Twitter, Time Shifting, Technology & Television

by Adam Helweh |

Are you a “Time Shifter”? No, I am not asking you if you have the ability to slip in and out of the time space continuum at will. I am asking if you are among the millions of people who record your favorite television shows via Tivo or some other DVR device so you can watch them when it’s convenient for you?

An article posted by the AP back in August states, “Sixty-two percent of viewers across the country interviewed in a poll conducted for the nation’s largest cable company, Comcast Corp., said they have used time-shifting technology. Six in 10 people said they owned a digital video recorder.”

They follow that up later in the article by saying “The survey found that 60 percent of viewers report time-shifting more than they did a year ago. Going back three years, 84 percent said they are doing it more often — more than half of the people saying they use it, ‘significantly more.'”

This has got to be upsetting to advertisers who’s dollars are spent on ads that get skipped and executives who have lost control (not the first due to innovations in technology) of their audience. Interestingly enough, the popularity and increasing mainstream use of social media just might be the solution television networks are looking for to re-capture eyeballs when shows air.

Let’s take Twitter for example. It played its part in making the 2011 Grammy Awards the highest rated in a decade. Artists that are some of the most frequently mentioned on Twitter, such as Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, attracted tons of social media savvy fans during the show. Critiques of each performance and congratulatory tweets posted in real-time during the event. The compounding effect of all of those tweets attracted others who were not watching, but wanted to join the conversation. Had these viewers waited until later and watched the show via their DVR then they would have missed out on the communal experience that sites like Twitter and Facebook provide.

Are You Seeing What I’m Seeing?
Now let’s go beyond huge televised events like the Grammys, Superbowl or the Olympics. TV networks would love to harness this same effect to draw viewers to their regular weekly scheduled programming. Twitter is still the most common place for real-time discussions happening during the show as well as the “water cooler” discussions that happens after each episode airs. Services such as GetGlue.com, GoMiso.com, and the relatively new Into_Now mobile app are trying to piggy back on Twitter discussions by providing even more context and interaction around your favorite shows. In general, each provides its own way for viewers to “check in” and say they are watching a particular show. On Monday when I tuned in to watch Chuck on NBC, I could quickly tell others on Twitter and Facebook what I was watching via GetGlue‘s iPhone app.

When check ins are shared with your networks two things happen. First, they remind those who are familiar with the show to tune in so they can be a part of the greater social discussion happening in real-time. I can quickly see which of my friends are also watching Chuck or participate in discussions with other fans of the show. The second thing that happens is each check in provides a link to a description about the show, what time it airs, etc. This creates a discovery point for folks who may never have heard about Chuck or any of the other shows I may tell my network I am watching. Although I could certainly check in while watching my favorite shows on my DVR (which I do not actually own), I would be “late to the party” and miss out on the social discussions that peak during the regular air time.


Gimme the (Digital) Goods!
In an effort to further incentivise viewers to tune in during regular show times they are partnering with services like GetGlue to reward them with digital goods. Being an avid Discovery channel fan, I checked in during this season’s first episode of MythBusters. I was rewarded a special digital “sticker” that proved I watched the premiere when it aired the first time on TV. I have to admit, even though these “stickers” have no real value, it is quite fun to receive these digital badges of fandom. GetGlue even mails you physical versions of stickers you have earned to slap on your laptop. MythBusters Premier Sticker on GetGlue

Over the last year I have seen a number of networks get behind what GetGlue and others in the space are doing. Shows from MTV, HBO, Discovery Channel and others are usually represented on the “Limited Time” sticker page on GetGlue. Grammy Awards Sticker on Get Glue

What’s Next?
This is only the start of how networks are using social media to draw viewers back to regularly scheduled programs. This week the New York Times posted an article on the subject. The article mentions numerous ways that the “powers that be” are trying to make television viewing more social. The real-time web and increasing usage of devices like smart phones and tablets all create a more social experience for audiences that was not available only a couple years ago. From the article:

“We know people are multitasking while they’re watching TV,” said Albert Cheng, the executive vice president for digital media for the Disney/ABC Television Group, which oversees ABC. “The question is, how do we tap into that and create a whole different consumer experience?”

The same approach can be, and is frequently, used at a much smaller scale. The real-time social web has already been a part of helping conferences, webinars, and live streaming concerts garner more attention when they are happening. Although today’s technology makes it easy for content providers to record and share content after it’s happened, think about how can you take advantage of social media to attract an audience when your show/event is taking place? The increased social activity during the broadcast of such content can often amplify the desired effect of attracting attention to the on demand version of the content afterwards.

I shared some specific tips and ideas on a previous post here. I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.

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About the Author

Adam Helweh

Adam is CEO of Secret Sushi Creative Inc, a strategic design, digital and social media marketing agency. He specializes in the convergence of design and technology to provide businesses with more intelligent and interactive ways to connect with customers and grow. His clients have included Edelman, Broadcom, Stanford Federal Credit Union, the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Bunchball and others. He's also the co-host of the "SoLoMo Show", a weekly digital marketing podcast, and he has shared the stage with professionals from companies including Facebook, Virgin Airlines, Paypal, Dell and 24 Hour Fitness.