming entertainment shifts from flipping through channels with instant visual gratification, to searching through titles and thinking about whether it’s worth investing the time to download a show. (The video also shows some of the poor UX applications of these devices too).

I get it. These new devices don’t let people just veg. When I had cable, I would watch bad television to tune out – until one day when I found myself watching an episode of Scott Baio is Single and 45 that I had already seen. What a horrible waste of time.  As my pal Paul noted: “I can’t get sucked into watching a Cheers rerun for the 98th time. [Using Netflix] limits my tv time and increases my chances of watching something decent.”

A lot of people (outside of this experiment) complain they don’t like non-cable devices such as Netflix or iTunes because the content choice is limited, but this small study suggests it’s not about the content, but about the activities surrounding consuming that content. While these devices can learn a thing or two about usability, maybe lean back activities like television or radio aren’t going anywhere because there will always be a part of the population that needs to use scheduled TV programming as their downtime?

Will Canada penalize cord cutters?

Posted on January 31, 2011 | No Comments

If you’re Canadian and already upset you can’t watch content that’s blocked in this country, or frustrated your internet bill keeps getting higher as you watch more online content, it might get worse. Canada is experiencing an interesting struggle right now between emerging online business colliding with traditional cablecos, particularly when it relates to open web and Net Neutrality.

Cable TV and Internet providers in Canada, such as Rogers and Bell, currently implement a form of User Based Billing on their customers by putting a cap on internet use, and then charging additional $2 per GB when they go over (even though bandwidth costs are dropping). Customers who didn’t wish to go with User Based Billing used to have an option to sign up with other internet providers, some of whom purchase their bandwidth from larger ISPs at a bulk rate. Not anymore, though – the CRTC last week allowed Bell, Shaw and Rogers to place a cap on these wholesale suppliers, meaning these independent ISPs must cap their plans at 25GB a month. To put it in perspective, that’s about five HD movies from iTunes, without even touching your email, YouTube or Skype.

The major ISPs say this is an important step to prevent those who use a lot of bandwidth from creating congestion. The CBC reports, however, on-demand video services provided by Rogers and Bell do not fall under these caps, meaning you can watch a bandwidth-hogging TV show on Rogers On Demand Online without fear of additional cost, but try to do the same with Rogers’ competitor Netflix, and you could see your internet bill jump.

Here’s a good explanation from the CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos.

OpenMedia.ca, a NFP site, is collecting signatures to encourage the CRTC and government to rethink its stance on allowing these companies to meter the internet.  Backlash against bandwidth caps appears to be growing in Canada, with the site gaining approximately 110,000 signatures in the last week. I’ve included the petition here for anyone interested:

The same organization’s website points to further CRTC discussions on the merger of BCE and CTVGlobemedia. Michael Geist writes a fantastic article on what this merger should be addressed during discussions, alluding to the recent takeover by cable giant Comcast of NBC Universal in the States. Whereby the FTC stipulated that merger must support net neutrality and could not negatively impact growing competition from companies such as Hulu and Netflix, Geist is concerned the CRTC isn’t addressing these same concerns in Canada.

Paying for TV shows vs. Streaming for Free

Posted on January 23, 2011 | No Comments

I love my 30 Rock: so much that I chose, for the second year in a row, to purchase iTunes’ Season Pass for the show since I don’t have cable. This means every episode is available for me to download soon after it’s broadcast on TV… in theory.

There are a few reasons why I chose to pay for an episode on iTunes:

– I’m a good person and not keen on illegally downloading content

– much like those who pay to watch a movie at the cinema rather than wait to watch the film for free on TV later, this Season Pass gives me the privilege of watching a commercial-free episode before others get to watch it for free

The newest 30 Rock episode aired last Thursday. It is now Sunday and the episode is not yet available on iTunes.  And to add salt a $3.50 wound, I can go to my local broadcast channel website and watch this episode today for free.

When this happened earlier once before, I was annoyed, but shrugged it off… NBC  had changed 30 Rock‘s timeslot and in doing so perhaps affected its availability on iTunes. But for this to happen a second time just a few months later, without a means for me to get my money back or a gesture for a free download, shows a lack of respect for the consumer of legal content.

If companies create business models based on having consumers pay for content directly, these types of hiccups cannot happen – especially when the content being sold is already readily available elsewhere for free – first illegally and then legally by means of the broadcast website.

Now that this is the second time an episode I paid for is available for free, I shall:

– never purchase an iTunes Season Pass again

– collect horror stories by other good citizens who are willing to pay for content, but who venture to watch the content for free to avoid the hassle.

Netflix Canada to a cable cutter – yes please

Posted on January 10, 2011 | No Comments

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have cable anymore. As someone who LOVES television, this was an adjustment in how to spend my spare time. While I don’t miss it, I’m thrilled to see more options to catch great content without a cable subscription.

Thank you, Netflix Canada. Sure, it’s has only one season of Hoarders (not… that… I.. watch… it…) and some sub-par programming choices (no, Netflix, I am not interested in anything from Jeff  Dunham). But it also has the first three seasons of Mad Men, all seasons of The Kids in the Hall, Faulty Towers, documentaries galore and tons of A-list movies.

