Online fan engagement ups revenues, ratings

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Social media are so hot this awards season there’s even a contending movie on the topic.

Much of the entertainment industry, especially baby boomers and their elders, may still be catching up to the phenomenon, but award orgs and kudocast producers have embraced social media.

Though the efforts are young and still evolving, there’s a broad consensus among pros working in that space: So far, they’re a hit.

Pros at the orgs and networks are convinced that social media are driving higher ratings for kudocasts. What’s more, social media are opening new revenue streams for awards show content.

Ratings are definitely up for kudocasts such as the Oscars, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards, even as the broader TV audience grows more fragmented. There’s no direct proof that social media are behind the increase, but Incite, the joint venture of Nielsen and McKinsey, is studying the issue.

“The depth of viewer engagement for award shows is especially intense,” says Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Nielsen McKinsey Incite. “There are unprecedented levels of conversations and tweets and Facebook interaction that wraps around the shows.”

Social networking is as hot and trendy as kudocasts are traditional, so combining the two helps freshen the image of the award shows. Janet Weiss, the Academy’s director of marketing, says: “We want to make sure the tone is authentic and true to who we are. In our social media we are trying to not be as stodgy as we are perceived.”

One up-to-date initiative from the Acad: an iPhone app created for the 2010 Oscars. It received 500,000 downloads. The application will become perennial and be re-launched in the next two months.

Each event and network has different social media initiatives. In spring 2010, NBC.com launched an inhouse social network, Fan It, to give viewers a chance to earn points, enter contests and win tickets to NBC events, including bleacher seats at the 2010 Emmys. The strong fan response surprised even Peacock execs.

Relatively smaller shows, like the SAG Awards, have to fight for press and TV coverage that flows effortlessly to the Oscars. Social media let those events cut out the middleman and connect directly with fans. The SAG Awards set up a blog on MySpace that proved so popular, it was moved to the SAG website in 2009.

Facebook partnered with the Golden Globes in 2009, offering a “blue carpet” pre-show followed by a live stream of the telecast through the site. The stream was watched by Facebook members in 192 countries, many more than receive the broadcast — or are represented in the HFPA.

That kind of engagement, says Entertainment Marketing Letter publisher Ira Mayer, is “the holy grail of social media.”

“People have awards-viewing parties,” Mayer says, “just as they do for major sports events like the Super Bowl. And if you can’t be with all your friends, using social media to share your excitement, bitterness, jubilation or anger keeps you in touch much faster than waiting for the water cooler next morning.”

Social media sites engage fans with unprecedented, if carefully controlled, behind-the-scenes access. It also extends the event for both fans and advertisers. Network revenues are up as advertisers demand more online pre-show tie-ins. Advertisers can begin a pitch the moment nominations are announced and continue it through the after-parties. This extends the ad’s lifetime as well as the show’s. As a result, advertisers are taking a more aggressive approach to social media tie-ins for kudocasts.

In response to all this, the Acad and HFPA have allocated more resources for social media. The HFPA even recently hired a social media expert, Karen Lucey, for the Globes.

Another effect of viewer engagement on sites like Twitter and Facebook, which provide real-time status updates: The show team gets a thumbs-up or thumbs-down from viewers in real time.

Barry Adelman, of Dick Clark Prods., the executive producer of the Globes and Spirit Awards Shows, calls it “perfect feedback.”

“We can tell what’s working and not working on our shows as it happens because we have people monitoring the chatter. We have never had that kind of opportunity before,” he says.

That feedback can actually make the shows better — or at least more crowd-pleasing.

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