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#TrendSpire2013 – Four Ideas For The Future of Television

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I was honored to be a speaker last week at Trendspire 2013 in Atlanta, which was the brainchild of Native Marketing working with Turner Media Group (TMG) Insights & Inspirations.  Native Marketing has been doing trend research and presentations for Turner since 2011, but this is the first internal company-wide conference to explore trends in media, entertainment, technology and pop culture.

It was a terrific day of inspired panels and presentations, filled with very smart people. Since it was held at, and for the benefit of, Turner, much of the talk revolved around television programming.  From what I heard from others, plus ideas of my own that I’ve been knocking around in my mind for a while, I’ve come up with four ideas of what the future might hold for a more interactive future of television*

1. Have a TV show host a hackathon, use winning idea in show

Television and hackathons makes a lot of sense. In fact, there was a TV Hackfest in San Francisco earlier this year, and I’ll be a judge at the upcoming TV Hackfest in London.  The 2nd Screen Society is also producing an AppHACK event with AngelHack in Los Angeles on November 2nd/3rd.  These events tend to focus on creating tools to make the consumer experience of watching television better. Here’s how the London event describes itself:

What is a HackFest? The aim of TV hackfest is to provide a range of tv technologies, SDK’s and API’s  as well as briefs and competitions – to developers, designers, agencies, creatives and entrepreneurs  to build design and show how future video entertainment could be delivered within an interactive multi-screen environment. From first and second screen apps, to social tv mashups and broadcaster / content centric content briefs , the TV Hackfest is a way to get creative and build future mutli-screen TV concepts with some cool prizes for the winners.

But here’s what I’d like to see: What if a show like ABC’s new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. held a hackathon? Ask the developer community to create a cool new piece of tech and incorporate the winning idea into the showI’m sure that a developer or start-up would kill to have their app or tool integrated into a primetime television show. The PR for the network, the show and the winning developer would be enormous.

I could also see a brand integrating into this very easily.  A mobile phone company would be great for this sort of thing, or really any brand that has a tech focus, or a brand that wants to develop that perception. You could build an entire season-long campaign around this, plus in-show integration and sponsorship of the hackathon.

2. Create spin-off as mobile-only mini-series during off-season

People have a voracious appetite for the shows they love. From Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead to Sons of Anarchy and House of Cards fans count the days until the new season starts. The idea of content made for the web (webisodes) isn’t new, but it’s time to develop content that is mobile first. Why not make a 5-10 episode mini-series set within the world of an existing show? Twelve to 15-minute episodes could be created to develop secondary characters (for a possible 1st screen spin-off?) or wrap-up plot lines that weren’t given enough time during the regular run of the show. In a similar vein, check out USA’s Burn Notice graphic novel. Each episode could end with an interactive survey, poll or questionnaire that could provide valuable data to the writers and show-runners.

3. Kickstarter + Gamification = Pilot Picker

One of the tenets of new marketing revolution is the importance of building communities and engaging people on a deeper level, getting them invested in your offering. Kickstarter is a perfect example.  Every year networks offer up a host of new programs, yet very few of them survive. Perhaps if people were more directly invested in the success of the show the network could develop a new dynamic with its viewers. Here’s how it could work:

  • First, properly integrate game mechanics into a network’s website.
  • Set up a page on the network’s site in Kickstarter-style, where writers/producers can “pitch” their shows.
  • As viewers accumulate “points” through various activities on the site, allow them to “invest” in new show concepts (prior to shooting pilots).
  • The shows with the highest investment (which represents potential viewer interest) get greenlit for shooting a pilot.

This has the capacity to completely disrupt several current industry models, potentially saving money for the nets and generating a higher percentage of successful new shows.

