Feb 2012

A peek into what Social TV  is, what’s fuelling its rapid growth & what does it mean for brand marketers? 

Social TV & Sports

I recently wrote a blog post about how social media is revolutionizing the way we consume, disseminate and monetize sporting content, focusing on some of the innovative strategies that were launched at SuperBowl XLVI last week. Following the match where the Giants piped the Patriots 21-17, I was personally hooked on to my iPad on the YouTube AdBlitz channel that had hosted the 64 brand ad campaigns that were launched during the championship. My personal favourites were the Coke Polar Bear “Catch” ad & the Chevy Silverado 2012 ad that took a cheeky dig at Ford!

This perhaps was one of the rare times that I was enjoying a live event on Television and simultaneously consuming, critiquing & sharing content related to it about the event on what is touted as the “second screen”. I understood from my some of my cousins in the US that they used apps such as GetGlue to ConnecTV to make their SuperBowl experience even richer!

The experience compelled me to think this through and figure out what is “Social TV” all about and why is everyone going gaga over it? Is it just a new passing fad or is it set to revolutionize the way people consume & enjoy televised content? Is the era of TV coming to an end? More importantly, why are multi-billion dollar brands like Coke, Pepsi & Chevy so keen to experiment & embrace it? Here is my perspective:

Is the era of TV over?

Firstly, TV in the traditional sense is not dead – in fact far from it. If advertising dollars are any indicator of the prevalence of a medium, TV advertising grew by 6% in 2011 and generated US$169 billion in revenue and this is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.5% to total US$243 billion by 2016. But what is evolving is the way TV content is being broadcast & accessed (through the Internet and not necessarily through satellite & cable); the quality of TV hardware (HDTV, LEDTV) and business models around consumption (Pay-per-view).

While the medium is not going to be extinct any time soon, especially in emerging economies, there is general concern about the rise of online TV channels (100 million Americans watch online video every day on channels like YouTube, Hulu & Vimeo watching about 43.5 billion videos a month), content piracy and free video streaming on the Internet and the penetration of Digital Video Recording (DVR) devices like TiVo, that allow users to skip through advertisements. Perhaps the larger brands read this as a sign of things to come in the coming decades and hence are experimenting with new media themselves before a disruptive innovation throws them off guard?

What is Social TV?

“Social TV” is a combination of these new different media channels across different content consumption nodes or touch points (TV, tablets, smart phones being the most common ones) that aims to make content consumption, creation, critiquing, sharing & monetization a fun & easy experience. Still sounds too geeky? Let us take a specific case in point to elucidate this better.

Social TV & Sports are natural team-mates!

Imagine this coming weekend you have decided to watch ManU fight it out against Liverpool on TV. If you are sports buff, typically the banter about the team constitution, past meeting records, field records etc. begin a couple of days before the game. Bets are placed, abuses are rattled and everyone’s excited to enjoy at least 90 minutes of play time. Now imagine, the pre-game research, commentary, abusing, betting & banter is not just limited to your soccer gang but rather amplified & accentuated with the participation of soccer lovers around the world? While the respective Facebook FanPages of the two teams & Twitter are brilliant multicasting channels to do this, niche social networks like Footbo, Ole Ole and ShareTheMatch are brilliant platforms to find & interact with like-minded soccer maniacs across the world!

On D-Day, you can stream the game live through official or unofficial channels (In the case of SuperBowl & the Australian Open, the games were officially streamed for free!). You can then choose to carry on the live, exciting chatter sharing goal & penalty updates, expressing emotions & frustrations, uploading photos of the gang you are watching the match with, on these generic & niche social networks.

Now usually you would do so on your PC or laptop if you are at home. But what if you are at the neighbourhood bar with just your mobile phone or your iPad? No worries. The ConnecTV app picks up the sound signals from your TV to intelligently decipher that you are indeed watching a the ManU-Liverpool soccer game (yeah its a magical experience!) and then links you up with a real-time online community across the globe that maybe going ecstatic about Rooney’s magical goal or Brad Jones brilliant save!

