The Promise and Peril Of Social TV: Part I

March 16, 2012 7:25 pm

It seems like yesterday that many in the digerati were proclaiming the death of TV.

But in the digital business yesterday is just so… yesterday. Finally, the conversation has shifted — as I predicted – to harnessing the feedback loop between old and new media. This line of thinking is much more on the money: Jack Myers predicts the social TV business will grow to $30 billion by 2020.

Tom Cunniff moderating the Social TV Panel at the ANA TV and Everything Video Forum

Tom Cunniff moderating the Social TV Panel at the ANA TV and Everything Video Forum

There’s tremendous buzz about Social TV. And I’m not just talking about the 12,233 Tweets per second at the end of this year’s Super Bowl. There are more social TV startups today than you shake an iPad at: Bluefin Labs, GetGlue, IntoNow, Miso, Social Guide, Trendrr, Viggle, Zeebox to name a few. The Social TV panel I moderated last week at the Association of National Advertisers’ TV and Everything Video Forum was packed, as was the NY Social Media Week panel on Social TV later that same day.

Why Has The Conversation Shifted?

Some of it is fashion; no one wants to be the last person to jump on the latest bright-shiny-object bandwagon. But among smart marketers, there’s a growing realization that too much digital innovation has been anti-scale: it’s too damned hard to move product at mass retail one painstakingly targeted customer at a time. There’s real excitement about an integrated solution with the mass reach of TV and the intimacy of social media.

Plus, it just feels right. TV has always been a social activity. We’re not trying to create new behavior. This isn’t technology enabling something and hoping people will buy into it. This is what people already do: they watch TV, are entertained by it, and talk about what they just saw.

The Promise And The Peril

As with any change, there is both upside and downside. And anybody who has read this blog knows that breathless enthusiasm and blind cheerleading isn’t my style. As a person of Irish descent, I have a deeply embedded contrarian streak in my DNA. Rest assured that my next post will address some of the perils – and there are plenty. But for this first post, I’ll start with the promise. What are the major opportunities with social TV?

Deeper Engagement

The central promise of Social TV is deeper engagement. It’s easy to buy eyeballs; it’s much harder to reach hearts and minds. Social TV offers marketers entirely new opportunities to get people involved in the stories behind their brands, and to spark conversation with friends.

Generating positive word of mouth is a big deal. For the most part, people don’t love advertising or hate it. I think the right description is “near-total indifference”. A shift from indifference to endorsement – even among a tiny percentage of a TV-sized audience – can really impact a brand’s fortunes.

In the hands of the TV and ad industry’s finest storytellers, there’s a real opportunity to extend reach, relevance, and brand favorability. That’s a pretty potent cocktail.

Being Part Of Compelling Content

Creatively, banner advertising has been a big disappointment. There are a million reasons why, but here’s a big one: we’ve made banner ads literally peripheral to “the good stuff”. Everybody who goes online knows where the banners will be, so those areas of the page are easy to ignore. Instant banner blindness.

Second-screen experiences offer brands the opportunity to be embedded in the content. There are a lot of ways that brands can be integrated into bridge content (extended experiences built around a successful show). Even very simple sponsorships can work. A brand that helps unlock unique content in a fun way has a shot at being remembered.

Multi-Screen Ad Campaigns

Forty percent of smartphone owners and forty two percent of tablet owners routinely use these devices while they watch TV. Social TV is perhaps our only hope to refocus and recapture this lost attention. If people look away from their TV to their devices, marketers have the chance to be there with something more compelling than checking email. The trick, of course, is to actually be compelling: a dull message on a TV and an iPad at the same time won’t help. Boring more people in more places is not a formula for success.

Personalized ads, better targeting, and real-time feedback

Every medium that shifts from analog to digital brings new capabilities: we will be awash in data that we never had before. In theory, marketers will now be able to know far more about who’s watching their commercials, and how they are reacting in real-time. We’ll have more opportunities to create personalized ads, more opportunities to target our advertising only to the people most likely to buy, and more data about when people tune out or Tweet loudest. We can tweak! We can improve in real-time!

Social TV promises better ads delivered more efficiently. More than any other, this is the promise that will have many brand marketers – and CFOs — salivating.

But before you reach for your checkbook… this has been the promise of digital media since the very beginning. And if we’re honest, to date it has been more of a promise than a reality for brand marketers.

Will social TV be different? Only time will tell.

But in my opinion this flood of data holds significantly more peril than promise. More about that in my next post.

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