This is why I’m perplexed to read some statuses updates on Facebook and Twitter where people are thinking of quitting. Is it that these people have a cable subscription and are used to a wider selection of programming choice? Or is this service actually more expensive for Canadians than Netflix’s $8/month subscription fee?

A recent Credit Suisse study outlined in Forbes suggests a Canadian Netflix subscriber watching a standard definition video would see his or her broadband usage go up by roughly 1GB an hour. “Based on Rogers Communications’ data pricing structure,” the study says, “this would have resulted in a $12 per month increase in broadband for our test home.”

I haven’t heard from others whether they’ve experienced this type of sticker shock by watching video with Netflix. The main complaint I see revolves around content selection.

For me, however, the no commercials (yet?), fast streaming (due in large part to my good internet connection) and number of titles (including those I wouldn’t pay iTunes to watch – see mention of Hoarders) makes it worthwhile.

Maybe that’s the point… Perhaps Netflix is only really good to someone like me who has been away from cable television for over a year. Even if I were with Rogers Internet and needed to purchase a higher broadband subscription, $20/month is still worth it. It’s still cheaper than what I was paying for cable with, to be honest, some really horrible programming choices.

What about you? If you subscribe to Netflix, do you like it? If you don’t, what’s holding you back?

TV Killer or Computer killer? Google TV

Posted on October 4, 2010 | No Comments

Google TV launched a website today to explain how it will work for Americans. Your television set will have a landing page, you’ll be able to access apps and website content simultaneously with your TV watching. Not to be a negative nelly, but I’m not sure how this is different than watching televison with a laptop, other than now your entire family gets to be annoyed while you keep minimizing the TV programming to look up that actress’ name and movie credits on IMDB.  I’m not clear why the personal experience of ‘surfing’ should now be an event shared with the entire family.

Sony seems to think it’ll work – they’re creating TV sets to accomodate GoogleTV’s business model- but I wonder if this attempt to bring the computer experience to the television screen is misguided because, well, the computer works already. If I’m watching a TV show and want some more information, I go onto my laptop to get it. Mobile phones, iPads and other tablet devices make this task even easier.

What am I missing? Are you excited by Google TV?

Checking in – TV watching turns social

Posted on September 7, 2010 | No Comments

While it’s not yet a phenom in Canada, a number of apps are popping up for mobile to merge television watching with a social experience. Think of it as a Foursquare or Gowalla for the couch potato – you check-in, you let people know what you’re watching and you have the opportunity to earn badges as a reward. Additionally, these apps can recommend similar content to users based on the content that’s being viewed. Here are three that are getting some attention:

Get Glue is a social app that allows a user to let others know what arts and entertainment they’re consuming. Log in to this service, and you can let strangers and friends alike know what book you’re reading, TV show you’re watching, video game you’re playing, etc. There’s also a wine ‘check-in.’ Based on your check-ins, you get recommendations for other content you might enjoy. 

Miso is a similar app, but focusses on television consumption.  The TV show “Bridezillas” partnered with Miso to provide a unique badge and an opportunity to win a book to those users who checked in while watching an episode of the program.

Clicker is getting a lot of press – (ed note: I’m impressed they managed to get a .com account that’s a real word – not clickr.) The app works pretty much the same way – check-in, favourite shows, follow your fave shows, get recommendations on other shows and movies to watch. This app is getting particular attention because:

  • It shows you how to access episodes online by free or pay (in the U.S.)
  • It was used as an example of the applications that could be used when Google TV launches

These apps make it very simple to see what early tech adopters are watching, liking and recommending. Also to note – they’re great for people like me who don’t have cable to know what’s popular and trending.

If you love television, keep an eye on these apps. If you create television, these apps might end up on your marketing plan.

Better yet – sign in – become a part of the experience of turning your passive TV watching into a activity. Let me know what you think.

The Emmys – Secret Online Streaming and Rights

Posted on August 30, 2010 | No Comments

Last night, the Emmys were on… including illegal online streaming before NBC glommed onto the fact.

As each stream was shut down, users complained they hated the fact the live feeds were being removed, mostly spewing vitriol directly at the broadcaster. “Hey NBC,” they’d say. “We’re watching the commercials! What else do you want?!”

Good question. What else do we in the TV and digital entertainment media want? Why aren’t broadcasters streaming live video more often? It happened, and quite successfully, during the World Cup – which I can only assume helped slow piracy. Why not the Emmys? Well, it usually comes down to rights.

PaidContent.org wrote a great post about how NBC had great opportunities to turn winning clips from the show into potential viral videos. Within seconds of the opening sequence with Jimmy Fallon singing Born to Run with some cast members of Glee, Tina Fey and Jon Hamm, NBC should have posted the video up on You Tube to catch the viral wave. But they didn’t – seemingly because of their inability to secure online rights. The rights for the show were cleared for TV, but not for online.

Looking back, a similar thing happened this season with an episode of Glee, where a potentially embarrassing video of Sue Sylvester singing “Let’s Get Physical” gets viral at the fictional high school. Sadly, that clip wasn’t posted to You Tube for it to get viral in real-life. Another issue with rights clearances? Or was it an oversight to not include social media in the experience?

Granted, rights clearances are more complicated and resource heavy than most people would ever understand. But as a user posted, what else do we want?  For live events like awards shows or big finales, do we want to fight for online rights or do we want the fans to post our stuff online to share between themselves? What’s the solution?