4. 2nd Screen App + Augmented Reality = Character in your room

At TrendSpire 2013, Steve Brown, Chief Evangelist and Futurist and Intel, spoke about what he’s expecting to see soon and I was truly excited about an idea he threw out. Computing power is going to be so big and fast that we’ll be able to bring characters from the first screen into our living rooms via a 2nd screen app, and they’ll be able to recognize and adjust to the environment. Imagine Walter White sitting next to you on your couch discussing the finer points of meth dealing. Or a horde of zombies suddenly stumbling around your bedroom as you pan around the room with your tablet. This sort of 4D experience could open up a host of creative opportunities and truly change the viewing experience in ways we can only begin to dream of.

 

Mobile, interactive and off-screen are all ways TV can reinvent itself to benefit from the changes in culture and consumer behavior we’re currently experiencing. The question is, which networks will jump in and grab first mover advantage.

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Digital Measurement Is About To Flip TV On Its Head

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According to the Wall Street Journal (as reported by Adweek), Nielsen will be rolling out Nielsen Digital Program Ratings  “which will measure audiences for TV content viewed online. A+E, ABC, AOL, CBS, The CW, Discovery Communications, FOX, NBC and Univision have all signed on to participate in this test, which will begin in May and run through July.” And, according to Eric Solomon, senior vice president for Global Digital Audience Measurement at Nielsen, the company plans to cover mobile devices in future releases.

Adweek notes: “Nielsen Digital Program Ratings will track views primarily on the networks’ own desktop websites, with additional coverage for mobile devices planned for the future. The Digital Program Ratings will provide overnight data such as the number of unique viewers, stream counts and reach by age and gender.”

Nielsen may have been slow to adjust to the shifts in consumer behavior brought about by DVRs, Social Networks, mobile and online viewing, but they are now catching up. They’ve rolled out Online Campaign Ratings “for brands that want to more effectively measure digital campaigns;” in February they started to measure broadband viewership; and they’ve introduced a Twitter Ratings System via their acquisition of SocialGuide.

I think it’s entirely possible that the television* industry is going to experience a new reality not unlike that which the music industry experienced when it started to update its measurement methods. First, Soundscan brought a level of accuracy to the industry that was woefully missing.  Now take a look at what Billboard charts track now: On-Demand Songs, Digital Songs, Steaming Songs and Ringtones just to name a few. That’s how Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” becomes the Number 1 song in the country without major label distribution.

How will this ability to more accurately track viewership, across multiple platforms, affect content? If I were a programmer I’d be looking to create snack-size programming. I’d experiment with 15 and maybe even 10 minute shows. A really innovative programmer might take a page from the independent comics I loved as a kid: A 40-page main story and then an 8-page teaser for a new character that was being developed.

Think about that for a second. What if you extended a 30-minute sitcom to 35-40 minutes, then aired a 10-15 minute ‘mini-show.’ Let that mini-show develop over four or five weeks, see what kind of viewership it’s gaining on mobile devices and then roll it out in the fall as a full-fledged show. That has to be better than the current strategy most networks use.

I think you could also see ‘mobile first’ content that may be supplemental content to a main show. If you’ve got 10 minutes to kill, would you watch a little vignette that features your favorite secondary character from a hit show as the star of their own 10-minute piece? Of course you would! And networks could probably get interesting directors and guest stars for these mini-shows as well. Once they see the audience is there, they’ll be able to sell brands on sponsoring this content via product integration or hosting it as part of a 2nd Screen play.

Brad Barket/Getty Images for Hulu

Brad Barket/Getty Images for Hulu

There are probably a dozen more possible innovations in format that we’ll see as measurement becomes more precise and covers more platforms, but the net result could be an explosion in original content customized for various screens and featuring new angles on your favorite shows. That’s a future I can get behind. For more on what’s happening on the digital programming front, read this piece on Hulu’s plans from The New York Times.

 

*Television is becoming an increasingly inappropriate term to use. But “video content” connotes a certain sterility which I don’t much care for. What term should we use to refer to all the types of shows, from all the different distributors, on all the different platforms? Perhaps it is all ‘programming?’

