"There are players out there, obviously, that want to have an app across all of television," says Dermot McCormack, executive vice president of digital media for the MTV Networks Music & Logo Group. "We think that advantage we have is, very simply put, we know what happens next."
One-app-to-rule-them-all solutions, like those discussed in the first part of this series, envision companion platforms that range across users’ TV watching experience. Different channel? Same app. As IntoNow’s Adam Cahan argues, the alternative is chaos. "In a world in which every content owner creates their own apps and we end up with 10,000 apps, what we’ll end up with is a very fragmented world where the consumer experiences are very poor," he says.
On the other hand, apps tailored to specific shows or networks are in a position to offer up rich, exclusive content. "Nobody else sitting outside of our ecosystem knows when that key moment in the VMAs is or the key moment in Mob Wives is," says McCormack. "We want to create experiences that leverage the fact that we have the script."
"A one-app approach did not work very well," says Itzik Cohen, cofounder and CEO of ClipSync, which has tailored online applications for VH1, the Sundance Channel, and IFC’s Portlandia. "The main reason is that interactive video experiences vary dramatically between genres, audience, screens, whether it’s live, whether it’s on demand. An NFL fan requires a totally different experience than someone who’s watching Days of Our Lives."
Jesse Redniss, senior vice president of digital at USA Network, agrees—he says it’s too early to funnel users into a single viewing model. USA has taken a broad approach that includes an HTML5 aggregator at characterchatter.com, the official USA Anywhere app, and show-level apps like a Burn Notice graphic novel that extends the show’s story beyond the small screen. But the network also partners with many of the independent app players, like GetGlue, Shazam, and Miso.
"Because the social TV space is basically in its infancy, we want to work with as many partners as possible," Redniss says. "We’re taking a very experimental approach. We realize that we don’t have the same users for every single show, and even the same shows don’t have [one] type of user. There are a still a ton of lean-back users. There are the users that want to Shazam things and have content pushed to them and there are different users that want to install the Burn Notice interactive graphic novel and take the next step into the content experience. It’s really important to be able to cater to each one of those types of viewers, otherwise we’re forcing people into one type of content experience, which I think is just a horrible user experience overall."
MTV Networks, meanwhile, has pursued a strategy of network-level "co-viewing" apps—MTV’s WatchWith and VH1's Co-Star—which combine social chatter with exclusive content. And, according to McCormack, content is king. "So much of this conversation today takes place around the technology piece of it, and I think in a way we want to bring it back to the storytelling piece. How can you tell a story in a new way?" At Viacom, this means script-level integration of social elements, and perhaps even characters or narrative arcs that appear only on the second screen, creating truly integrated "storytelling without borders," as McCormack glosses it. "2012 just feels, generally to me, to be a turning point year in this whole conversation, where finally the idea that the audience is doing different things and looking for different things becomes a reality, and people will start to program to it," he says.
Andrew Adashek, digital and social media producer for The Voice, agrees that social hooks have to be planned from the start, although this is sometimes easier said than done. "Where people really get hung up, if you come from the television side, you sort of look at technology as just something that you can slap on after the fact," he says. "Social can just be added on. As Facebook likes to say, a lot of people go about it like salt on fries. You build something and you just expect to post about it or add some after-the-fact service and end up with something social, but that’s not really the case. You’ve have to build something social by design. On the other side, you’ve got the tech folks that look at television as just strict content, and they don’t really understand what goes into making that content and making it social."
The Voice, the new season of which will debut after the Super Bowl on Sunday, broke new ground in its first season with active tweeting by the coaches and a full-fledge on-screen social media command center, but Adashek sees things going much further.
"I am a firm believer that you will start to see more shows where there’s a direct feedback loop between what happens online and how the show plays out in the real time," he says. "You’re going to see things like live-time feedback from Facebook and Twitter that affects directly what the next act looks like on air."
But it’s not just consumer behavior or network innovation that will drive the year ahead in social TV. Another big driver is marketer demand. "There’s enthusiasm from brands, demanding a robust digital and social plan," Adashek says. "And it’s not just, we want video clips. It’s we want to create interactive and engaging experiences around the show. Seeing that push from the brands is what makes me believe that we’re going to see more and more push from the networks, because ultimately brands pay for everything."
Next up: brands and big data