The Web: Headliner Or TV’s Supporting Actor?

Editor’s note: Chuck Fishman is the media, entertainment and publishing director for Acquia. 

Super Bowl XLIX was the most-watched television show in U.S. history. It was also the most socialized Super Bowl ever measured, with 265 million Facebook posts, likes and comments, and more than 28 million global tweets. Today’s TV viewer doesn’t just watch TV anymore — they scroll through Twitter and Facebook in real time, watch YouTube Videos, send Snapchats and pin to Pinterest boards.

Their attention span is limited as they consume across multiple channels simultaneously, and the experience they create by consuming in this way is multi-dimensional, providing a unique opportunity for brands to meet them wherever they are — online or off.

Many media companies are taking advantage of this opportunity through multi-channel engagement and second-screen experiences. Shows like NBC’s The Voice have rolled out live-voting programs to engage viewers not just through television, but through social and text, too. The approach of connecting with viewers through activities such as live voting is called the “lean forward” model, and seeks to capture consumer attention wherever the consumer is, whatever platform they’re on.

The USA Network’s Modern Family Live employs the lean forward method as well, offering viewers a chance to compete live with other fans of the show to score points, climb the Live leaderboard, and hopefully come out on top with a prize pack from the show.

The “lean back” model seeks to hold fan engagement beyond the time constraints of regularly scheduled programming. The Walking Dead is a great example of this — they introduced a post-mortem talk show, “The Talking Dead,” to keep viewers engaged even after the show has ended.

Better Call Saul, a Breaking Bad spin-off, has a web experience separate from the show for Saul’s “legal practice” and offers viewers the chance to sign up to get emails from Saul direct to their inbox. The show also offers viewers a live digital component tied to the broadcast called a “story sync” at

All of these tactics are pre-programmed ways for networks to engage with their audiences through conversations that are happening around their programming — before, during and after.

As media companies experiment with capturing viewer attention on- and off-screen, they must engage fans across channels.

But what about the moments when a trending topic emerges unexpectedly, and media companies are caught unprepared? Super Bowl XLIX’s “Left Shark” is a prime example — he completely stole the show during halftime with Katy Perry, and arguably came out the biggest star of the game behind MVP Tom Brady. Left Shark now has 20,000 followers on Twitter.

Some brands have famously succeeded at this — like when Oreo capitalized on the blackout during Super Bowl XLVII with this memorable tweet and associated tagline: “You can still dunk in the dark.” Yet there is still much room for learning and improvement. As media companies experiment with capturing viewer attention on- and off-screen, they must engage fans across channels — via social media, in-app experiences, live participation, interactive portals and more. They need to recognize that the only way for this to work is to capture audiences where they already exist. Building out an approach to do that is no simple task.

With digital-native companies like Netflix, Showtime, Hulu and Amazon getting into the content production game, engaging audiences is critical. Networks need to find ways to continue the conversation not just during scheduled programming, but in between shows. To date, networks’ attempts at creating second-screen experiences haven’t consistently taken off.

Second screen action often happens on social channels that networks don’t own, and therefore can’t control, but they do have the ability to capture and amplify what’s happening.

Tools like Spredfast “Conversations” can help networks target their viewers through the right social channels at the right time, increasing and improving engagement. Janrain, a customer identity platform that pulls profile data from sources like Facebook and Twitter, realized the market need to deliver and curate social media. The firm just bought Arktan to be able to provide the second-screen content to media clients; current Arktan customers include Sony Music, WWE, A&E and Turner Entertainment. Marrying the profile data from Janrain with the social content from Arktan in a single solution allows these media companies to identify the fans that talk the most about their entertainment properties and then elevate these fans and their conversations to the entire audience.

Another way media companies are approaching the second screen is to create original and exclusive digital video content that stands apart from linear broadcast programming. There is now a dedicated week for digital video content creators to shop their digital-only programming to advertisers called the “NewFronts.” The NewFronts line-up for 2015 includes a roster of publishers that are now producing quite a volume of video content, including Time Inc., Conde Nast and The Wall Street Journal. This original content competes with the digital extensions of any broadcast content, making it even harder to capture the attention of those on mobile or desktop platforms.

While media companies are trying to leverage the second screen to reach consumers on digital platforms, major advertisers are also leveraging the same approach with some success. During the Super Bowl, Volvo created a Twitter competition around game day ads. “The Greatest Interception Ever” garnered 15,000 mentions for the brand and seamlessly blended television with social for a cross-channel, second-screen success. McDonald’s also launched its “Pay with Lovin’” campaign, tweeting out giveaways for other brands after each of their television spots aired. Those giveaway tweets were retweeted 5,000-10,000 times each, some even in excess of 10,000 times.

So the question remains — how do networks and other media companies build interactive web platforms for today’s viewers?

For one, they can start by looking at where viewers are spending the majority of their second-screen time and what they’re doing there. A 2014 Nielsen Digital Consumer Report said that 84 percent of U.S. smartphone and tablet owners watch television with a second screen in hand. That means that if executed properly, there’s almost double the opportunity to reach viewers that there once was. Then, media companies can meet the consumer in those places, delivering a personalized, targeted message that is much more likely to resonate.

As new media content players enter the field and viewer habits change, it’s an exciting time in the world of entertainment — and it’s also a high-stakes moment for media companies. Brands that create engaging, on-target digital experiences and engage — and win over — audiences across channels will come out as the winners.