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Advertising Week Update

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Advertising Week Panel on Sponsoring an Innovation Culture

It’s been a hectic couple of days for me at Advertising Week 2012. Here’s a rundown:

Monday, Oct. 1 NASDAQ Tech Futures 

I was the moderator for a panel called: The Imminent Power of 2nd Screen Consumer Engagement

The panel was packed with experts from a variety of fields, so we had a lively and diverse conversation:

Panelists:

  • Jordan Berkowitz, Executive Director, Creative Technology, Ogilvy & Mather
  • Sue Kaufman, Managing Director, GroupM
  • Brody O’Harran, Sr. Director, US XBOX Specialists Sales at Microsoft
  • Thomas Engdahl, CEO, President & Founder, Magic Ruby
  • Joe Inzerillo, Sr. VP, Multimedia & Distribution, Major League Baseball Advanced Media

Tuesday, Oct. 2 Sponsoring An Innovation Culture

As the marketing landscape evolves, creating an environment that inspires innovation is a key driver of business success. I was part of an eclectic panel of agency and market leaders who shared insights and experiences on how all businesses can stimulate and leverage innovation. The panel also featured:

  • David Shing, Digital Prophet, AOL
  • Brian Yamada, Executive Director of Channel Activation, VML
  • Yoni Bloch, Founder and CEO, Interlude


Advertising Week – Sponsoring an Innovative… by advertisingweek

Tuesday, Oct. 2 The Great Debate 3:00pm

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY squared off against the VCU BRANDCENTER in the inaugural “Great Debate.” Student teams competed before an All-Star jury of industry leaders to defend whether second screen is the “New Normal” or just a passing fad. The debaters explored ways to monetize second screens and how content owners, distributors, and advertisers should plan accordingly.

I was one of the judges for this, and it was great to see the students tackle the issue. You can view this one split over two videos, here and here.

Wednesday, Oct. 3 Live from the AWE Stage 11:00am

Guy Finley, Executive Director of the 2nd Screen Society, and I spoke about the emerging 2nd Screen ecosystem and what it means for brands, agencies and consumers.


AWE_Second_Screen_Society_100312 by advertisingweek

 

Also, I was quoted in a Digiday piece, Can Agencies Solve the Talent Problem?, and here’s my first piece for The Huffington Post about Advertising Week - 99 Products and I’ll Pitch Each One -  where I explore the connection between Hip Hop and Advertising.

 

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Creative Struggles Look To Continue At NBC

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Growing up in the 80s, NBC wasn’t just a television network, it was the television network for me. Cosby, Cheers, Family Ties, Night Court, Wings, Facts of Life, Hill St. Blues, St. Elsewhere, LA Law, Miami Vice and, of course, The Tonight Show and Letterman. Oh, sure, I may have dabbled in other channels – ABC for Love Boat and Fantasy Island, CBS for Dukes of Hazard, but for the most part you could have turned the dial (yes, the TV had a dial) to NBC and then ripped the knob off and it wouldn’t have affected me much. Brandon Tartikoff was a genius.

NBC kept it rolling into the 90s with Seinfeld, ER, NewsRadio, Friends, Mad About You, Frazier, Will & Grace and The West Wing.  An incredible run of about 20 years of amazing, quality TV. That’s why the current state of NBC is so sad. Yes, The Office, 30 Rock, Parks & Rec and Community have been flying the flag, but increasingly they feel like the dying vestiges of a once great empire, rather than the vanguard of cutting edge entertainment.

In previous seasons you could at least see the thinking behind some of the ideas coming out of Burbank: Super Hero movies were hot, so they rolled out The Cape. Should they have teamed up with DC or Marvel and created a weekly series out of an established character? Of course, but again, you could see the logic.  Undercovers was Hart to Hart meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith as seen by Tyler Perry. Ok, I get that. Was The Playboy Club a blatant rip off of Mad Men? Yes, but at least it was a blatant rip-off of Mad Men. You could understand the thinking that was underlying the greenlighting of these ultimately doomed shows.

