Enjoying a TV show used to be something you kept to yourself or perhaps discussed with a few colleagues at work the following day. Now it’s possible to let the whole world know in a matter of seconds, courtesy of Facebook’s ubiquitous “Like” button. Simply click and inform your friends, friends of friends and, more importantly, the TV show’s producers what you’ve been watching. This simple indicator has become an important function in monitoring audience engagement with a show. Directing the viewer to a TV show’s page on Facebook can increase and maintain loyalty by offering additional information and exclusive material. It can also strengthen engagement by enabling fans to communicate with each other and exchange views on their favourite shows.
‘Glee’, the mega-successful series about a high school show choir, currently has 14.5 million likes and a host of behind-the-scenes video footage to view on its Facebook page. ‘Top Gear’ has 8 million likes and offers information and discussion on all things “vehicle” from Formula1 racing to the world’s first BMX triple backflip. The key to gaining this level of fan support is partly down to offering something unique, in the form of additional material, but also by maintaining a continuous presence. These shows may not be on screen all year round, but outside of their transmission they are still regularly engaging with fans. “Four Rooms” is a new channel 4 show where members of the public offer unusual and potentially valuable artefacts to professional buyers. A kind of ‘Antiques Roadshow’ for the Saatchi generation. While on air, its Facebook page provides a running commentary of what’s happening on screen; summing up the offers, snippets of interesting background info on the objects. Most of these threads have about 4 or 5 fan comments below them, however when one of the buyers, Gordon Watson, was recently available to converse with fans and value the objects they offered up, there was a huge surge of interest, culminating in 85 comments. Essentially this was a replication of the TV show, enabling viewers to become involved in a meaningful way. An indication that perhaps if there are ways to replicate other shows, it could prove an interesting and original way to hook in fans.
Other social networking sites have begun to have an increasing impact on television viewing and marketing of shows. Twitter being particularly influential. Widespread use of the hashtag means conversations and topics can be tracked and the ‘trending’ list confirms the popularity of shows just by their appearance. However, Facebook’s potential in TV must be greater. It isn’t hampered by the 140 character minimum, has video capability and a considerably larger user base than Twitter. This, along with its interactive nature, additional components, such as outside applications, and micropayment system means it has the makings of a true cross-platform experience.
Expansys, the online tech superstore, recently carried out research on Facebook usage versus TV viewing in the UK. It seems the social networking giant wins out with an average two and a half hours a day spent on the site with only two hours spent traditional TV watching. Of the 3000 people questioned, 49% stated that their Facebook page was always ‘on’, suggesting a fair amount of dipping in and out throughout the day.
The marketing of TV programmes through Facebook is proving successful but what about its future as a platform to view the content? In the spirit of ‘keeping things close to their chest’, Facebook have so far given little away on that score. Christian Hernandez Gallardo, its Business Dev head, recently acknowledged its use as a social hub for TV shows, but expressed a desire to have broadcasters put their EPG as events on Facebook, thereby letting people RSVP to them to get a reminder. This would utilise personal Facebook data and enable specific shows to be recommended to the user.
Facebook currently ranks third on the web for its number of video viewers, at 52 million. Not bad for a site that is not primarily geared towards viewing content. In a recent experiment, Warner Brothers has just begun renting out movies to view on Facebook. The latest is “The Dark Knight”, which can be purchased using Facebook Credits, its new virtual currency. It’s also possible to watch some TV shows in full on Facebook, but only if you reside in its country of origin. Then there is the potential to create or commission its own content. So far there’s no sign of that happening, but it’s possible.
Although Facebook has so far denied it’s planning to enter the TV market in a significant way, with the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft already staking their claim, it is unlikely they will not play some part in its future evolution. Conventional TV viewing may have diminished somewhat in terms of numbers, but it is a pastime embedded in our society and culturally still commands a lot of attention. One area where Facebook is well ahead of the game, is mobile. It is currently the world’s most visited website via smartphone. With mobile TV ‘waiting to happen’ perhaps Facebook could jump the competition and dominate TV viewing on this emerging platform.