Friday, 29 May 2009

Twitter and the FA Cup Final

ITV have been playing around with socially connected TV for a few months now, most notably with the pre-launch event for Primeval, and with @ITVinsider, their well-followed Twitter dialogue with their fans run by @benayers. Most of the interesting conversations have been around their flagship programming like Britain's Got Talent (as you'd expect given its social footprint). So the Twitterfall experiment in tomorrow's FA Cup final looks like opening social TV up to a new audience of footie fans. Nick Burcher has already detailed the potential that this has here, but it got me thinking about what social TV means to TV advertising (ITV's bread and butter revenue stream).

For someone who invests a lot of other people's money in TV advertising, I am not very good at ever seeing it live on TV. Sometimes through choice, but increasingly because I hardly ever watch live TV. Media planners know that there are a lot of other people who view it in this way, which is why genuine appointment to view programming like sports events are so valuable to advertisers and broadcasters, and why football rights in particular are so expensive. Once you know there result of a match, the value in viewing it on Sky+ goes right down. However, most of my viewing of live events is actually not in real-time, it is a few seconds or minutes behind. Close enough that the no-one is going to spoil it by telling me the result, but usually paused here and there during the match. Which then gives me two ad breaks during half time to fast forward and catch up with real-time events. This doesn't get in the way of discussing the action, as everybody in the room is viewing the same events at the same time.

But what I've noticed recently, in the Apprentice generally and the Champions League final in particular, is that viewing even a minute or so behind leaves me out of the wider conversation that is going on on Twitter. Access to a wider set of friends than the one in your living room means that viewing has to be synchronised if conversations are to mean anything. Which for sporting events means that appointments to view have to be live rather than near-live to get full value from them.

There is obviously a long way to go in the development of social TV, but experiments like this start to show how the social currency created by televised sports, reality TV and soaps can be developed into something that not only gives viewers more value for their attention, but also breathes life into the old TV ad model. The old model was based on the concept that content was king. Now content (as Cory Doctorow points out) is just something to talk about, broadcasters are starting to understand the value in the conversation.

(Moot point - will this Twitterfall generate the same level of abuse, swearing and general mischief as previous ones like Skittles or the Telegraph Budget Day? Given that it is designed for English footie fans, you've got to hope that ITV have a level of moderation built in for their own sake. How this affects the real-time nature of the event we will see tomorrow afternoon)


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