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The Second Screen: Social Media in Television

Like. Tweet. Reblog. The presence of social media in our daily lives has exploded over the past decade, and there is no denying that it will only become more and more important as we move into an increasingly digital age.

What does the growth of social media mean for television? Does it threaten any aspect of the industry? How does it impact the relationship between content producers and actors and the audience?

From Top Chef Facebook quizzes to devil baby movie promotional videos to a new vampire webseries with a twist, social media is revolutionizing the world of T.V. in ways that can only continue to develop.

HISTORY OF THE HASHTAG

Peter Griffin currently serves as the Executive Vice President of Viacom/MTV Networks and has been working with MTV since 1999. His lengthy time in the media marketing business has produced such memorable and award-winning campaigns as the 2010 “Smirnoff Nightlife Challenge,” a world-trekking video exchange that promoted the vodka brand.

With regards to television shows, Griffin drew upon his experience in marketing to emphasize the focus on a demographic: in this case, the millennials. “Whether it’s MTV, VH1, or Comedy Central, the primary audience is 18 to 34 year olds,” Griffin said. “So when you’re talking to millennials, everything you do has to have a social implication.”

Surrounding buildings are reflected in the entry of Viacom I

Center of the World: Viacom’s global headquarters in Times Square, New York City. Photo courtesy Viacom/MTV Networks.

For Griffin, who has seen the rise of social media’s prevalence in popular media, social media is something that makes marketing an interesting challenge.

“In those days [the early 2000s], MySpace and some of these social networks were just starting, so it was more of an experiment to start with,” Griffin said. “[Social media] made the business very interesting and I would say even more challenging, because when you build your campaign now, you’ve got to think about Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, and how those social networks are going to amp up your initiative. It’s actually very fun; it’s just gotten more complicated.”

So what is the formula for making something trend? To Griffin, playing the social media game is all about lining up your audience’s interests with your media. “[For millennials,] the key is: whatever you’re tweeting or commenting about, is it memorable, is it shareable, is it fresh?…. The more time people spend talking about something and the more times they share things about your show, I think the more your creative is getting deeper into their consciousness.”

LIGHTS, CAMERA, INTERACTION

Mike Germano is the CEO of Carrot, a full-service digital agency founded in 2005 and that joined the VICE Media network in December 2013. According to Germano, social media is primarily useful because it allows for a better audience-media relationship from both the producer and audience’s point of view.

“[Annual social media reports] can only go so far,” Germano said. “When you’re polling a social media or Facebook database, you’re able to really understand the people who are your biggest fans, and that offers a network more value when advertising and also allows shows and networks to understand how they think they should gear content to best represent that group.”

One of Carrot’s major campaigns was its “Master The Menu” challenge. To keep fans engaged i n Top Chef as well as its redemption-based supplementary series, Last Chance Kitchen, Carrot built “Master The Menu”—a Facebook community which offered weekly quizzes that offered the chance to win a trip to the Top Chef: The Cruise event held at the end of the season. Ultimately, Carrot’s work helped Top Chef earn an Emmy during the Creative Arts Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media – Multiplatform Storytelling.”

Of the award, Germano said, “That win was because we were able to sell Top Chef on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, everywhere. It was not just a TV show on a regular TV air.”

When we started, a lot of companies didn’t understand the value of a viral video or social media buzz… Now our company is riding the crest of the wave of every company trying to ‘go viral’ in the social media space.

Notably, Germano cited social media’s benefits in providing the chance for fledgling actors to develop their own fan bases: “Social media gives [rising actors] a chance to make their own content, to have a face, so when they do get to TV, fans think, ‘Hey, I’m happy I followed this guy on Twitter back when he did Youtube stuff, now he’s on TV.’ The person feels justified that not only did that actor make it to the TV show, but that fan believed in the actor before he made it.”

Germano also highlighted the increase in value of an actor’s social media presence.

“What we’re also starting to see is that actors who have huge fanbases are now able to negotiate higher rates,” he said. “The financial dynamics between the studio and actors has completely changed in terms of it’s much more favorable for the actors.”

