Broadcasters go social

22 February 2011

NEW YORK: Media owners including CBS and Viacom are using social media to drive buzz for their TV shows.

CBS recently broadcast the first episode from the latest season of reality series Survivor, and host Jeff Probst participated in Twitter discussions regarding the programme while it was on-air.

Speaking to the New York Times, Probst revealed he would regularly pursue this approach, which adds an extra layer to the viewing experience.

"In a sense, you are in the living room, watching together," he said.

During a conference call last week, Leslie Moonves, chief executive of CBS - which boasts around 50m Facebook fans for its primtime shows - suggested an excellent schedule must be the starting point.

"Content remains so important, and the big events are so important," said Moonves.

"Every major event over the last year – the Academy Awards, the Grammys, etcetera – have all done exceedingly better than the previous year. American Idol is not dying, as people predicted it would."

He added: "Network television is still unbelievably strong, it never went away … New media's great. It augments broadcast, but broadcast is still the place where you can reach 111m people."

"Shock jock" DJ Howard Stern has engaged in similar activity to Probst, posting real-time posts talking about his film Private Parts on HBO2.

Adam Bain, Twitter's president of global revenue, flagged up Stern's output on Twitter, arguing this strategy could resuscitate "appointment viewing" television.

"Every TV producer should be taking note of what @HowardStern is doing," he said."This is what fiction TV producers should do every week: live commentary or use character to tweet."

Viacom, parent of Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon, is broadening its perspective in this area, adopting an increasingly integrated model.

"We are investing in more off-channel messaging to raise awareness and bring in the audiences. We are also capitalising on new and emerging media," Philippe Dauman, Viacom's ceo, said earlier this month.

"For example, the MTV brand and individual show pages on Facebook collectively have more than 45m fans, and in some cases, we're providing those fans with the tools to be our loudest advocates."

BET, a Viacom unit targeted at the African-American demographic, recently attracted 7m viewers to sitcom The Game, aided by considerable internet chatter.

"We can now tell when something's a hit almost immediately - by seeing how many of the trending topics on Twitter belong to us," said Debra Lee, BET's chief executive.

ABC, owned by Disney, has rolled out iPad apps for offerings such as Grey's Anatomy and My Generation, containing polls and additional information.

"We know people are multitasking while they're watching TV. The question is: how do we tap into that and create a whole different consumer experience?" said Albert Cheng, evp, digital media, at Disney/ABC Television Group.

"We don't have all the answers, but we are definitely trying different things and seeing how people are reacting."

Bravo has also organised "virtual parties" surrounding programmes including Top Chef and Real Housewives, and reported the second of these series enjoyed a 10% increase in viewer numbers as a result.

"The key discovery is that we're not just driving digital growth, we're driving analog growth," said Lisa Hsia, svp, digital media, at Bravo.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by Warc staff