Lisa Hsia is Senior Vice President of Bravo Digital Media and is addicted to Flipboard on her iPad.
There’s no question that the real-time conversations around TV shows on social networks — the virtual water cooler, if you will — enhance engagement and drive on-air ratings. Whether it’s the Taylor and Kanye debacle, the Bad Girls, or the Real Housewives, friends tell friends when things happen on the air, and that viral conversation turns TVs on.
The significance of real-time participation is that it gives the audience a voice and a power it never had previously. Instead of being buried in message boards and comments, the fan is now front and center. If you prove yourself to be an influential fan, the smart marketers will incent you to do more with rewards, which will eventually result in even more advances in user behavior.
The Social Effect on Ratings and Sentiment
There’s debate about exactly how much online conversation is driving TV ratings. We’ve tracked our real-time water cooler, dubbed the “Bravo Talk Bubble,” and found that it has delivered a 10% lift to The Real Housewives of New York. Other networks have claimed even higher. We’re still in the early days of measuring and leveraging these stats, but the real-time information is already in place.
But ratings are just part of the picture. Social conversation about TV creates a real-time map, with peaks and valleys around programming that can really inform producers. Using tools like the Trendrr dashboard, one can see the tweets per minute and key influencers around hot topics. It’s not about tracking exactly how many people are watching, but about gauging the sentiment of a chatty cross-section. Qualitative data like this can be extremely valuable to networks.
Now every single show, even pre-taped ones, can be a “live event platform” for fans. And most importantly, it can tell networks what’s working (or not) and why.
Social Media Can Influence Program Development
Tools like the Trendrr dashboard or Sysomos should now be a part of any forward-thinking television network’s tool set in an effort to incorporate fans’ participation into the business of show creation. A great example is Nederlands 3, a Dutch public broadcaster. Its TV Lab airs and streams the pilots for new shows each fall and asks viewers to vote and share their impressions, which are recorded in real time and displayed online for all to see. The station pick the new shows based on this viewer feedback.
This approach, if adopted more widely, could have far-reaching effects on how networks create content for their audiences.
Engagement and Marketing Potential
TV conversation usually spikes during prime time hours and the day after a program airs — the classic water cooler pattern. The next challenge for content creators is figuring out how to drive the conversation 24/7. The goal is to pull others into the cultural discussion and debate at any time, anywhere they may be. This is what drove us to innovate in this space, first by creating the Bravo Talk Bubble, and now, @Bravotv, a social media destination that we hope will act as a participation engine.
@Bravotv will be a real-time, 24/7 water cooler — a platform around our properties and talent. For example, when Kim Zolziak of The Real Housewives of Atlanta announced that she was pregnant, and Atlanta Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann was the father — and that she’s “never seen an ass on a white boy like that” — traffic on bravotv.com soared. But it was hitting the same one or two news and video clips over and over. With @Bravotv, the real-time conversation between Kim, fans, the network, and whoever else wants to join in will continue in a much richer way.
This model can also be applied to advertisers. Brands now have the opportunity to get into the conversation in ways that previously did not exist. For example, during Top Chef All-Stars, while people are discussing and voting on the issue of Marcel vs. Jennifer, with the right marketing push, they could simultaneously be tweeting their thoughts on Diet Coke vs. Coke Zero. Brands and their products are a part of Bravo’s shows and now will be fully integrated into the real-time conversation.
The Risks of Transparency
There’s always risk tied to this openness. If a certain character is driving buzz and another is a buzz kill, everyone will know it. On our Twitter tracker, users will know what’s hot and what’s not. If there is a small number of votes in a Tweet Battle, there’s no way to present it as a big event. On the other hand, when some conversations are exploding because you’ve smartly and strategically positioned your brand in the social sphere, the returns can be huge.
On another one of our online content hubs, Television Without Pity, we’re launching another real-time initiative called Talk Without Pity, a one-stop social media destination for TV fans. Fans can use the TV listings to find, consume and participate in the virtual water cooler buzz around their favorite programs and stars. It’s yet another way to aggregate the conversations that are already happening around our brand.
The people you watch television with are no longer restricted to your living room. Access to real-time conversation around shows, personalities and products must be a part of TV networks’ basic road map. I like to say that in Bravo’s digital world, our users lead and we’re just tapping into their behavior. We facilitate real-time connections to help drive our growth audience participation. Their satisfaction is our home run.