When asked about the future of social media and television, Germano hoped that shows still remain true to self. “What I don’t want to see happen is too many studios relying on that [social media] data and saying, hey, you know, let’s make a TV show because that kid was talking about this. People skew it that way. I hope the science doesn’t take over the art.”

Germano also argued that social media has actually shifted people back towards watching television shows in real-time to avoid missing out on the conversation.

“In the past when Netflix and TiVo [first started], people would say, “Don’t tell me what happened on Grey’s Anatomy, because I haven’t watched it yet!” Germano said. “But now socially you really can’t get away from it. I would say that whereas everyone was always afraid of DVR and Netflix taking away [from real-time TV] and people watching on their own time, if anything, social brings them back. If you want to be part of the conversation, you’ll almost have to watch it in that time because you’ll know that people will be talking about it or your stream will be full of it.”

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High Life: The staff of Carrot celebrate on their office’s balcony across from New York City. Photo courtesy Carrot.

NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS

Thinkmodo, a New York-based “viral video marketing agency” founded in 2011 by CEOs Michael Krivicka and James Percelay, is no stranger to the social media game. In its near four years of running, it has produced numerous viral video campaigns using its trademark “pranksvertising,” including “Devil Baby Attack,” a bizarro street experiment featuring an animatronic devil baby ranked the #2 most shared ad of the 2014, and “Telekinetic Coffee Shop Surprise,” an elaborately staged horror prank that promoted Carrie.

When asked about the elements that drove these campaigns to success, Krivicka emphasizes the need for bite-sized, relatable humor that is absurd enough to draw viral attention.

However, every detail of the video is important. According to Krivicka, “It comes down to a good idea, and a good idea also has to be really well executed. So that is also the packaging and using a very dynamic soundtrack to keep that viewing experience going so you don’t get bored, and so it doesn’t slow down anywhere.”

The challenge from a business perspective is really exciting: educating the audience to use a second screen to interact with content versus the second screen to do something else while you’re watching content.

Why is there such a demand for viral videos? Krivicka said that for a lot of smaller companies, such videos are a cost-efficient and organic.

“Our business model is structured around the idea of generating ‘earned’ media,” Krivicka said. “To have the video be trending and trending so much that so many people are talking about it that traditional media comes in and starts covering it. And that is something that you usually would have to pay for.”

Though simultaneous social media use and television watching has increased, Percelay argues that it’s not necessarily a mutually beneficial phenomenon.

“Something around only 15 percent of viewers actually interact with the show when they have a device watching television,” Percelay said. “The challenge from a business perspective is really exciting: educating the audience to use a second screen to interact with content versus the second screen to do something else while you’re watching content.”

Percelay also commented on the shift in pop culture towards everything virtual as a catalyst for both the creation and success of social media companies like Thinkmodo.

“When we started, a lot of companies didn’t understand the value of a viral video or social media buzz… [Now] our company is riding the crest of the wave of every company trying to ‘go viral’ in the social media space,” Percelay said. “Our unique business proposition is that we launch content on behalf of a client, which may be a brand, a TV show, or a movie, on YouTube, and we create social media frenzy.”

Above all, Percelay notes that social media is a vehicle that has gives consumers power.

“The community that is created by social media lets people feel as if—and actually in reality, they do—have an effect on shows,” Percelay said. “It really takes down the wall that traditionally is set up where it’s us, the creators, and you, the watchers. There’s this script going on, one besides the original script, but one in which the audience is kind of writing or rewriting the storyline, so to speak.”

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Under Pressure: A set for a Thinkmodo ad campaign for Technomarine waterproof watches. Thinkmodo never uses CGI for their videos, so they worked with companies like Sea Trek and Mystic Scenis to build an underground nightclub with breathable helmets for clubgoers. Photo courtesy Thinkmodo.

