In an effort to curb the decline in their 16-24 year old viewing figures, broadcasters have been branching out. At some near point in the future (although nobody quite knows when), BBC3 will go online. Channel Four is similarly pushing its newly rebranded “All 4” into increased amounts of short-form content, with a new (currently in soft-launch) hub “4Shorts” featuring commissions of 3 to 6 minute mini-series, as well as brand-tie ups, and licensing deals with the likes of Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel Food Tube.
Enter Social Network Television. Social network TV is essentially the union of television and social media, predicated upon the trend in which viewers share TV experiences with other viewers via social media on their smartphones and tablets. The phenomenon may present a number of opportunities for advertisers, users of social network TV represent an already huge and quickly expanding real-time focus group and an audience open to multi-platform engagement.
Not only the channels, but various start-ups (including the likes of Philo, Matcha, Numote and Tunerfish) have been pushing to increase viewer engagement via social media. Eye-watering stats like the 620,000 tweets that accompanied the last half of the X Factor finale have made the social media hype that surrounds a programme almost as important a part of the offering as the programme itself. Most savvy TV producers now allocate a not inconsiderable amount of marketing budget to the various stills, shorts and social media feeds that are now the obligatory accompaniment to any ‘hit’ programme. The dominance of short-form and platforms surrounding the content, provides an ideal way to integrate (and perhaps more successfully drive engagement with) advertisers and sponsors. Monkey Kingdom’s Made in Chelsea spin-off shorts for Channel 4, are for example sponsored by Rimmel London. Other commissions similarly feature tie-ups with brands including Alfa Romeo and British Gas.
Although the developers of “social network” TV seem to be onto the right idea: people love using social media in front of their TV, so why not use this to create a new, TV-based social network, a quasi Adsense for TV; it’s important to not get too carried away. The latest BARB Viewing Report for May 2015 showed that while viewing of short form content captured about 10 billion hours’ worth of audience per month (PSY’s YouTube video of Gangnam Style alone gained 159 million hours of views), this was dwarfed by the estimated 360 billion hour of long-form content watched. Again, while short form revenues were an impressive $5 billion, it was estimated long-form would generate a comparative $400 billion worldwide from advertising and subscription revenues. While short form may be growing, it still carries only at most 1-3% of the revenues and views attributed to long-form.
Similarly if spend on digital video advertising may be increasing, so is the price-tag. The cost of video advertising on the top social media or streaming platforms is now comparable to, and at times even more expensive, than the traditional prime time TV networks. It was estimated the average cost per thousand impressions (“CPM”) of advertising on network prime time TV was between $24.76 to $43.06, in comparison to an average CPM on digital video ads of $25. While some forms of content (in particular sports, entertainment and reality formats) particularly benefit from real-time user engagement, there are also others to which the surrounding hype is as much a distraction as an advantage – as the rise in subscription ad-free platforms, such as Netflix and Spotify Premium show, a considerable percentage of audiences are prepared to pay purely to avoid the surrounding advertising.
Whilst it’s clear that social media engagement with TV has huge potential for both the advertisers and the broadcasters, social network television may not be quite the challenger to linear viewing that many have anticipated. Despite continuous development and convergence of the platforms and the apparent decline of the traditional notion of the “channel”, it looks as though there’s still room, even with the 16 -24 year old bracket, to accommodate the old TV box-set.