Tweets and Web feeds keep TV fans engaged

The major TV networks still rely on broadcast as their primary venue, even as the Internet lures away a growing portion of the audience that want social interaction, not just passive viewing.

Even the remaining viewers are likely to be multitasking on the couch. Network data shows that more than half its audience interacts with their computers while watching television.

So instead of treating the Internet as the enemy, networks have turned online content and social networking into an important tool for keeping their audience engaged.

“Our viewers happen to be using all these different things in tandem with the broadcast,” explains Bill Bradford, Fox’s senior vice president of content strategy. “We want to harness that activity and turn our viewers into marketers.”

For example, when Fox researchers noticed a high activity of discussion about “Fringe” on Twitter while the show aired, the network decided to involve the talent. In September, it began airing “tweet-peat” episodes during the show (along with airings of “Glee”), where cast and crew members of the shows interacted with fans while the show aired.

Broadcasters also are offering online video feeds to be streamed with their telecasts. A live stream of behind-the-scenes footage for the MTV Video Music Awards, for example, garnered more than 1.7 million unique visitors. By putting that stream on the Web, MTV was able to get their show onto two screens in the living room, not just one.

“Every network is looking for ways to reach their audience on the Web and monetize them,” says Philip Nelson, senior VP of strategic development for NewTek, which provides technology for live video content. “Fans want to feel like they’re in the inner circle.”

Newtek’s TriCaster live production system allows for a camera to be set up backstage or on the set of a program and stream additional content to its website. The company did the MTV feed and supplied similar content for VH1 and NBC’s Miss Universe pageant. It also worked with “The Hills” to provide live online content from the show’s producers that stream during its commercials.

“We’re getting a lot of calls from celebrities (who) want to directly reach their fans, and from networks that want to do third-screen content,” Nelson says. “It’s all across the board.”

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