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Can you give us a bit of background on your business Connect Four Productions?
Given my personal experience historically in traditional TV and equal understanding of viewer engagement and interactivity, It was clear that the continual advancement of technology, the rise of mobile and tablet devices and the increasing use of social media would eventually have an impact on programming and its content.
Programmes were going to need to become 'multi-platform' to meet the growing ways viewers ingested and engaged the TV content. There are some fantastic TV producers out there but most would not have the combined knowledge of how to make high grade programming and integrate the growing rise of people engaging on these devices into the shows, but as viewers demands grew for how they would interact, would the broadcast industry be ready to deal and react to that?
I feared not, hence my reason to niche my work experience down the interactive TV route. Even back in the days when I saw first hand thousands of people sending in their SMS comments in during the live streaming of Big Brother 4 to be placed on air I knew that there was going to be a point in time that technology was so widely used that there were would need to be a bridge between the creative and the technology so to ensure that these two crucial areas are seamlessly combined to the overall benefit and progression of the industry.
Something eventually was going to need to change if the industry was to adapt to the changing audience behaviour, or as I saw it, who was going to help the industry embrace this engaged space for the future of TV content? I set the challenge to be that business, in 2011 Connect Four Productions was set up to achieve exactly that.
Why do you think that viewer engagement & Social TV is so important?
TV for many years has been used as a catalyst to bring people closer together, whether it be in the pub, at work or at home. It drives us to talk about it as it taps into 3 areas that make us interact as humans - Emotional response, shared experience and opinion.
Social media due to its fabric allows us to share our thoughts and comments in real time and a large proportion of TV viewers are taking to these social platforms to do exactly that. Take twitter for example, they announced earlier this year that 60% of all Twitter users access the network whilst watching TV and 40% of all Twitter traffic around peak time is about TV (Secondsync 2012). Given there are more than 10 million active twitter users in the UK this provides a point of entry that the broadcast industry can vastly capitalise on.
Of course this is just one example of stats that prove that social is big for TV viewers but with the rise of the likes of Instagram and Vine, as a TV creative at heart, the integration potential with how these platforms can take broadcast editorial to the next level is extremely exciting and one which we are endeavouring to help the broadcast market undertake.
Not all viewers use or understand social media so by integrating this into the programme, isn't it alienating for them?
Firstly, not all programming is suitable for social or interactive enhancement, it simply doesn't work with some genres. With Wildlife & Nature programming for example, unless it’s a live event such as the stripped week long series that Channel 4 aired, Easter Eggs Live, then it just wont be appropriate. Most audiences are unlikely to want to see social media editorial or visualisations interrupting a mountain lion making a kill to feed her cubs. So we wont ever suggest it. Viewer engagement needs to be simply about enhancement. We consider all the audiences that are due to be watching the show so even if they have never used or engaged with social media before they will be in the least be intrigued by the visualisations and articulations we have created for the presenter to engage with so it should never detract from their viewing experience, or where the programme makers are concerned, it deviates from the high grade editorial considerations that they are honed on delivering.
When we conceptualised the Social Mosiac for The Voice UK we wanted to get across the sheer number of people that are engaging with The Voices’ Facebook and Twitter accounts in a way that would result in a payoff for the viewer to engage with that digital content that would be shown on screen. This meant that 500 or so profile images of viewers engaging with The Voice could be shown on screen at one time, rather than say one single tweet or Facebook comment which, whilst great for the person who is getting their tweet read on screen, the thousands of others viewers engaging are left feeling a little alienated. The Mosiac essentially gave a bigger opportunity for viewers to be part of their favourite show on TV, which in turn drove social engagement and brand affiliation across the series.
What about commerciality?
Firstly, it’s essential that social engagement must have creativity at its core and serve the purpose to enhance and move TV into a new, more engaged future. We know the idea needs to be exciting and dynamic to serve as an enhancement for any programme makers to be interested. However we are aware that budgets for these social enhancements are not always accounted at the point of commission, which in turn, has not been aiding adoption. Questions over whether this should be funded by production budget or the online budget are common, but things are changing as the desire to have these enhancements, particularly in live shows, grows.
We are also very aware that there is a great deal of merit in understanding who, why and what the viewers are engaging with during these live shows and its this insight, particularly from a brand perspective that gives producers feedback on how to finesse their shows so viewers become even more receptive which turn encourages repeat viewers, brand/show affinity and attracts bigger sponsors to the shows, which in a ever decreasing advertising revenue industry is a extremely important from a commercial perspective to the broadcasters, and one that this equally exciting.
The process in our eyes in simple Paid + Owned = Earned I.e if you pay to integrate social articulation that sits well with your show and gives the viewer a reason to engage then you are taking steps own those viewers as ones that matter to your show, which in turn makes the active audience feel more part of your show i.e you've earned an extra reason for this proportion of the viewers to come back and watch your show again.
Advertisers also are now more and more keen to discuss how they can create live Social TV events that will engage viewers more deeply with their products and services. Something which we are relishing discussing with them.
We often have to don various hats at Connect Four, but all of them in equal measure to ensure we are not only advising on the optimum way to utilise viewer engagement on the 1st screen but also to ensure that everybody in the process has an easy and fun time executing it, for this is TV after all...
Connect Four Productions is owned by Tom Bowers and became preferred partners with Mass Relevance in August 2012