At a recent MBI Creative Week for the television and film industries, most conversations centred around the importance of connecting with the audience, rather than the size of the audience – curious in an industry where viewing figures have always been the measure of success.
However, engagement is often a sign of growth to come. Engaged viewers will post, tweet, blog and share their love of a show in a way that an audience with little connection will not. A disengaged audience might be large now, but over time is likely to drop off.
The CW Network (a Warner Bros Entertainment and CBS Corporation joint venture) cancelled sci-fi series, The Tomorrow People, but renewed its fantasy detective show, Beauty and the Beast. The former had much stronger ratings, not to mention critical acclaim. Beauty and the Beast, on the other hand, had a greater showing on social media, demonstrating that viewers, although smaller in number, were far more engaged.
And it’s with this kind of fandom that future viewing figures are secured – with broadcasters relying on fans to spread the word, rather than an old school advertising budget. For this reason, it’s become far more important for broadcasters to treat television shows like brands and create as much engaging content around them as possible.
A prime example is HBO’s Game of Thrones. Early on, HBO realised the bloodthirsty fantasy adventure had a modest cult following, and when it researched audience behaviour found that those ‘connected’ fans were more than happy to help spread the word. By making GoT a huge participatory experience linking events, digital content, fan art, PR and social media as well as advertising, HBO transformed the show from a cult hit into the mass pop-culture phenomenon we know today.
When Season 4’s bloody opener, Two Swords, aired it brought 1.9 million users to Facebook, which led to 2.8 million interactions in likes, mentions and shares. Just for one episode. Now GoT is HBO’s most-watched show ever – with 18.4 million viewers. Results like this mean exploiting the power of engagement is high on the strategy list of broadcasters.
Using social activity to connect and engage with audiences not only raises the ratings, but also creates some interesting avenues for sales and revenue growth.
In the next few months, UK television audiences will get their first taste of real-time voting through second screen programming, with Channel 4’s The Singer Takes it All and ITV’s Rising Star each having downloadable apps. Both channels expect to bolster ratings by putting the viewer in the driving seat, letting them directly influence the action as it happens. The Rising Star app – developed by the makers of the series, Keshet and digital media company, Screenz – has an additional facility that will make it ‘the one to watch’ by advertisers.
Speaking at the MBI event, Sammy Nourmand, Keshet’s UK COO, revealed that ITV is in negotiations about targeted advertising within the app which would enable viewers to vote and to register interest in the ads they see. Advertisers could then create a profile of the consumer and target them directly with only the products in which they’ve expressed an interest. Research has shown that 10 per cent of consumers who express an interest in a product this way ultimately go on to make a purchase – a stat that should not be ignored.
Making better connections is good news for everyone. Audiences see the programmes they really want to see, and can also become part of what they watch. Advertisers won’t waste time and money promoting the wrong product to the wrong audience. This should lead to substantial revenue growth, which in turn means more can be invested in programme making.
So next time you think there’s nothing on TV, get connected, become engaged and be involved. The power really is in your hands.
Laurence is an Editor at Cedar Communications. His work for Nikon sees him using video, tablet and social media to engage with photographers around the world.