People are no longer just watching television programs. They are talking about them online, often on branded social-media campaigns from program sponsors. Still, defining "social TV" could almost seem a Hobson's choice between a redundancy and an oxymoron.
Each one of the three participants in a panel on social TV at the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) TV & Everything Video forum in New York gave their two sentences worth. The guy who wrote the book (no pun intended, but "literally," as it turns out) said "social TV" ought to be thought of more as a contraction -- the convergence of social media and TV. And Mike Proulx, SVP, and director of digital strategy at Boston-based Hill Holliday and author of the just-released Social TV, said that's how most people see it, as a broad descriptive of connected devices that link TV to the Internet.
Fernando Arriola, VP, media and integration at ConAgra Foods, opined that there's nothing inherently new about social TV, or at least TV as social phenomenon. "It's been around forever. It's any of the ways consumers can share or participate at a deeper level with content."
Nadine McHugh, VP, global integrated media communications at Colgate-Palmolive, was even more concise, arguing that social TV is simply TV that people want to talk about and engage with.
Certainly, the Super Bowl reflected brand interest in turning TV into a mosaic of simultaneous marketing events on different screens designed to engage consumers with brands and with each other. Coca-Cola's polar bears were in the beverage giant's TV spots, but they were simultaneously online during the game, commenting on the game and, in a meta-commentary, on their own ad. Tom Cunniff, VP and director of interactive communications at Combe Incorporated, asked if such multi-screen programs risk splitting people’s attention across devices.
McHugh agreed that the risk exists, but said that, if the central idea is engaging, it only deepens engagement and attention. "We have seen it; consumers are already fragmenting their attention. What social TV does is to bring the experience to life so we can capture consumer attention more." She argued that if the story is good and engaging, it will involve consumers, no matter how many screens are telling it.
And Arriola cited data from NBCU that show, in fact, the more that people engage with a brand on multiple devices and levels, the more they engage with TV content. "They are the people who tend to be most loyal to a show, and watch it more."
But the key is integration of campaigns well before anyone sits down to pen creative, argued McHugh. She said mapping before creating is where marketers can avoid overspending on strategies to make television a social experience. "And we won’t have a choice because consumers will take the conversation on whether we choose to [consider a social strategy] or not. It would be wise to un-silo and do marketing in an integrated way, and create assets before we create the ad.”
But think about how to partner with content providers -- because there are ways to do it for free. Arriola asked, probably rhetorically, if marketers really need to pay for it. "We should think about how can we partner with content providers so we don't incur cost," he said, pointing to free promotional mileage that Web content firm Shazam got from being integral to a Pillsbury augmented reality campaign last year.
Summing up, Proulx suggested it is probably best -- in terms of changing strategy and entrenched silo-focused culture at companies and agencies -- to think of TV as new media. "If you believe in that premise, then you need a new planning model for TV. Gone must be the days of TV people and digital people. We have to work together, in unison, at same time, from the get-go."