#TrendSpire2013 – Four Ideas For The Future of Television

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.

Ignition: The Marketing Revolution

This is an edited version of last week’s Ignition newsletter, my weekly look at a topic I believe is of interest to marketers. If you’d like to receive this in your email each Monday morning, fill out the form on the right.

Adapt or Die. Sounds like something recently uttered by any number of marketing gurus. In fact, attribution is owed to former South African Prime Minister, P.W. Botha. But South Africa’s ability to adapt is a tale for another day. Right now I want to talk about how brands are taking this lesson, as well as academia’s “publish or perish” rule, to heart. If you read Digiday, the headlines this past week told you that change was truly afoot. Here’s a sampling:

How Virgin Mobile Fell in Love with Content
Brands Cozy up to Start-Ups
The Onion’s Quest to Make Brands Funny

Or how about this one from Mashable: New York Times Launches Start-Up Incubator

Those are pretty provocative titles if you ask me. I don’t think they signal acts of desperation, but rather an acknowledgement by brands that cultural and business shifts are happening so quickly, and in ways they are ill-suited to react to, that partnerships are the only way they can maintain their footing. Smart brands are realizing that posting “like this if you think puppy dogs are cute!” as a Facebook status is not going to get the job done. As a result, partnerships with Buzzfeed, The Onion, Funny or Die and Vice make sense. Those content publishers have cracked the code. They understand culture and what type of content people want to engage in, something that the vast majority of brands don’t understand very well.

Start-Ups present brands with an opportunity to inject new ideas and perhaps a needed shot of enthusiasm into the mix. The Mashable piece notes, “The goal is to seek out new ways of creating, collecting and distributing news and information. The Times says it’s primarily seeking startups focused on mobile, social, video, ad technology, analytics or e-commerce who have raised “at least” seed-stage funding.”

Of course this brings up its own set up problems. Which content providers do I partner with? How do I identify which start-ups to engage? What’s a hackathon?

Great questions and no easy answers. So much of this is still new territory, with numerous players and myriad options. This is where a trusted agency partner can play a vital role. With an intimate understanding of the brand, a history of crafting compelling stories and a knowledge of how to engage with culture (that’s my bit), an agency can identify the right opportunity, collaborate and leverage the partnership for maximum effect.

At Y&R we understand the need for this type of thinking, and the process behind it. Through our Spark Plug program we’ve partnered with a variety of small, innovative companies that create some of the most cutting edge technologies around. We work with them in all sorts of ways to create new and compelling communications solutions for our client partners.

I don’t think you have to be an “edgy” brand to benefit from this sort of thinking either. The key is in understanding things like the media consumption habits of your intended audience or how technology could unlock new functionality in your brand. If the articles linked above and this note have got you thinking, give me a shout and let’s talk about how to find a content partner or host a hackathon.