The key drivers of Social TV

But wait, why would you be doing all these activities if you are enjoying the match on the large 40 inch LED TV screen in your drawing room or in the bar? Isn’t it distracting, rude and downright anti-social? Apparently not! Keeping morals & etiquettes aside, a recent research by Yahoo indicates that about 86% percent of people use mobile Internet while watching their TV – 40% of them using social networks; 56% texting their friends; 33% using mobile apps and 37% simply surfing the net.

The volume & sentiment of online, social chatter is hard to ignore!

It is this user multi-tasking behaviour that has led to the genesis of Social TV and drives its growth. People don’t just want to consume content; they want to emote & express their opinion while consuming it and tweets are perhaps a good indication of the same. During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Denmark-Japan game set a new Twitter record of 3,283 tweets per second; last week at the end of the SuperBowl XLVI game, Twitter stats showed that there were a record 12,233 tweets per second claiming the all-time #2 spot & Madonna’s half-time show grabbed the #3 spot at 10,245 tweets per second. The only thing ahead of these two milestones is the #1 spot held for Castle in the Sky when they aired the anime movie in Japan with 25,088 TPS in December 2011. And by the time we reach Sau Paulo for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, TPS may just become more important than TRP for brands and for good reason.

The digital world is binary – everything is a series of 0’s and 1s and every data point can be categorically logged, measured and monitored with accuracy. And in the Social TV ecosystem, there are some fascinating tech start-ups that have begun to make sense of the aggregate data that’s being voiced out, created & shared by consumers and fans while they watch television. MIT’s Bluefin Labs processes about 1,389 hours of television a day and more than 166.7 million corresponding comments around those televised shows. Based on this data mining it has the ability to tell that viewers of TV show A also liked TV show B, something that TV networks and advertisers value.

What’s more, Bluefin can mine connections among shows, social media, and advertisements. For instance, this summer, Diet Pepsi studied audience reactions to an advertisement starring Modern Family‘s Sofia Vergara. During the airings of the ad, social-media comments about Diet Pepsi increased about 19%. Bluefin collected data from 1.8 million people who commented on TV shows on which the ad played. Then they discerned “affinities” by finding out how many commentators were saying something about each show and Diet Pepsi. Understanding these affinities gives Diet Pepsi something valuable for the future: Directing more ad dollars to the commentators’ favoured shows may prove far more efficient. It has the ability to mine 5 billion online comments and 2.5 million minutes of TV per month to advise Gatorade that it can generate the highest ROI by advertising during Talk & News shows and should completely ignore comedy gigs – it complete takes guess work out of the picture.

Brands can not only do their post-mortem online but also market through Social TV

The magic doesn’t end there. Not only can brand marketers make sense of the volume & sentiment of chatter going on before, during & post a televised show or a live event, they are even able to “offer a variety of follow up actions to the TV viewer, including coupons, reminders, contact info and more through a mobile app”. WiO is one such service provider, which enables TV watchers to immediately get information about the products and services they see advertised on screen, both in TV commercials and within the shows themselves.

With these recent innovations, a brand marketer has enough & more data points at his disposal: about what TV shows are best suited for her brand; what is the real-time sentiment about a brand ad campaign online; the ability to push out information and incentives about her products & services to a niche, captive audience. Check out this blog post to get a sense of what’s coming in 2012 in the domain of Social TV – the possibilities are immense. And if you think this affinity of Social TV is limited only to sports, you are wrong. It transcends across domains such as politics, current affairs and even soaps such as Glee!

This perhaps explains why brand marketers like Shiv Singh, PepsiCo’s global head of digital, have been so gung-ho about integrating TV ads with the power of mobile & social on second screens. And if these trends are anything to go by, very soon David Ogilvy’s famous adage, “50% of all advertising is useless. We just don’t know which 50%” may be a myth of the past!

Prantik Mazumdar

Prantik is a Managing Partner at Happy Marketer, who leads the firm’s Social, Mobile & Display Advertising practice. He sits on the Global Digital Board of Time International, a leading luxury chain in Asia.