Is All TV Social By Design? Creating a Model for Social TV, Part 1


"Interactivity has its place but you don't want to overdo it - shows like Sherlock and Frozen Planet on the BBC are very intense for the viewer and need people not to be distracted."

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:

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.

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.

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. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week where I look at how this model can be applied.

Are there any other ways to focus the area of second screen opportunities for programme makers? What role should social media play in the second screen experience?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Tim Whirledge, Strategic Planner