Social TV may mean money and more loyal viewers for news

Forget buzz – the noise surrounding social TV is ear-splitting.  In fact, it’s tough to find a publication dealing with media trends that’s not talking about various efforts to leverage social media and television viewing.

But where are all the journalists in this discussion? Well, more than 200 local TV news stations are banking on ConnecTV to get their social TV conversation ramped up.

ConnecTV is a single “second-screen app” that allows the user to interact with hundreds of programs – syndicated shows, prime-time fare and live programming, such as sporting events and newscasts.

According to a story by Cory Bergman at LostRemote, “If you’re watching a local newscast, [ConnecTV] ties into partner stations’ iNews and ENPS computer systems, offering content and conversations synced exactly with the broadcast. In one example, ConnecTV plans to allow users (in some markets) to share their favorite stories from the app to Facebook and Twitter, which will then link the station’s video player with the exact clip cued up. Stations’ social accounts will also appear in the ConnecTV experience.”

Media General is one of ten major news companies partnering with the social media start-up.  WCMH president and general manager Dan Bradley says his station has been a beta site for the service since January, but the public debut is just days away.

“After the launch we will provide interactive elements on the screen during a newscast.  A little basic at first, but we hope to get to being able to offer PDFs of documents related to the story, interactive maps and graphics, etc. ,” says Bradley.

The free app is available right now for PC/Mac and the iPad, with a mobile version said to be coming soon.

Raycom-owned WMC-TV in Memphis is one of the station’s participating in ConnecTV.  Simple interactivity such as polling is paired with Facebook, Twitter and other social media features.

Chip Mahaney, senior director of local operations for Scripps Digital, another ConnecTV partner, says a lot is riding on stations being able to figure out social TV.

“A huge challenge for us in a 24/7 multi-screen, always-connected world is creating “must-see” reasons to watch local live TV news.  Second-screen engagement, with its potential for instant interactivity and community engagement, is one of those opportunities to meet that huge challenge. “

For prime-time TV programming, social TV appears to have already taken off.  In the PromaxBDA Media Brief, the founder and CEO of Trendrr, a social-media monitoring firm, was quoted as saying that “social activity (including tweets, Facebook updates and check-ins) surrounding broadcast prime-time TV increased by 194% from April 2011 to April 2012 — nearly quadrupling in volume.”  In the comments section for the story, it was reported that “social activity during broadcast prime-time television increased by 9.28M comments, posts, likes, check-ins, etc.” over the period referenced.

However, even for those stations not using second-screen apps, the push to build a social media audience is still important.

Forrest Carr is news director at Journal Broadcast Group-owned KGUN in Tucson, AZ.  He says Facebook alone has been a powerful social TV tool.

“We use Facebook to generate commentary; that’s our social media strategy,” Carr says.  “All of our stories are tweeted; Twitter is about volume and keeping a newsfeed going.  Facebook is about keeping a conversation going. ”

Carr says his station routinely talks directly to its customers.  It’s not unusual to see Carr himself engaged in a conversation with viewers on Facebook, and he says the strategy is working.  The station’s Facebook page has approximately 28,000 likes and is by far the market leader.

“Right now, while I’m talking to you, we have 3,454 people talking about our page; I think we’re the established place to go if you want to talk about news in Tucson,” Carr says, “and that can’t hurt ratings.

Of course, ratings are all about revenue, and one of the most attractive things about second-screen apps is the potential for advertising dollars.  Bradley says in the ConnecTV app, there is a frame dedicated to ads.

“It has the ability to interact with commercials playing on the TV.  For instance, if there is a Ford F-150 ad on TV, it will show up in the pad with a link to a site for more detailed info, maybe build your own model and set an appointment with a local dealer.  This feature would work during any type of programming, local or network,” says Bradley.

Hank Price is general manager at Hearst-owned WXII in Winston-Salem.  Price sees second-screen apps as playing a key role in greater audience targeting.

“Ultimately, this could mean programming will be targeted to social or cohort groups based on their shared interests — different versions of programs for different groups,” Price says.  And those more narrowly focused groups would be attractive to advertisers, according to Price.

Mahaney also sees the apps as ripe places for advertisers that want to be engaged, but says his first priority it to build a social media community surrounding his company’s newscasts.

“We want to create loyalists – people who come back night after night – creating community is one way to build a loyal audience,” says Mahaney.

Carr agrees and says TV newsrooms may or may not win dollars by building a social media audience, but there are other benefits to be had.

“There is a strong correlation between stories that get a buzz on Facebook and stories that get a bump in the ratings, it’s our most powerful marketing tool,” Carr says.  “But, it’s also about serving community.  We think getting people to talk about news increases the reach of the news story, the effect of the news story and a journalist’s ability to have a positive benefit on a community.”

A shorter version of this story was originally published on