SXSWi: Panel – It’s not TV, it’s Social TV

Session: Saturday 12th March

  • Chloe Sladden, Director of Media Partnerships at Twitter
  • Fred Graver, Sr VP at The Travel Channel
  • Gavin Purcell, Supervising Producer for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
  • Lila King, Participation Director at
  • Moderator: Timothy Shey, Pres/Co-Founder at Next New Networks

Watch the video via @Mashable
Hashtag: #sxsocialtv

It was lucky that I decided to take an early walk to this session, as by the time I got there, the (tiny) room was almost full, and it was just one of those sessions that was definitely underestimated in popularity (many  SXSWers left outside in the halls).  This was one of my favourite sessions so far, and no, it was not because they handed out Krispy Kremes beforehand.

I attended this session because much of the work I do at Massive Interactive has a strong focus on the IPTV and Connected TV landscape, and one facet that interests me most is Social TV.  Though the panel discussion focused on outlining examples of how the panelists engaged their audiences using a variety of mechanisms (mainly twitter), it was interesting to see how content providers consider their own tactics for promoting the “premiere”, in order to keep “linear tv” alive.  Here are my notes on the session:

Live tweeting from Anthony Bourdain (Travel Channel)

First up, Fred Graver from the Travel Channel spoke about their strategy with live show tweeting by Anthony Bourdain for the show No Reservations.

The idea was to get Tony to tweet during the live premiere of the show (aside from the usual tweeting as he’s travelling from destination to destination).  For the Travel Channel, it’s all about ratings.  They knew that 25-50% watch the show time-shifted via DVR. However, as a business, they sell their advertising around the premiere of the show, and used the strategy of  live tweeting as a way to encourage users to watch the premiere.

One particular example mentioned is when Bourdain met with Sean Penn in Haiti, and this really gave him much to tweet about.  Before the actual show, the Travel Channel would promote the live tweeting before the show airs, using cross promotion pieces advertising the shows air time. During the show, a little promo was displayed with a call to action to “Tweet with Tony Live”.

Did it work? Yes – hundreds and thousands of tweets, with tens of thousands mentioning the show – No Reservations.  They added six thousand follows just when the show was on, and the servers for Sean Penn’s relief organisation crashed.

Using this as a case study, they are looking to roll this strategy out with more of their shows.  Graver states:

“The game at the end of the day is engagement”

Graver however mentions that though this is a tactic to increase engagement of the linear premiere, they need to embrace time shifting.  He mentions the value of social media on top of television, and he believes people are going to create programming that integrates with this further.

Citizen journalism with CNN iReport
Lila King spoke next about CNN iReport – which is a service where anyone (citizen journalists) can submit content to, and a team at CNN vets all stories that come in.

The pattern that they often see with huge events, is in two waves.  The first wave is an initial flood of information – photos, videos, etc, some of which they use in their coverage of the event. It becomes an open canvas i.e. “this is all the things we know about this story right now”.

The audience watches the coverage, and sees it as a call to action – especially people that were affected. A second wave of photos and video contributions will flood in – fueled by the first.

At the end of the day, it’s a collaboration of stories to tell the big picture.

The rules of gaming applies here – they provide assignments to set up a framework for people to follow, but to allow it to be flexible enough so that they allow the creative to come in.

Late night hashtags, with Jimmy Fallon
As a more lighthearted case study, Gavin Purcell spoke about their experience with the segment created for the Jimmy Fallon show called “Late night hashtags”.

He mentions that when people that are portaying themselves, it’s important for the audience to feel connected with these people.  Jimmy spends a lot of time actually answering people on twitter – and Purcell mentions that:

“The way to really win at twitter is to have that conversation”

How did they integrate with the show? Well, there was originally a push to try and put more on the screen, but they looked to find ways to do interactive programming that works for them. They sought to use twitter as a platform where fans can interact even when they are not on air.

With “Late night hashtags”, they come up with a hashtag that has a story element to it, and then they promote it in phases:

Jimmy will tweet out the hashtag before the show.  He announce it on the show as well, and they then try and find their favourite ones, and Jimmy will read them on the show.

These typically become one of the top trending topics – the most popular topic was #awwhellno, which became a worldwide top trend within the hour.

Twitter and TV
Next, Chloe Sladden of Twitter spoke about the relationship between twitter and TV.

Using Jersey Shores as an example, she showed us the following graph, where the spikes relates to the premiere of the show. Sladden says this proves that tere is synchronous activity during the show premiere.

She believes that live and real time are absolutely critical:

“There isn’t much social currency or bank for your buck when you are late to the party.”

According to Sladden, Linear TV is not dead – it’s having a resurgence. And Twitter is uniquely positioned to draw people to the live tv, to have the shared experience – the global moment or the national moment.

Twitter is able to surface the shared experience, and its then about finding a way to weave the shared experience into the content itself.

The example Sladden uses is the MTV VMA’s, where they cleverly used Twitter to track a leaderboard of celebrities, using hashtags to count as a vote – in this way, they weaved Twitter into the very fabric of the show.

Sladden mentions that prompting a tweet is a perfect little marketing message about a TV show – and its up to content owners to help shape it.  For example, rather than use a plain hashtag for “best dressed”, they used “#ifBeibermetGaga”.

Audience questions – On secondary devices

An audience member asks about the use of secondary devices.  Purcell mentions that he thinks the idea of a second screen viewing platform makes more sense than filling out the main screen.  Discovery did this with one of their shows – displayed content on the animals you were seeing on the show. And in future, you may almost see a “second screen VJ” appear for secondary devices.


This was one of my favourite sessions at SXSW – it was very engaging to learn about how content creators think about improving engagement within their circle of control.

For me, as a UX designer, it’s important for me to understand what content creators are doing, so that we can craft a way to support their engagement mechanism, whether that be through secondary devices, or integrated applications on the connected TV or STB itself.

I also found interesting that content providers are very much focused on increasing engagement for the linear right now, as Graver points out – this is where the advertising revenue is attached to – but we need to embrace the time-shift.  I wonder what tactics content providers will then use for on demand content (we’ve seen some early thinking through the ABC sync app).

Overall, it proves that it’s early days for Social TV, and that there is definitely more we can be, and should be thinking about, to improve engagement and interaction with viewers.