Now, thanks to the Olympics, we’ve caught a glimpse of what NBC will be trotting out this fall and, well, it’s grim. No, not Grimm, grim. Let’s look at the heavily promoted sitcom Go On. The show stars Matthew Perry as a sports talk radio show host who… [record scratch sound]. I’m sorry, what was that? Matthew Perry is a TV star at least partly because he looks like a TV star. Radio show hosts are on radio because they look like radio show hosts. In no way is Perry believable as a sports talk radio show host the way, say, Ray Romano was believable as a sportswriter on Everybody Loves Raymond. Romano looks like a sportswriter.

Ok, small point, let’s move on. Wait, hold on, why is he a sports radio talk show host? Is that an inherently humorous profession? Well, NBC had hits with Frazier and NewsRadio and of course there was WKRP in Cincinnati, so this is… well worn turf? Hmm, alright. So, this will b a workplace comedy I guess. No, not exactly. Apparently Perry’s character has recently lost his wife [cue laff track!] and he’s forced to join a support group by his employer.

On paper, I’m struggling with this. Let’s take a look at a teaser promo, maybe it plays better on screen.

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My eyes. It hurts my eyes.

Let’s break this down. Why is there a former Olympic athlete, with her medal, in the group? This spot ran during the Olympics, so they went for the tie-in. But Shawn Johnson, a great athlete and Olympic champion, at this point has no awareness with people so they put her in a leotard and told her to wear her medal. Then, just to make sure, Perry calls her by her full name in an incredibly awkwardly phrased line. And now, here’s comes the punchline, wait for it… wait for it… there’s a guy who’s dressed funny!

Yes, this is just a teaser spot, but in these 30 seconds you learn so much about what is going on at NBC. In the words of cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken, NBC is desperately in need of a Chief Culture Officer. Someone who has an understanding of what’s going on in culture, who understands consumer attitudes and behavior.

Go On would have made a lot of sense in 1985. Everything about the show is dated.  The premise is tired. The star, since his success in Friends, has been the lead in two shows, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Mr. Sunshine, which together aired a total of 31 episodes, neither seeing the light of a second season. Viewers have been pretty clear on how they feel about Matthew Perry’s TV career post-Friends.

Recently NBC also announced Michael J. Fox, another former NBC star, was returning. Read Elizabeth Talerman of Nucleus’ take on this development. Money quote:

 “In working with entertainment brands we’ve found that all too often they have a tendency to believe that a single product, act or character will mean salvation and will effect brand turn-around. But to us, this feels like a Hail Mary pass that we simply wouldn’t want any client to have to throw.  Make no mistake about it, a great product can deliver substantial business value in the short-term, but effecting brand turn-around is bigger than any single product and is better revenue insurance for the long-term.”

But those issues aside, what part of the Go On promo plays into how people watch TV today? “OMG, no way! They got @ShawnJohnson for the @NBCGo_On promo!! #hilarious #mustseeTV,” tweeted no one, ever. What sort of second screen experience would you be interested in having with this show?

To further illustrate NBC’s tin ear to culture, here’s an actual tweet from the @NBCGo_On twitter account: “What scene are you most excited to see again in tonight’s first episode encore of #GoOn at 10/9c?”  Just, wow.

What makes this all the more perplexing is that NBC’s cable networks seem to have a much better handle on culture. G4, Syfy, Bravo and USA all create programs that get people talking. Check out McCracken’s great piece on NBCUniversal Cable Chair, Bonnie Hammer. Here’s another.

I’ve got a soft spot for NBC, I want to see them do well, so it pains me to see this sort of thing. I could have given you 800 words on another new NBC show, Revolution, and let’s not even start on Animal Practice.  Unless NBC is ok with being the network of Sunday Night Football and bad reality programming, they need to get a better understanding of consumer behavior, cultural trends and how the modern TV show works.

