Net takes online tools to new levels

During the broadcast of the MTV Video Music Awards last month, viewers at home could pinpoint the tweeters in the crowd like a top spy.

MTV has always been a leader in promoting social media around its top shows, giving viewers the newest digital tools to connect with each other and with talent.

At the Aug. 28 VMA’s the network launched WatchWith, an iPhone and iPad app that, among other features, gave users the ability to view the kudocast through multiple camera angles, share clips across their social network and even send congratulatory messages to the winners.

It’s all in service to help the network leverage the power of social connections and integrate advertisers to offer them more value.

Best of all, a new feature this year that provided a virtual map of the Nokia Theater’s seating chart, and enabled viewers to see when a particular celebrity was tweeting.

The objective was to provide an additive, fan-activated, cross-platform experience that amplified and complemented the main stage viewing on television, according to Kristin Frank, GM of MTV Digital. She says MTV shattered digital records across the board:

• Twittter confirms that the VMAs were the most tweeted-about award show ever with 10 million @MTV #VMA-related tweets during the East Coast airing;

• MTV.com saw nearly 2 million visitors (up 33% from last year);

• MTV Digital saw 2 million streams generated online, and on tablets and mobile devices;

• MTV’s mobile site scored its biggest day ever, including 2.7 million mobile views on Sunday and 4.8 million on Monday, up a whopping 172%.

The record of 8,868 tweets per second was reached when Beyonce rubbed her pregnant tummy after her performance.

The network’s Twitter Tracker, which was sponsored by Verizon, let viewers measure the popularity of presenters and performers over the course of the night, as images of them shrunk and grew according to how often they were mentioned on Twitter — this visualization tool was first used by MTV in 2009, the year that Kanye West (in)famously interrupted Taylor Swift’s award acceptance speech.

This year’s new map feature allowed users to view photos taken by MTV during the preshow and main show and see how quickly and where the images were spread virally via Twitter.

“You could browse all the clips and toggle between them and live streams and then access the Twitter Tracker from the same interface,” says Michael Scogin, VP of MTV Mobile. “WatchWith records the social commentary in tandem with the timeline of the show. In addition, the iPhone and iPad apps provide a comprehensive content offering including videos, photos and news pieces.”

With the cable network getting significant social media activity around programs like “Jersey Shore,” “Awkward,” “Teen Wolf,” “16 & Pregnant” and “Teen Mom,” there are opportunities for brands to not only sync their messages into the app as programming is being viewed, but also to offer branded, interactive questions about the show.

Indeed, MTV prides itself on generating exclusive content and involving cast members in their digital tools — a way the net stands apart from other second-screen TV apps on the market like GetGlue and Miso. MTV measures app success not by the number of downloads, but by active users.

All of the data provides a real-time tracking system the network can use to learn more about how people consume content and then hone future programming, advertising messages and promotions.

“We’re tracking, minute by minute, which clips are shared or most popular, and we use that to inform our programming strategy,” says Colin Helms, VP of MTV Digital. “We’ll write articles and blog posts and disseminate (them) across Facebook, Twitter,Tumblr and (photo sharing program) Instagram, then contextualize them differently, maybe turning something into an animated GIF.”

Scogin says that being able to sync content with points in the show will start to affect how MTV creates content and how its programmed.

Because it’s a fine line in balancing digital add-ons without distracting from the television viewing experience itself, the WatchWith application was designed to be intuitive and easy to navigate.

“We’ve been experimenting for many years,” Helms says. “When we first started, it was largely (on a) desktop. Now, the majority (of viewers have) some other screen in the living room: a smart phone, laptop or tablet.” The key attributes for MTV are that the added content is consistent across platforms and doesn’t compromise the television viewing experience.

Designed by mobile developers Rogue Paper, who also did the similar VH1 Co-Star app, WatchWith integrates users’ Facebook and Twitter accounts and features a custom filter that displays the best and most “liked” comments in real time, and pushes one’s own friends and followers to the top of the feed.

As a given show progresses, WatchWith showcases comments and re-tweets from the show’s cast and delivers relevant content tied to the narrative directly into the stream, including photos and videos of specific characters, actors and show moments.

“With scripted shows, … you’re paying attention to dialogue and storyline, and we don’t want to distract from that,” Helms says. “We’re taking advantage of natural behavior, people engaging in watercooler discussions whether on Facebook, Twitter or in their living rooms. We want to be part of that conversation and curate it, and enhance it by inserting our own content and filtering it to refine the quality of the experience.”

The WatchWith app can be downloaded free and is expected to be available on Android by year’s end.

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