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Reality audience votes in style

Social media to influence direction of TLC series

NEW YORK — TLC is launching an online event for its long-running hit “What Not to Wear” that offers a twist in TV and social media synergy: during the show’s first-ever studio audience taping, fans will be able to vote on a guest’s style makeover at home with just a few clicks of a mouse.

That’s no mean feat, given the logistics of the endeavor. Due to the fact the lead time for a typical episode of “What Not to Wear” is frequently more than two months, coordinating efforts to let online auds make choices in March that won’t be seen by TV viewers until May requires crack publicity and a dedicated fan base.

There are a number of shows in development that are embedding social TV platforms to do similar things, but this might well be the first that will use social media to allow viewers to participate and influence the actual direction of a show, says Social TV Summit conference CEO Andy Batkin, who developed the branding and media strategy for Yahoo!’s launch. Batkin has consulted on several upcoming interactive shows — almost all in the reality TV genre — and says the first of the bunch are likely to debut at this May’s upfronts.

On the morning of the March 14 “What Not to Wear” taping, a description of the episode’s style-challenged makeover subject (who the show calls the “contributor”) will be posted on the show’s website (at TLC.com) and Facebook page (facebook.com/WhatNotToWear). Photos of style options will be posted shortly thereafter, and put to online votes.

TLC’s social media team will present the poll results (and a few user-submitted questions) to the show’s hosts, Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, hairstylist Ted Gibson, makeup artist Carmindy, the contributor, guest makeover subjects from past episodes and some 150 audience members recruited from the show’s online fan base.

Fans will see real-time data on how votes are polling on the site, but won’t hear their questions to the hosts answered — or see their makeover choices — until the show airs in May.

The event taps into the show’s strong and rapidly growing online presence. The number of “Wear” official Facebook page fans jumped 60% since March 2011 to more than 900,000 fans today, and the page received 41 million impressions during the first half of season nine (Aug. 14-Dec. 14) alone.

Discovery communications VP of marketing & analytics Matt Crenshaw, who oversees the cross-network social media team for TLC and other channels, expects online responses to grow substantially with the March 14 taping and the episode’s May premiere. Citing popular voting initiatives that allowed online audiences to choose winners for Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper Live” and Animal Planet’s “Puppy Bowl,” he adds that “this special episode of ‘What Not to Wear’ may serve as a model for future social integrations on TLC and beyond.”

While the event seems a natural opportunity to promote a long-running show to new viewers, extend advertisers’ reach and cultivate an Internet audience that’s exploded since the 2003 “Wear” premiere, TLC senior director of production Stephanie Eno and TLC’s VP of digital Pamela Russo say their main goal is to engage the show’s core audience.

“We know from internal research that fans of TLC shows and the talent in them want to find a way to participate,” Russo says. “We have a pretty robust and sticky Facebook page for almost all our shows. The byproduct is growing our social footprint, Twitter followers and Facebook fanpages, but for us, the core is to serve those people that want to participate in our programming.”

Eno says the exec producer of “What Not to Wear,” Jo Honig of producer BBC Worldwide Prods., sees the increased interactivity as wish fulfillment, giving the show’s audience something it always wanted — a voice in the show.

“Everyone has an opinion about fashion, and our Facebook page lights up like mad in agreement or disagreement while we’re airing a show that’s been shot weeks beforehand,” Eno says. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have people (at home) have a voice in the decisions while we’re doing it?’?”

Like Crenshaw, Eno hopes to apply the idea to other popular TLC reality shows, including “Say Yes to the Dress.”

“The goal is to engage the audience in a way they haven’t been engaged in the show before,” Eno says. “This is a good first step.”

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