Is all TV social?
A few months ago I wrote a presentation looking at the state of ‘dual screening’ for a TV industry conflab. In reality, the interesting bit is probably the point of view on what types of TV genres work best in a world of shared attention.
I then blogged about it for Red Bee.
And now, for your delight, sweating these slides like never before, here it is again. Comments most welcome.
So says John Tate, the BBC’s director of policy and strategy on the relationship between social media and TV.
The idea of TV viewers ‘second screening’ has been heavily debated within the industry over the last 18 months.
But just because we can, does it mean we should?
This area is certainly worth investigating and raises the question – when should TV content creators augment their linear broadcast with the second screen and when should they not?
I suggest it depends on three factors:
1. AUDIENCE ATTENTION:
But there is an elephant in the room – not all content asks for the same level of attention.
For years TV audience attention has been shared with other tasks – eating dinner, reading a book, ironing, cooking etc. Only now, as people spend an increasing amount of time with a connected device where behaviour can be tracked, are we starting to quantify what ‘shared attention’ looks like.
The amount of attention required to enjoy TV depends on the nature of the show.
Some genres such as dramas anticipate 100% focus from the audience – miss ten seconds while you send a text and it could ruin the entire show as you missed a pivotal moment. Compare this to other types of programming formats such as factual entertainment, which many argue, are social by design – they have natural pauses in the narrative which act as signposts for anyone whose attention is floating.
For example, on The X Factor, the week’s VT recap for each contestant is always played just prior to each live performance. Essentially, unlike dramas, your attention may wander for five minutes but you can still enjoy the rest of the programme because of how the format is designed.
2. AUDIENCE FAMILIARITY:
If the audience is very familiar with the narrative of a story, there is a greater propensity for audience’s attention to wander off-screen. Genres where the narrative has been created via the format like ‘Secret Millionaire’, ‘Come Dine with Me’ and ‘Million Pound Drop’ play to a formula which the viewer subscribes to. For example, the millionaire will be revealed at the end of the show, the contestants cook to win money etc.
In many instances, getting across the format of the show is how these types of shows are marketed.
However, an audience usually lacks any familiarity with the ebb and flow of a drama because they are not written to a format formula – dramas are built on making sure the audience stays transfixed to the plot by keeping the audience guessing and wanting more information about the characters and plot.
3. A NARRATIVE’S WORLD:
Finally, if a TV format exists within a closed, fictional world, a second screen experience is in danger of bursting the fictional bubble.
There have been a few attempts at fictional characters tweeting alongside the show for instance but I’m not sure they add much to the overall experience. Often the reason people watch fiction is to enter into this closed world for a sense of escapism.
However, if the content’s narrative operates in the open, real world, like a football game whose resulting story impacts on the bigger narrative of the season, this presents an opportunity for a second screen experience to underpin the importance of the narrative you’re watching.
Using this model, we can start to explore the effective ways to integrate social with TV content. As an example, let’s consider Sky Sport’s F1 coverage against each of the above factors.
Attention: F1 by nature requires your attention at the start and end of the race but due to the repetitive nature and the (relatively predictable) peaks and troughs in the drama, you can dip in and out. The race tends to take the ‘back seat’ once underway and other stories come to the fore.
Familiarity: There is a great deal of audience familiarity with what is about to happen in the story – one driver will win after 70 odd laps around a race track.
Context: The race operates in the real, open world: this means the story you’re watching unfold, impacts on other stories outside of the linear narrative. For example, current drivers standings, how are the new tyre compounds working, who was to blame for the pile-up at turn four. Who has pitted twice etc…
The Sky second screen app keeps viewers gripped throughout by providing on-going stories created via data, analysis, commentary, new camera angles etc all created as by-product of the linear ‘open’ story.
And of course, all these sub-stories make up the shareable moments that people want to talk about on social platforms – people share moments, scenes, stories, reactions, they don’t share ‘programmes’.
The above criteria for approaching a second screen strategy on a programme-by-programme basis is built under the presumption you’re creating a synchronous experience with the live play out of the show.
However, we were able to create an experience for FX UK’s ‘The Walking Dead’ by focusing on the user interaction pre and post show with a very light-touch sync mechanic during the show.
So is all TV social? Well, I’d argue that whilst Tv continues to be made and commissioned as it is, some formats are simply more social by design than others.
Update: We won a Cannes Bronze for The Walking Dead. Tidy.