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Millward Brown / Dynamic Logic Digital Predictions For 2012 #4 Online Video Invades the Living Room

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Here’s more from the Millward Brown and Dynamic Logic (Disclosure: Both agencies are part of WPP, as is my employer, Y&R12 for 2012: Top 12 Digital Predictions for 2012 report with #4 on their list, Online Video Invades the Living Room.

The report focuses on the “reverse-migrate” trend that will see video normally viewed online, shifting towards the more traditional viewing location: the living room (with living room being a stand-in for traditional television). There are many technologies and platforms in the mix here, as noted in the report, Slingbox, Roku, Boxee, Apple TV and Google TV are all trying to figure this out. Amazon is also in the mix based on their sheer size and obvious ambition.

Will Google Rule The Online Video / TV industry?

If I were placing a bet, it would be on Google. They have an established content platform with YouTube, and coupled with the strength of their search engine, Google is sure to play a role in whatever develops over the next year. I would also not be surprised if a previously unknown company found a niche and became a real player here, like TiVo did more than a decade ago.

These sort of dramatic changes usually create problems for the establishment, and the mainstreaming of online video will probably be another body blow to the broadcast networks. Whatever content I choose, whenever I want to watch it, from my 50″ big screen TV? Where exactly does that leave CBS, ABC, FOX and NBC? I think these folks are already dead, they just haven’t stopped breathing. Purely from a profitability standpoint, I can’t see NBC – the broadcast network – existing in five years time.

When you look at all the properties that Comcast, via its ownership of NBCUniversal has: CNBC, MSNBC, the upcoming NBC Sports Channel, G4, USA, Syfy, Bravo… You realize that NBC has little left beyond a morning show, sports (which would move to the new sports channel) and the occasional primetime programming hit.  Why keep funding that?

To people like like my 12 and 8-year old sons, there is no longer and difference between broadcast & cable, between watching programming on a phone, a tablet, a desktop monitor or a big screen TV. In fact, they probably watch video content on three to five different type of devices every day. How does the notion of a network “brand” fit into this new universe?  The notion of CBS being the “TIffany Network” seems not just quaint, but antiquated.

Like much else, I think we’ll see personalization taken to the next level in video programming. Like you music playlist, soon your TV playlist will be a reflection of your self that you’ll be able to share with others (more on this idea in a future post).

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Millward Brown / Dynamic Logic Digital Predictions For 2012 #3 Virtual Togetherness

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The Intermedia Engagement Ecosystem

Today I’ll pick back up my look at the Millward Brown and Dynamic Logic (Disclosure: Both agencies are part of WPP, as is my employer, Y&R12 for 2012: Top 12 Digital Predictions for 2012 report with idea #3 on their list, the Virtual Togetherness.

The report asks:

Will our TV viewing and discovery habits increasingly be influenced by what our friends are watching, leading to the rise of the “social program guide”? And with the emergence of services such as Bluefin Labs/GetGlue, will traditional TV ratings start to be complemented by “social ratings”? They could well be, since advertisers will no doubt be keen to understand how well a show is travelling beyond the TV viewing audience itself.

In a word, “yes.” The above mentioned Blue Fins, along with SocialGuide will be influential barometers for networks and production companies. Social TV apps will reconnect us, albeit digitally, to programming, and we’ll see shows that generate strong social engagement become the real ratings winners.

Social TV has been an area I’ve looked at closely this year. Earlier in the fall I wrote a post where I coined the term, “Intermedia” and defined it as:

Intermedia is characterized by the real-time interaction of content consumers between themselves andcontent producers, the content’s participants or notable third parties. This engagement may play a role in the on-going or future development of the content in the form of voting, surveys, commentary or other forms of interaction.

This post led to a follow up on the subject that I wrote for Mashable.  You may also want to check out my guide to the people, platforms and apps that are shaping Social TV.

The report also nods to a “recipe for Social TV” that includes: TV content, a backstage blog, a Twitter account, hashtag strategy and  interactive apps. I agree that Social TV should be viewed on this broader level, and I think we’ll see a new position develop for content providers – that of digital showrunner.

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