Facebook API, 'Dancing with the Stars'

ABC to capitalize on new tools that will present demographic data on air

Facebook’s vast trove of user data is making its way to Hollywood — and it’s hitting the dance floor first.

The social media giant has lined up its first-ever entertainment partnership with ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” which will feature real-time social media conversations about contestants, buzz-generating couples and more from Facebook on air during each telecast. The partnership begins with tonight’s season 17 premiere.

Similar to how NBC’s “The Voice” leverages Twitter reactions during its broadcasts, “DWTS” will display Facebook conversations during each episode of the veteran dance competition, but with a deeper dive: reactions can be broken down by gender and age group, or hyper-targeted to certain geographic regions.

“DWTS” will be able to tell viewers during broadcasts, for example, if a contestant like Snooki is generating Facebook buzz with women in California.

“Being the first entertainment partner to leverage this new technology exhibits our commitment to producing the best live experience possible,” said Marla Provencio, exec veep and chief marketing officer of ABC Entertainment Group.  “We are always looking for ways to innovate and engage our loyal fan base, and feel ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in particular is the perfect fit to kick off this new initiative.”

What Facebook has done with this partnership is empower “DWTS” producers with two tools: Facebook’s public feed API, and keyword insights API. The public feed API captures conversations happening on the Facebook feeds of celebrities, brands and users whose profiles are not private.

The keyword insights API aggregates conversations happening across all Facebook profiles on a certain topic via status updates, comments and likes, stripping them of personal info so the data is anonymous. This API is able to then breakdown the volume of conversations into specific demographics — male, female, age ranges, locations, etc..

Earlier this month, Facebook began releasing the APIs to news orgs including NBC News and Buzzfeed (NBC News used Facebook data on-air last week), but “DWTS” marks the first time the tools are being leveraged for an entertainment property. Facebook plans to release the public feed API and keyword insights API to more TV producers in the coming weeks, and at no charge.

While “DWTS” is Facebook’s first dance partner in the entertainment space, data from the company has been integrated into TV telecasts of other genres in recent years, including NBC’s Olympics events, CNN newscasts devoted to the presidential election and Fox Sports’ college football telecasts. In these cases, however, Facebook had to manually glean data, an arduous process that has now been streamlined with the release of these API tools.

Facebook has remained a serious player in the social TV space, but Twitter has reigned over that landscape, with its trending topics and constant flow of real-time reactions being touted by seemingly every television network alongside ratings reports.

With these two API tools, however, Facebook brings a more in-depth approach to social TV by looking at not just what topics people are talking about online, but what kind of people are talking about a topic, as well. Being able to analyze specific demographic reactions provides additional value to networks and producers that Twitter doesn’t yet provide on a meaningful level, since Twitter accounts often aren’t utilized to create genuine profiles the way Facebook does (“Catfish” episodes aside).

“People come to Facebook to connect with their friends and family, and they use their real identity,” said Nick Grudin, director of partnerships at Facebook. “It creates a level of discourse that people say is of higher quality. That identity point is key to Facebook.”

Twitter tends to skew younger than Facebook in terms of its average user, and also draws more organic engagement from TV viewers — auds will “live tweet” a show on Twitter, but rarely “live update” their Facebooks with the same volume of commentary.

But Grudin isn’t concerned about this affecting the quality of the social TV data that producers can dig up with this pair of API tools. He referenced the MTV Video Music Awards as an example, a sizable telecast with a notably younger viewership.

“We saw 26.5 million Facebook interactions regarding the ‘VMAs’ — comments, shares and likes,” Grudin explained, noting that Facebook boasts over a billion users worldwide. “When we dug into that, we found that the reactions came from 9 million people, and the total viewing audience of the ‘VMAs’ was 10 million.”

“We’re seeing substantial engagement across the age spectrum,” Grudin added. “These APIs will expose that, including the topics discussed by different ages and what types of content other age groups are responding to.”

Beyond “DWTS,” these API tools could eventually affect how TV creatives produce content. Consider “fan favorite” seasons of long-running reality series, where producers would be able to analyze which former contestants drew the most buzz with Facebook’s huge user base, which could affect their casting choices. With such in-depth demographic info, the keyword insights API could also change how a network markets a show to certain audiences.

Should the “DWTS” data be compelling, the Alphabet will consider using the Facebook API tools with other programs on its lineup.

“The feedback that comes from social conversations can and should influence production decisions,” said Grudin. “We are excited to learn from the industry how this is going to be of use in that way. As a producer sees that a particular storyline or contestant is driving a higher degree of conversation, especially around a particular demographic or region, that information could be used to pivot or adapt storylines over time.”

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