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How social networks are transforming TV


Social networks are changing the way people meet, interact, exchange opinions and find and view entertainment – as well as the ways brands engage with consumers. Now everyone has a voice and a platform to be heard. Sure there is a lot of noise and random chatter out there, but it is already clear that ‘the cream rises to the top’ quickly in social networks.

It is now widely understood that social networks are useful tools for connecting to friends or people with the same interests. Many people, however, still have trouble understanding how these networks can be utilised effectively for distributing marketing messages. They see social networks and the internet in general as “just another media channel“, behind the likes of newspapers and TV. In fact, social networks are fundamentally reshaping the newspaper and TV industries worldwide. In an earlier article, “What the newspaper industry needs to do to survive“, I explained the changing dynamics of the newspaper industry. In this article I look at where TV is headed.

For a very long time, TV has been the master of the house. If you wanted to watch your favourite program you had to be in front of the TV at the right time. VCRs and later hard disk recorders like Tivo, or Foxtel IQ here in Australia, changed that. Now you can record your programs and skip through the ads. End users love it but advertisers were obviously frustrated by this development. There has even been a movement in the US to make sure the logo can still be seen while fast forwarding ads on a Tivo.

Enter Hulu. If you haven’t heard of Hulu don’t worry. It’s not available outside of the US yet. But I guarantee that it will be. Hulu is a website that is free to join, provided you hand over a bit of background information about yourself. It has video content to an extent never seen before. Almost every show that airs on FOX and NBC is available to watch whenever you feel like it. And when I say every show I mean every show. Every episode of the Simpsons ever produced, feature films, documentaries, dramas – anything you can think of – is searchable and viewable a day or two after it airs on the network itself. Recently the networks have started to restrict a bit of that content but, regardless, you don’t have to worry about recording anything again. Hulu stores everything for you. Available “on demand”.


What is really interesting about Hulu is the business aspect of it. Each show still has commercial breaks but each break contains only one ad – and it is highly targeted. Using the information you have provided about yourself, advertisers can tailor a message specifically to you, or as a minimum, make sure it advertises a product you are likely to be interested in. In fact, advertisers can even put your name in it. It may still be considered interruption marketing, but at least there’s a good chance that you’ll find it relevant and interesting. And who can be bothered fast-forwarding when it’s just one 30 second TVC? We haven’t seen it yet but there is nothing stopping the advertisers making these ads fully interactive as well.

Early adopters have already worked out how to get Hulu onto media centres like Apple TVs and Xboxes, meaning they are able to view it on their main entertainment screen. They are not meant to be able to do this, but it works. Considering how popular this seems to be, it can’t be long before there is a “plug and play” version. Just think about it for a minute. Sit down in front of your TV and watch anything you want, any time you want. It could be the ‘total control’ moment we’ve all been waiting for since the birth of the internet.

The social networking interaction is fairly simple at this stage. Topic controlled forums where users can comment and vote on a show, allowing viewers connect with each other. This information can, of course, be analysed to make the advertising even more targeted. So it is likely that the social media aspects are only going to get further developed over time.

Hulu is doing well and is being backed by a range of big players. This technology is going to get even more interesting when Google, the owner of YouTube, joins in. You can bet your bottom dollar that YouTube is going to provide premium content with targeted advertising in the not too distant future. After all, Google is no longer just a search engine; it is the world largest media agency and they know how to spot an opportunity. They desperately need to find a way to make money out of YouTube, which costs a bomb to run.

As with all ‘disruptive’ technology changes, there has been initial resistance. Large corporations don’t particularly like changing their business models, but you can guarantee this is where the customers will go – so the networks and advertisers will have to follow.

Television content providers need to be preparing for a time where this is common place. It’s what the customer wants and forcing your customers to put up with old models is a good way to lose them.

Traditional broadcasting quickly became a platform for advertisers to speak to their customers. This new technology will be a similar platform, only the conversation will be one to one. It’s measurable and testable. It’s direct marketing for TV.

Mark Cameron is the creative director and a partner at Working Three. He has been developing digital strategy for a range of clients for the last eight years. More articles from him are on the Working Three blog.

Photo: Dimitri Goutnik, dgoutnik.net