INNOVATION BY DESIGN

YouTube web series Carmilla, based off the 1871 Sheridan Le Fanu gothic vampire novel of the same name, has exploded on the internet, racking up more than four million views since its release in August 2014. The series, which follows aspiring journalist Laura Hollis’ investigations into mysterious happenings at her university through a series of vlogs, has been praised for its unique social media approach as well as its positive representation of women and queer characters.

“[Social media] definitely shaped the development from the get go,” Producer Steph Ouaknine said. “We were on the lookout for a vlog series… We saw what we liked from the ‘Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ and we were looking for a property to follow that model too.”

Our mandate is really to be ‘less corporate, more Creampuff’.

Currently, the Carmilla-verse consists of the YouTube web series itself as well as character Twitter and Tumblr feeds for protagonist Laura and her vampire roommate Carmilla, created by writer team Ellen Simpson and Jordan Hall.

For Social Media Manager Carrie Hayden, having a multifaceted social media presence is undeniably important for engaging viewers.

“Not everyone is going to be on Tumblr. Not everyone is going to want to engage on Twitter,” Hayden said. “So by diversifying your social portfolio, so to speak, you’re able to really capture the audience however they feel comfortable.”

According to the Carmilla team, the main intention of social media is genuine and meaningful engagement with the fans, who have dubbed themselves “Creampuffs.”

“Our mandate is really to be ‘less corporate, more Creampuff,’” Hayden said. “We encourage [the Creampuffs] to create out of what we’ve created. We love seeing their illustrations, their cover songs, their gif-sets, everything. We truly do enjoy it and have it up all over our office.”

Writer Jordan Hall agreed: “To be honest, I think social media just makes it easier to have the conversations that fans—speaking as a fan of many things myself—have always wanted to have with creators.”

For Ouaknine, Carmilla’s status as a web series makes it as a relatively organic effort.

“We work on digital projects,” Ouaknine said. “When we don’t have the megaphone of a broadcaster, we have to go find our audience and bring it to the show.”

Hayden added, “For every web series that we’ve done, the beginning starts off feeling like you’re screaming into a snowstorm or a crowded mall. And you really do have to knock on doors one by one and try to start those conversations…until you do have that little group of people who A) see the value of what you’re doing… and then B) are motivated enough to want to go out and want to tell their friends.”

From Simpson’s perspective, the “level of instant gratification” inherent in social media will lend it to taking a larger role in the future of television, but it is difficult to say what exactly that role will be. The challenge of social media for many modern companies highlights a generational gap between content producers and consumers.

“This generation, Carmilla’s target audience, is smart and savvy,” Simpson said. “They’ve been raised on media that encourages them to question everything, to learn on their own, and to use their voices to influence and encourage change… I think that writers and producers need… content that expands the universe outwards, that provides the little details that inspire fans to create, and content that helps to further the depth of characters created.”

At the core of a show is an experience, a vision of a world, a playing out of tensions that touches an audience… The same holds true for social media: You have to deliver that honestly, and with as much humor and imagination as you’ve got.

For Simpson, producing Carmilla and watching it grow from a 2000 view-per-week series to a 100,000 view-on-one-day series has demonstrated the enormous power potential of social media.

“Field of Dreams has that great line, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Simpson said. “The experience of Carmilla has proven this over and over to me… We’ve seen how the word of this series has spread like wildfire across social media, with very little advertising from us, and how our fans are our best ambassadors.”

According to Hall, no matter how fantastically wild or mundane a show’s world might be, the show itself needs to be able to draw people in and connect to them.

“At the core of a show is an experience, a vision of a world, a playing out of tensions that touches an audience, and that’s what they’re really there for,” Hall said. “As commercial as film or television or web series have become, that experience still has to fill some profoundly human need, or you’re done. The same holds true for social media: You have to identify what your audience is coming to you for, and try to deliver that honestly, and with as much humor and imagination as you’ve got.”

As social media and technology continue to loom larger and larger over daily life, it is up to media producers to harness its power and use it in a way that is beneficial for all. And though the exact path social media will take in the future might be unclear, one thing is for certain: social media is here to stay.




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