How Networks Should Use Social TV Apps

an interview with
Kristin Hersant Vice President of Marketing, Echo

At MediaPost’s Social Media Insider Summit last week, there were a number of informative speakers.  Among the best was Kristin Hersant of Echo, who provided real world examples of social TV apps which seem like a brilliant way for the TV networks to reverse the “I’ll watch it later” time-shifting trend.  In fact, AMC credits their recent “Breaking Bad” social TV app for helping to improve the shows ratings!  I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.

DN: First, can you give me a quick overview of what Echo does?
Consumers are flocking to social networks in record numbers because they want to receive relevant news and information about their favorite people, topics and brands in real-time. This results in declining traffic trends for major websites… according to Webtrends, the number of visitors to Fortune 100 websites declined by an average of 23% from 2010 to 2011.

Echo helps businesses make their websites and mobile apps as addictive as leading social networks by creating real-time social experiences with their own content. We do this through the Echo Platform, a collection of web services that enable developers to rapidly build and deploy real-time apps.

Echo customers can either buy pre-built apps through our App Ecosystem, bring other apps to be “echo enabled” or build their own apps in-house. Every app built on the Echo Platform works seamlessly with the others to transform websites and mobile apps into branded destinations that increase website traffic, build brand loyalty and drive user behavior.

DN: You mentioned some pretty interesting statistics about the overlap of social media & TV watching—can you share them here and offer insights on the implications?
According to Neilson, 88% of tablet owners and 86% of smart phone owners are using their second screen device while watching TV. That offers an unprecedented opportunity for networks, and the brands that advertise on them, to engage directly with their viewers – effectively turning the belief that watching TV is a passive activity on its head.

Networks and brands turn to Echo when they want to own that conversation and build social experiences that drive a specific business KPI or user behavior. Our platform is behind the Social TV apps for ABC, AMC Networks, ESPN, NBC News, Showtime, USA Network and WWE and we were recently awarded Best Whitelabel Solution at the 2012 Social TV Awards.

DN: I really enjoyed learning about the app that AMC Networks developed for Breaking Bad.  Can you give a quick synopsis of what was created for that show?
AMC Networks has developed a series of Social TV apps using the Echo Platform that are available for AMC, WE tv and IFC. The backbone of these experiences is a stream of real-time conversation where viewers of each episode can participate in live, real-time chat on their network websites as they’re watching each episode, building a strong sense of community and engagement with the storyline of each show. This is augmented by a Story Sync app that injects real-time polls, trivia, and quizzes into the viewer stream as viewers are watching the show. The Story Sync is formatted to work on a tablet and is promoted on-air leading up to and during each live broadcast.

What were the key metrics for this program and how did it do?
The purpose of these apps is to enrich and enhance the viewing experience for each live broadcast. This is because in order for a show to get credit for a Nielsen viewing, it must be watched within the first three days of its initial airing. In the age of the DVR, it can be challenging to drive live show viewership, however AMC’s integrated social strategy appears to be making an impact. For Breaking Bad specifically, AMC saw a 605% increase in social engagement for the 2012 season premiere over last year and a 14% increase in ratings. Not all of that can be attributed directly to their social tv strategy, but the general sentiment is that it’s working very well for them.

DN: I bet a lot of people don’t realize that Nielsen ratings only include those watching the program live and not later via DVR.  Do you thinking social apps like the ones that AMC built with Echo can get more people to watch shows live (versus time shifting)?  
This strategy has already proven effective across a number of our customers. Most of them see large spikes in social activity during their live broadcasts, however one of the challenges that every social TV program has to deal with is “spoiler alerts,” when multiple people are co-viewing and chatting with each other from different time zones. AMC currently syncs their experiences to the East Coast and West Coast airings and we are building functionality into a future version of the Echo Platform that will specifically address this issue.

DN: Are these apps making TV watching more of a communal experience?  
Absolutely. Consumers love engaging with each other around their favorite sporting events, characters, shows and content.  I recommend that you try the AMC apps next time you’re watching your favorite show on AMC… The Walking Dead live discussion is particularly entertaining because of the zombie killer subject matter.

DN: Can you provide one other example of an app that has improved TV ratings?  If so, please tell me about it.  If not, just give me one other example of an effective app?  Thanks.
AMC is the only customer who has made their rating increase public, however there are number of other Echo Enabled Social TV apps that are driving viewer engagement through the roof. WWE was able to permanently double the number of page views on wwe.com after launching their new website and USA Network has grown their monthly unique users from zero to 700K in one year for their popular Character Chatter application.

Final note: for more on what i gleaned from the conference, please see my FastCompany.com post: The 6,224-Foot View Of Social Media. Finally, if you like what you’re reading, feel free to subscribe to my blog if you’re not already!

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