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Liveblog: Show me the way to the future of TV

Debating the audience shift with FremantleMedia, Bluefin Labs and Fox Broadcasting

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As TV and digital merge into a single ecosystem, what does it all mean for broadcasters, producers and startups? That was the topic for The Audience Shift, a debate at MIPCOM this morning.

Moderated by journalist Kate Bulkley, the panel featured David Wertheimer, president, digital, Fox Broadcasting Company; Claire Tavernier, SEVP, FMX and WorldwideDrama, FremantleMedia; and Tom Thai, VP of marketing at Bluefin Labs.

Wertheimer presented first, talking about “a social future for television”, although he warned that it has to start with great content. “Great content plus innovation: when you have both these things you can do some great new stuff.”

He noted that people are “watching TV in ways you never really quite imagined… the way we look at the business has to shift.” He noted that overall viewing has gone up over time, with a show like New Girl having nearly half its audience watching on DVRs and iTunes.

25% of 18-34 year-olds tune in to a show for the first time because they heard about it on social media. But that rises to 30% for 15-17 year-olds.

Wertheimer talked about one possible future for TV, where viewers might turn the TV on, and American Idol just starts playing – because 11 or 12 of the viewer’s friends have Liked that episode on Facebook. And tweets and Facebook updates might pop up in an on-screen sidebar throughout.

“We have to be better at influencing discovery, and making sure people can find content, because it’s going to get filtered through that prism of their friends,” said Wertheimer.

Broadcasters and producers will have to create “shareable content” around shows, which will encourage people to tune in when the show first airs. For MasterChef, for example, Fox and Shine America created a piece of content explaining the difference between a shrimp and a prawn.

“In one day, we can get 300,000 people to Like a photo,” said Wertheimer, referring to images uploaded to Facebook. “The potential reach of 300,000 Likes is tens of millions of people… It’s not just about engaging you. It’s about getting you to share it with your friends.”

Wertheimer also talked about the importance of the second screen, citing a study by Google showing that 77% of people watching TV have another device to hand.

Next to speak was FremantleMedia’s Tavernier, who talked about the company’s work with American Idol, and an iPad game based on Family Feud, and how it’s moved on from some of the comparable projects being done 10 years ago.

In 2001, FremantleMedia’s thinking on digital media was mainly about how to make money. But 11 years later, the producer sat down and thought “about why we’re doing this”. Making money is still pretty important, but the big difference is that FremantleMedia is also thinking about “how to drive new viewers through the social elements of your shows”.

Getting people to watch the main show, in other words, and also creating loyal fans. “It’s quite easy to measure the dollars, actually. You have them or you don’t have them. The acquisition and retention is much harder.”

FremantleMedia’s research has found viewers of X Factor and the Got Talent shows saying that Facebook interaction makes them enjoy the show more, while 40% and 30-40% of viewers said interacting through Twitter and Facebook respectively makes them want to watch the shows more.

We’re thinking this is a sign that social media actually gets you more viewers and more ratings,” said Tavernier. She then showed the ratings for Family Feud in the US, which has had its best ratings this year since 1992.

Why? There was a viral video on YouTube (“naked grandma!”), which directly bumped up the TV show’s ratings. But FremantleMedia also made money from advertising around the clip’s 50m views on YouTube, even though that wasn’t the primary objective.

“You need to be very clear on why you’re doing digital media, and what your objective is,” she said.

Next up was Tom Thai of social TV analysts Bluefin Labs, who talked about the potential of social TV, but also a trap lying in wait. The potential: “We see an audience shift for sure… we’re seeing this shift from the audience behaviour shift from being about viewership, to being about viewership, for sure, plus engagement.”

What is the impact on the business of TV? Thai said agencies and brands are “willing to pay a premium for this engagement on top of viewership”, not least because all this social activity is measurable. But he warned that social and ratings are very different things: “Ratings are a measurement of viewership, but social is a measurement of engagement.”

What about the future? “Remember that social TV is a new thing for consumers. On the business side, let’s recognise that new business models are going to emerge in social TV.” And he also noted that advertisers won’t just place their dollars based on the most popular social shows. They’ll drill into the data.

“You have to look at the data. The analytics for advertisers should actually have equal footing with the analytics for TV shows,” he said.

What are the hurdles to making this fly? Wertheimer said the industry needs to understand the dynamics of different shows: “people interact around dramas differently to the way they interact around comedy, and fundamentally differently from the way they interact around reality shows… You have to understand that and treat them all differently.”

Thai suggested that “the biggest hurdle we see is it’s new. And people ask us ‘what do I do with this stuff?’… There’s no existing model on how to use that, and how to price it in the marketplace.”

Tavernier said that the key hurdle for FremantleMedia has been to figure out why it’s doing social stuff, beyond for the sake of having a press release, or doing something cool. “We used to refer to it as digital guilt… Oh my god, we need to do something! Let’s do something!”

FremantleMedia is trying to aggregate its learnings from around the world, and creating guidelines for what works well for shows like X Factor, then feeding those back to the various local studios.

“People who are involved today in the business don’t see it as part of their job… They don’t really see this as their responsibility. Eventually, traditional media companies will have to restructure around the fact that digital media is much more central than it used to be for the business.

Wertheimer agreed, saying that some showrunners have yet to embrace digital as much as broadcasters would like, although he diplomatically stressed that Fox has been “very lucky” in this regard with its own showrunners and talent.

“A lot of this is changing in real time, and we’re just really fortunate to be taking it really seriously and to be investing in it, and to have our partners and showrunners feeling this is an important part of the future,” he said.

Talent on social media, though. It can be great, or it can be a disaster pointed out Bulkley. Can this be managed? Tavernier talked about one X Factor where a contestant tweeted her personal number and said “if you vote for me and call me, I’ll give you a date!“.

“And we were like ‘Nooooooo!’… Talent has to be trained, they can’t be controlled,” said Tavernier.

What about second-screen apps like Zeebox, GetGlue, Miso and Shazam. Will they have an impact on social TV, or will it continue to be mainly about Twitter and Facebook?

“I love all of these things, because fundamentally the bulk of the traffic today happens on Twitter and Facebook, but increasingly these second screen applications are becoming part of the mix,” said Wertheimer. ”We think that’s great. We think there will be a strong set of second screen applications to propel and drive this.”

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