The Future Of TV Is Social

Thought Leadership
harvey.cossell recently published this article by our Head of Strategy, Harvey Cossell, looking at why the future of TV lies in social media. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

TV is dying, and Facebook smells blood. Not satisfied with owning the space on your mobile and desktop, Facebook is after a piece of (or, a seat on) the most sought-after media real estate of all—your sofa.

Ever since Facebook announced the launch of a stand-alone app for TV earlier this year, rumours around its content offering have been circulating. It’s now been revealed the platform will be launching its own original content in the form of two series, and, not to be outdone, fellow social media giant Snapchat recently announced a deal with HBO owner Time Warner to develop shows for its platform as well.

This is yet another shift in a media landscape that has changed beyond recognition since those halcyon days when TV advertising was the holy grail for brands. Over the last few years, marketers have been trying to pick the lock to brand opportunities in the pay-to-view content space, with eyeballs shifting from traditional TV to the ad-free space of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and others. That’s a tough nut to crack, so the emergence of social TV and the new opportunities it offers brands to reach audiences should mean the industry is breathing a sigh of relief.

Back To Adverts?
The most obvious form of branded content available on a free-to-consumer platform will be adverts. Those interested in this kind of approach could be seduced by the platforms’ huge sets of user data, and the promise of even more refined targeting opportunities. The danger here is that brands will retreat back into their more “interruptive” comfort zone. However, my hope is that the social platforms will give brands the opportunity to create their own interest-led content for broadcast to specific audiences.

We need to remember that we’re not dealing with broadcast media here. Advertising’s evolution is like a wave coming into shore—it never breaks in the same place twice. Social TV will, therefore, come with a whole new set of opportunities and, of course, challenges.

Brands will need to be careful not to slip back into old habits. The entertainment landscape is changing, and the consumer expects more. Advertising that follows the more traditional brand or product-first approach is not usually the best way to reach your audience.

Instead, brands should aim to add to the viewer’s experience by focusing on culturally relevant content, starting with a social insight and using that to bridge back to the product. There’s a subtle but significant difference here—by starting with the consumer, in the context of culture, rather than the product, you’re more likely to create something of interest that doesn’t interrupt their viewing experience.

AFP In The 21st Century
One approach to creating content that adds value is to become the viewing experience itself. Branded content is nothing new, but it could take a big boost from the emergence of social TV, with high-quality, longer-form programming that brings the old world of Advertiser Funded Programming (AFP) into the 21st century.

Whereas AFP was time consuming, expensive, and not particularly effective, with some clever technology, social platforms could transform this into a commerce opportunity. For example, consumers could watch Facebook content on their TVs, while simultaneously being served up mobile notifications about products appearing in the story on screen. Double-screening is a hugely prevalent existing behavior, and now brands will have the opportunity to entertain on the first while selling products on the second.

Of course, this kind of content won’t come cheap. A one-off piece of branded content will have a long tail, but will it really engage an audience in the long term? The clear opportunity is to focus on episodic content formats. These wear in over time, delivering that desired long tail whilst also building an engaged and loyal audience attracted by the brand’s cultural relevance.

Think Culture-First
Whatever approach brands investing in social TV decide to take, the important thing is to think culture-first by putting social thinking at the heart of your marketing. Brands need to build connection with their audience around what that audience is interested in, whilst retaining a relevant and authentic link back to their product or service.

Many businesses will, no doubt, take the easy way out and stick with what they know—attracted by the easy wins of ad recall through interruption. But the brands that embrace existing consumer behaviour and find non-interruptive connection points with culture will be revered and loved the most over time. And this will earn them their seat on your sofa.