Simon Dumenco

7 Things You Need to Know About 'Social TV' Right Now

The State of the Art -- and Science -- of Monitoring Social-Media Chatter About TV

By Published on .

Bluefin Labs mapped social chatter about Mountain Dew to TV that Dew fans also buzzed about. Click here for details.

1. TV owns social
For more than two years now, AdAge.com has had an editorial partnership with Trendrr, the social-media-monitoring company. Trendrr, which was born in 2006 as Infofilter, grew out of Wiredset, a Manhattan digital-marketing agency founded by Mark Ghuneim and Tom Donohue in 2004 (the same year Mark Zuckerberg was launching what was then TheFacebook.com out of his Harvard dorm room, and two years before Twitter fluttered to life). Ad Age partnered with Trendrr to create weekly online EKG charts of rising and falling tweet volume surrounding memes that were dominating Twitter conversations. Back in the summer of 2009, we tracked everything from Sonia Sotomayor (then a nominee for the Supreme Court) to "Glee" to Major League Baseball to "True Blood."

Over time, it dawned on us that more than anything else, TV was driving social. Sotomayor would trend on Twitter only when her confirmation hearings were being televised; a specific team would trend because it was doing great (or sucking) in the game being broadcast at that very moment on ESPN; during prime-time hours in the U.S. and the U.K., Twitter's trending topics list would be all but taken over by TV-related chatter. You could get a real-time take on "Glee" viewers' level of delight over the most deliciously nasty things uttered by Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester character because fans would dutifully thumb-type their favorite bits of dialogue right into their Twitter streams. (In fact, it started to seem like "Glee" writers were writing as much for Twitter as for TV.)

Over the past couple of years, Trendrr has tightened its focus on TV -- even launching Trendrr.tv specifically to serve the TV industry. Today, 14 of the top 25 TV networks are Trendrr.tv data customers, and as the social-TV business has exploded, Ad Age has also started editorial partnerships (to generate charticles for AdAge.com) with other emerging players in the space, including Bluefin Labs a Cambridge, Mass.-based outgrowth of the MIT Media Lab that is building a broadcast-meets-social database it calls the TV Genome project, and Manhattan-based entertainment check-in service GetGlue.

"Social TV could not be heating up more," said Mr. Ghuneim, "because engagement is really starting to map to currency." The networks that "get it," he added, "are using the social graph to measure the effectiveness of their marketing spend, for real-time audience research to understand the demographics of their viewers, to be smarter about how production dollars are spent and what content will resonate. And especially to demonstrate to advertisers the value of the network off the network."

2. Social TV is , at its core, incredibly old-fashioned
Social TV is about watching TV with other people -- think of "50s-era family and friends gathered around an old Magnavox console to catch "I Love Lucy." Only now the living room has gone national. (Get your feet off the coffee table, Texas!)

3. Twitter is definitely not the only game in town when it comes to social TV
Consider GetGlue, which launched in June of last year. This past August, it hit a high of 11.5 million check-ins, driven by partnerships with big broadcast and cable networks from ABC and Fox to Showtime and HBO. (The summer's most popular show on GetGlue was "True Blood" with 490,787 total check-ins.)

TVGuide.com, which built its own site-specific check-in service and launched it last October, recently surpassed 4 million check-ins and is averaging 20,000 per day just from its user base. General Manager Christy Tanner says that to date TVGuide.com has sold 45 sponsorships to both network and non-network advertisers -- from ABC to Starbucks -- eager to engage with a deeply engaged audience.

And more and more networks are building their own social destinations. At USA Network, says VP-Digital Jesse Redniss, more than 300,000 unique visitors came to its Character Chatter platform -- at characterchatter.usanetwork.com -- this summer to discuss USA shows including "Burn Notice" and "Psych." When USA broadcast a "Burn Notice" marathon and ran Character Chatter posts on an on-screen crawl, "That was a big "a-ha' moment for us because we saw 35,000 concurrent users logging onto the system. It was really cool to watch."

4. Social TV is a form of self-expression -- and a form of peer-to-peer peer-pressure marketing
"What we've learned since launching GetGlue," said CEO Alex Iskold, "is that entertainment is an incredibly emotional experience for people and the reason that people love checking in is because it's a gesture of self expression. It's people saying, "I'm a diehard "True Blood" fan, and that 's a really important thing to me, it really matters to me, and that show gets into my head and gets into my soul.'"

A network can drown you in endless promos for a new show it wants you to watch; maybe you'll succumb, maybe you won't. But the influence of social-media messaging about that show from a friend whose taste you trust can't be underestimated. An enthusiastic tweet about "Ringer" is not only an endorsement of the show but an implicit call to action; it says, "This is what you're missing out on."

5. Social TV has slowed down time-shifting for some of TV's biggest shows
"We did a survey of our 10,000-person TV-fan panel last year," said TVGuide.com's Tanner, "and what we found is that 20% of them said they are watching more live TV specifically to avoid "social spoilers.'"

6. Social TV is not primarily about predicting hits
Some of the big shows premiering this fall already have great social buzz; ABC's "Once Upon a Time ," which won't even air its first episode until October, already has more than 100,000 likes on Facebook. What does that tell us? That ABC is doing a good job promoting it and that the fantasy-drama theme conveyed in the promos is resonating with potential viewers. And that 's it.

"Merely tracking the volume of buzz," said Bluefin Labs VP-Marketing and Business Development Tom Thai, "without a deeper analysis of other factors, is very rudimentary." What matters is context; once a show gets traction, what else can the viewers who are chattering about it tell us about their other preferences as consumers? "If you're a CMO for an automaker vs. wireless carrier vs. laundry detergent," said Mr. Thai, "your audiences and needs will be different. The key next step is marrying social-TV data about the shows with data about specific brands."

7. The Couch Potato is a dying breed
Remember when TV viewers were seen as passive consumers? The minimal effort required to operate a remote control (and open a beer and a bag of Cheetos) meant that sitting on the couch and taking in a few of your favorite shows made you a "couch potato." Funny how the addition of just another small device -- the smartphone -- to the mix has transformed the couch potato into a superfan/social-marketer/programmer with the power to transform TV.

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