March 31, 2012
Ed White on how storytellers can make the most of the new generation of powerful smartphones
The pace of innovation in the smartphone and tablet market has been dizzying, with new devices emerging every year with more sensors and better processors, whether iPhone, Android or Windows Phone. So how can storytellers make the most of them?
Contagious’ senior writer Ed White has been covering some of the most innovative examples, and his session at MIPCube this afternoon outlined the ways brands, content creators and broadcasters are tapping into the new generation of mobile devices.
He started by criticising the “really poor model” of interruptive TV advertising, suggesting that the way forward is augmenting TV instead. “We think we can move from a model of advertising adding waste, or at best being a necessary evil, to something that adds value.”
He cited a stat showing 68% of 18-24 year-olds are using Twitter, Facebook, other websites and mobile phones to discuss what they’re watching on TV, from a survey conducted by Diffusion.
Why does this matter? Discovery Channel ran a survey on two-screening behaviour, and found 32% said they pay closer attention to shows, and 24% feel more connected to the content. Meanwhile, 45% said they’re more likely to search for advertised products, and 18% thought they were more likely to remember ads.
There’s currently a perfect storm of great TV content, new platforms, technology and infrastructure, and changing behaviour from TV viewers. “There’s a niche now for brands and broadcasters to do more, and augment the content that people are watching.”
White gave some examples, starting with social TV apps like IntoNow, GetGlue, Miso and GetGlue, which get people to check in to shows that they’re watching, see who else is watching and talk to them, and find out more about the content.
Broadcasters are doing this too. MTV has launched a WatchWith app that offers quizzes around shows, pulls in tweets, and adds gaming elements. “There’s a lot more to TV than just the content you’re watching right now.”
In the US, retail brand Old Navy created a pop band called The Audio Threadz, featured them in an ad called Super C-U-T-E, and got people to tag the ad using the Shazam mobile app. Their reward was a downloadable MP3, styling tips, and a direct connection to Old Navy’s e-commerce platform to buy the clothes in the ad.
“It’s the call to action, and the actual action of commerce coming right together,” said White.
He went on to talk about the idea of “brand as interface”, starting with the Super Bowl. “Augmented content gives them an opportunity not to have to create content in their own right,” said White, pointing out that this is risky and expensive, even if the likes of Red Bull and Nike have had success.
Coca-Cola launched a microsite called Coke Polar Bowl, with two animated polar bears watching the game live, and commenting on Twitter, including replying to people who tweeted at them. They even responded to the ad breaks in real-time – falling asleep when a Pepsi ad was shown.
“It’s fun, it’s engaging, it pushes lots of the things advertisers are talking about nowadays,” said White, who added that more than 9m users tuned into the live stream on the night, with an average session time of 28 minutes.
“At the Super Bowl a 30-second spot costs you $3.5m dollars, but at this little site, people are logging in for 28 minutes,” said White. “That’s an extraordinary moment of engagement.”
The next example was Heineken’s Star Player iPhone app, based on the Champions League football tournament. Created by digital agency AKQA for Heineken, the app lets people play along with the matches, predicting what’s going to happen next based on their gut instincts.
“It’s that heart-pumping getting people involved, and engaging in the moment right there,” said White, who suggested it turns sponsorship from a lean-back passive affair, to something more lean-forward and active.
White quoted Heineken’s Floris Cobelens: “We have to be realistic, because people are not sitting on their sofa because they want to play a branded game, they are sitting there because they want to watch a football match.”
“80% of branded apps are downloaded less than 1,000 times,” added White. “If you’re not adding value, you’re wasting your time.”
He moved on to something called Pepsi Sound Off, based on The X Factor in the US. The brand created the Sound Off site to connect X Factor fans who wanted to chat about what they were watching without spamming their non-watching friends on Twitter.
White praised the “wonderful, virtuous feedback loop” that involves people marking comments as liked, with the best bubbling to the top – and then integrated into Pepsi’s idents on-air around the show itself. So posting a comment on Sound Off might get someone’s views published to the X Factor TV audience too.
US startup Bluefin Labs did some analysis of the Pepsi campaign, and realised that it had resulted in lots of positive tweets about the brand – unusual, since normally social media comments about a show’s sponsor tends towards the negative.
“By giving people the utility, the functionality to talk about the content in a place that is branded, the brand is getting a lot of value out of that,” said White. Pepsi isn’t interrupting their viewing experience, it’s augmenting it. And it’s creating a “network of the unacquainted” too, by connecting fans of a show who don’t already know one another.
What lessons can be taken from all this? White cited the Zeebox as a good example: the lesson of “owning the entire content experience”. Bringing everything around a show together in one place: social chatter, show credits, related apps and downloads, and ‘zeetags’ to find out more about people and themes mentioned on-air.
Another lesson from eBay’s Watch With app, which White described as “commercialising the second screen”. It gets people to say what they’re watching on TV, and provides live auctions listings from eBay of related items. A bonus for any broadcaster with 360 deals that include merchandising for a show.
USA Networks has a spy drama called Covert Affairs, for which it’s working with Shazam again to get viewers to check in, and buy products that have been featured in the show from their phones. “It’s the broadcaster thinking about how they can commercialise content which is already out there,” said White.
The next example was an app called Viggle, which launched earlier in 2012 with the aim of creating “programme loyalty” armed with the slogan ‘Watch TV. Get Rewards’. People are awarded points for watching specific episodes, and then redeem them for money-off vouchers to buy music, film tickets, gift cards and other products in the real world.
Al Jazeera is also running a news show called The Stream, which puts viewers tweets at the heart of the action, with on-screen hashtags to stimulate the debate. Meanwhile, HBO worked with check-in app Miso to provide second-screen content and community for its Game of Thrones show, using Miso’s ‘sideshows’ feature.
In summary: Contagious wants to see brands genuinely adding value through augmented TV content, rather than adding waste. “You must ensure anything you’re doing is adding value,” he said. “It’s never been more important.”
And it’s also key to complement behaviour through a real understanding of viewers’ habits. “Watching people in the living room watching your content… and how they engage with brands… Complementing behaviour, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.”
Talking up services like Miso, GetGlue, Shazam and Zeebox is all very well, but are they reaching any kind of scale, rather than simply appealing to a narrow strand of more tech-savvy TV viewers?
“At the minute, the scale for them is quite small,” admitted White. “At the moment, the one that offers most scale is Shazam, which has 175m people… The problem with most ofthese apps is they feel fairly undifferentiated. Zeebox is doing a good job of bringing all this stuff together in one place though.”
He noted that broadcasters and brands may have an important role to play in helping these second-screen apps scale up, citing BSkyB’s investment in Zeebox as a prime example.