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Social TV's Evolving Presence

You Kiddin' Me, a 10-episode Lionsgate series on Facebook Watch, typifies the ongoing TV/social media evolution.  The show, which celebrity Kim Kardashian West executive produced, features children of Hollywood stars pranking their famous parents and "the unsuspecting public." Via crowdsourcing, Facebook viewers can suggest prank ideas.

Elsewhere on the "social TV" spectrum are stunning statistics about two-screen experiences, where viewers of "conventional" linear TV shows interact simultaneously via smartphones, computers and tablets: 170 million such interactions during Super Bowl LII, 23 million during the 2018 Oscar telecast and up to three million for AMC's The Walking Dead weekly episodes, according to Nielsen's Social Content Ratings. As Nielsen pointed out in its "New Megaphone" report, social media "[gives] consumers a chance to be heard on what they watch." Nielsen also says "social media platforms are evolving" beyond the advertising/marketing format once envisioned as a primary driver. 

Interacting with Content

The avalanche of made-for-social media programs often builds in a simultaneous social media component, leveraging the capabilities of the screens on smart TVs, tablets and smartphones. Moreover, the seismic shift in the distribution of video programming means that shows are no longer limited to sequential broadcast, cable or satellite schedules. The endless parade of streaming content already puts viewers at a connected digital device. Hence, it just takes a few finger clicks to initiate a social media relationship with a video program.

Facebook Watch, the video-on-demand service launched last summer, continues to add content such as Sorry for Your Loss, a dark comedy, and Sacred Lies, a 10-episode series. Facebook Watch streamed ancillary coverage of this year's Oscars show with links to the Motion Picture Academy's website plus the Facebook page of ABC TV, which was telecasting the events.

Twitter live-streams out-of-market Major League Baseball games and has deals with basketball, hockey and other pro sports. It also carries the live hourlong morning talk show, AM to DM, produced by BuzzFeed. Twitter was the first social platform to stream NFL Thursday night games in 2016. 

And traditional programmers are upping their social TV presence especially for sports and special events. At the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, NBC ran a "social media war room" where creatives posted videos, photos and memes on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat to generate buzz and viewer interaction. NBC's goal (in addition to generating new ad revenue) was to drive younger viewers to watch NBC's telecasts.   

Evolutionary Roots

The concept of "telewebbing" emerged in 1996 during the earliest days of the web. When Showtime carried a Mike Tyson versus Frank Bruno boxing match, the network created a website (at dial-up speeds) where viewers could score each round.

Showtime expected fans would go from the TV set to another room where their desktop PC was set up to enter their opinions between rounds. To the researchers' surprise, fans were entering scores as every punch was thrown – suggesting that the TV set and PC were in the same room. That finding led Showtime to embark on a binge of twoscreen adventures, which is continuing. 

Now, throughout the cross-platform ecosystem, producers, program distributors and advertisers are experimenting with countless approaches to interweaving video content and social media. Advertisers as well as program creators and distributors are moni toring how viewers use their multitasking tools.

Nearly 177.7 million U.S. adults  per month will go online while  watching TV in 2017, says eMarketer,  which expects that number to rise to  193.5 million next year. That means a lot of ways to engage viewers on  any platform. 

Gary Arlen