Game of tweets: The social revolution in advertising

Game of tweets: The social revolution in advertising
Neal Romanek
September 25th 2017 at 12:23PM : By Neal Romanek

How are broadcasters harnessing social media technologies to drive viewership and create new opportunities for content creators and advertisers. Neal Romanek talks with Channel 4 and social tech vendor

Social media is no longer a new frontier. Twitter is eleven years old, Facebook is thirteen. And its easy to forget, but broadcasting has had made attempts at social interaction for decades. Live call-ins are as old as radio and interaction with TV programming via texting and email are as old as those technologies themselves.

But today’s full spectrum social media saturation promises to push live broadcast TV into a whole new realm of interactivity.

Danny Peace looks after sales and sponsorship at Channel 4. He thinks the union of digital TV and social media is will create a new kind of viewing and a new kind of viewer.

“What we’re doing now at Channel 4 is inventing new things that you can use to really make TV interactive,” says Peace.

Channel 4 has been experimenting with ways to create socially augmented TV, and has found particular success with interactive ad breaks. In 2015, the broadcaster trialled an award-winning live, interactive pop promo. The piece, which ran during 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, featured British electronica band campaign Years & Years performing their song Shine. Throughout the show viewers were able to vote via Twitter to alter the style of video. The collaboration between Channel 4 and Polydor Records marked a new type of interactive way to promote talent, using ad time for an interactive live performance targeted at fans.

“People could tweet in #ChooseLight #ChooseDark or #ChooseShadow and every 30 seconds people were at home were genuinely able to change what they were seeing on the screen. It was the first time it had been done anywhere in the world. We trended globally on Twitter. In fact, we had more people tune into the ad break to interact with it than actually watched the show.”

Turning ads into real-time sales

Peace thinks the future potential for advertisers is enormous.

“What we would love to do – we haven’t managed it yet - is to work with a big retailer. It would be fantastic on Black Friday or during the Christmas season to be able to offer different products based on how your sales figures are changing.”

Peace envisions a live updated ad break, which would allow a vendor to fine tune its advertising emphasis in real time: “We’ve just run out of apples, but would you like some of these pears?”

“If there’s type of data that’s useful to the life of a TV viewer, there’s it can be harnessed for greater interactivity,” he notes. “We work with a number of pharmaceutical companies. In hayfever season there’s no reason we couldn’t automatically play a spot for one type of medicine if the pollen count is high and a different one when the pollen count is low.

“We can decide what adverts are going out minutes before transmission, and those decisions could be based on sales data, social media sentiment, the weather or any other kind of input. And that should make TV advertising a lot more effective.”

Driven by data

The other thing broadcasters can do, says Peace, is to take live data from an advertiser’s website and put it directly onscreen.

Channel 4 has several, popular property shows, which has made the broadcaster an ideal partner for the real estate website RightMove. Peace describes RightMove’s live updated and location tailored ad campaign:

“With our property shows, like Location, Location, we know in advance where the show is going to take place. So we can run a live search on the RightMove website directly related to the location audiences are seeing on the programme. Then we can display those figures in an ad. If the show is taking place in Leeds, the RightMove ad can display ‘There are currently 110,000 properties in Leeds’ or ‘There are currently 17 properties in this price range.’ And the research shows that in those they have seen a double digit increase in the number of searches.

“The other way of using this technology is to simply run competitions. We did this with a PlayStation ad. In the first break we ran a trailer and asked people to tweet in the answer to a question. Then by the next ad break you had the winner. It’s very quick turnaround and it makes the TV a more two-way medium. There’s so much you can do in that area that we’re not making the most of at this stage.”, always social has been at the forefront of interactive TV since the 1990’s, when it used SMS technology to boost audience engagement. Now the tech vendor works with broadcasters like Channel 4 and ITV to enable a new kinds of engagement. Tools like the company’s Story and Story VR allow content owners and broadcasters to manage and monitor social media sources and to change TV content on the fly.

“So many people are just now getting into the zone of what the opportunity is for social and interactive TV,” says CEO Scott Davies. “And it’s only becoming more relevant year on year. For us, it’s been an interesting few years of learn about the audience and making the technology, but also working with broadcasters to help them understand the good reasons for doing this.

“Just to see the social media response of audiences watching, in the broadcast space in real time, is really interesting. But the spin off is that the people who are engaged with what they’re watching on TV are then fuelling the fire which is driving the audience for the show. So the audience becomes exponentially bigger than it was.”

There are so many ways to be distracted from the core broadcast. You’re never, ever going to get away form that

Davies also sees advertising and promotion as one of the biggest potential winners in socially engaged TV. has done work with A&E around their show Vikings inviting viewers to be a Viking on the show, and contributing user-generated content which appeared during ad breaks. They also worked with Channel 4 on the aforementioned PlayStation campaign.

But is there a danger that all this social media engagement may actually be distracting viewers from the TV content itself? Davies thinks it’s too late to stop the distraction. It’s time to embrace it.

“What people have to realise is this happens anyway. It’s the nature of viewers today and the new millennial viewer that’s growing up. We have a plethora of distractions around us – whether it’s a tablet, a phone, picture in picture. There are so many ways to be distracted from the core broadcast. You’re never, ever going to get away form that. The distraction is there, full stop.

“But what we’re finding is if you embrace that, you’re keeping the audience within the realm of your programme. If I hear a commentator say something provocative, I might tweet about that, and that drives attention back to the broadcaster. People can end up more engaged, because they’re using their second screen as part of that broadcast experience.

Davies notes that social interaction does lend itself equally to all kinds of television.

“In the UK, we wouldn’t want to see polls or social interaction in the middle of Downton Abbey or Coronation Street. There could be a social element going on in parallel with the show, but you wouldn’t want it influencing that linear broadcast. But we know news, current affairs and sports lend itself really well to it. And your X-Factors and game shows work well too.”

Given the huge impact of social media on broadcasters, and with Facebook and Twitter pushing their own video initiatives, is it only a matter of time before TV and social media are indistinguishable. 


This article first appeared in our sister publication TVBEurope.