By Chuck Fishman
Super Bowl XLIX was the most-watched television show in U.S. history. It was also the most socialized Super Bowl ever measured, with 265 million Facebook posts, likes and comments, and more than 28 million global tweets. Today’s TV viewer doesn’t just watch TV anymore — they scroll through Twitter and Facebook in real time, watch YouTube Videos, send Snapchats and pin to Pinterest boards.
Their attention span is limited as they consume across multiple channels simultaneously, and the experience they create by consuming in this way is multi-dimensional, providing a unique opportunity for brands to meet them wherever they are — online or off.
Many media companies are taking advantage of this opportunity through multi-channel engagement and second-screen experiences. Shows like NBC’s The Voice have rolled out live-voting programs to engage viewers not just through television, but through social and text, too. The approach of connecting with viewers through activities such as live voting is called the “lean forward” model, and seeks to capture consumer attention wherever the consumer is, whatever platform they’re on.
The USA Network’s Modern Family Live employs the lean forward method as well, offering viewers a chance to compete live with other fans of the show to score points, climb the Live leaderboard, and hopefully come out on top with a prize pack from the show.
The “lean back” model seeks to hold fan engagement beyond the time constraints of regularly scheduled programming. The Walking Dead is a great example of this — they introduced a post-mortem talk show, “The Talking Dead,” to keep viewers engaged even after the show has ended.
Better Call Saul, a Breaking Bad spin-off, has a web experience separate from the show for Saul’s “legal practice” and offers viewers the chance to sign up to get emails from Saul direct to their inbox. The show also offers viewers a live digital component tied to the broadcast called a “story sync” at BetterCallSaulStorySync.com.
All of these tactics are pre-programmed ways for networks to engage with their audiences through conversations that are happening around their programming — before, during and after.
As media companies experiment with capturing viewer attention on- and off-screen, they must engage fans across channels.
But what about the moments when a trending topic emerges unexpectedly, and media companies are caught unprepared? Super Bowl XLIX’s “Left Shark” is a prime example — he completely stole the show during halftime with Katy Perry, and arguably came out the biggest star of the game behind MVP Tom Brady. Left Shark now has 20,000 followers on Twitter.
Some brands have famously succeeded at this — like when Oreo capitalized on the blackout during Super Bowl XLVII with this memorable tweet and associated tagline: “You can still dunk in the dark.” Yet there is still much room for learning and improvement. As media companies experiment with capturing viewer attention on- and off-screen, they must engage fans across channels — via social media, in-app experiences, live participation, interactive portals and more. They need to recognize that the only way for this to work is to capture audiences where they already exist. Building out an approach to do that is no simple task.
With digital-native companies like Netflix, Showtime, Hulu and Amazon getting into the content production game, engaging audiences is critical. Networks need to find ways to continue the conversation not just during scheduled programming, but in between shows. To date, networks’ attempts at creating second-screen experiences haven’t consistently taken off.