For years, conventional wisdom proclaimed the impending death of television, with consumers increasingly bedazzled by the lure of the Internet. But, says Mike Proulx, co-author (with Stacey Shepatin) of Social TV: How Marketers Can Reach and Engage Audiences by Connecting Television to the Web, Social Media, and Mobile, it just hasn’t turned out that way. “What Nielsen has been reporting for the past couple of years,” he says, “is we’re now watching more TV than we’ve ever been, in spite of the rise of both online and mobile video viewing.” In fact, 94% of all television watching still occurs on a regular TV set. But that doesn’t mean television is immune to online trends. What’s happening, says Proulx, is that “we’re online at the same time we’re watching TV. Between 60-70% of people, when they’re watching TV, also have a second screen device, such as a laptop, an iPad, or a mobile device.”
Because at least some of that “second screen” use relates to the TV content, the challenge for marketers is how best to develop “complementary programming on the second device that augments what you’re watching,” says Proulx. “As content becomes much more accessible on these devices, the sky’s the limit on what the notion of TV really is, and that’s why it’s going to survive. People all too often think of TV as the physical TV set, but in my opinion, TV is about programming and content – and where and how we experience that content is up to our individual preferences.”
TV networks and other content producers have, most notably, worked to harness the “back channel” of conversation on services like Twitter. “Now shows are making it even easier by including hashtags in the lower third [of the TV screen] and saying, there’s a conversation happening now – be a part of it.” The goal is for their show to become a “trending topic” on Twitter, and hopefully attract increased viewership; live programs such as music awards shows have even altered their traditional formats to drive online chatter. “Programmers are re-architecting what used to be the standard layout of live event shows and putting big acts early, so it will cause a spike in the backchannel, thus theoretically driving tune-in,” says Proulx.
Another emerging area is what Proulx calls “bridge content” – “the content that keeps our appetites fulfilled in between episodes airing.” He cites the example of Bravo and their “Last Chance Kitchen” online series, which integrated online and offline content seamlessly (inviting chefs who lost on the broadcast show to compete for a chance to return). “What’s the content on the second screen that will gain mass appeal?” asks Proulx. “What we find is that there’s not a single answer; it’s not one-size-fits-all. So how to make a ‘choose your own adventure’ on the second screen – that’s the holy grail.”
Finally, the online realm has also opened up new opportunities to understand the television audience. “TV has never had this instant feedback loop before, and it works just the same for TV commercials,” says Proulx, who is also Senior Vice President and Director of Digital Strategy at the advertising firm Hill Holliday. “We can see that when we have great content out there, people are reacting to it, sharing it, and seeking it out.”
Additionally, companies like Bluefin Labs are now able to harness Big Data to discover new marketing insights at the intersection of television and social media. “They’re taking the Twitter firehose of data and creating all of these interesting data relationships that help in media planning. We may want to reach a certain target audience, and Bluefin Labs can set up a lifestyle category – let’s say coffee drinkers – and for this category, here are the brands they’re most apt to tweet about, the shows they’re most apt to tune into, and the networks they watch. If I’m a TV media buyer, it opens up new possibilities I would never have thought about.”
Television clearly isn’t going away. In fact, thanks to social media, it may be entering a new renaissance. “The game,” says Proulx, “has gotten more interesting.” How do you think the rise of social media will impact TV in the future? What would you like to see happen?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on September 6, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.