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NBC’s ‘Million Second Quiz’ Flexes Unprecedented Digital Muscle

NBC is betting on a slew of social media handles, hashtags and apps to propel audience engagement for the frosh gameshow

The most ambitious element of NBC’s mega-gameshow “The Million Second Quiz” may not be the giant structure erected in Gotham for contestants to live in, or the fact that the Peacock cleared out its 8 p.m. timeslot for almost 10 straight days to accommodate the live strip.

Rather, the most ambitious element is likely the digital edge of the show, as “Million Second Quiz” strives to engage viewers through apps and social media in a way never before seen in TV.

“From the beginning of the process and concept of the show, social was to be a core component,” said Robert Hayes, NBC’s exec veep of digital. “Many discussions were about how the show needed to live beyond the hourlong primetime broadcast and to live 24/7…With mobile growing significantly over the past few years and twitter being one of the largest platforms for entertainment conversations, it was a no-brainer to leverage that platform as one of the digital tent poles for engagement.”

First, there is the digital gameplay element: consumers were introduced to the “MSQ” app last month via iOS and Android platforms, where they have been competing for a chance to be a “Line Jumper” and be whisked to the show overnight as an official contestant. Over 13 million bouts have been played on the “MSQ” mobile app so far.

When the program debuts tonight on NBC, game users can also sync their apps with the show, or visit nbc.com/msq, and play along with contestants in real time during the broadcast.

The nature of “MSQ’s” gameplay has a notably digital inspiration, as well. The program will integrate Twitter trending topics into the primetime broadcast, and some of the trivia will center on real time pop culture and news factoids. “MSQ” also plans to utilize flash polling on Twitter, so users can impact the game via their social media handles.

“MSQ” will also offer fans a constant behind-the-scenes experience to the show, live-streaming 23/7 from the glowing contestant house in New York City. (The hour not accounted for in that measurement is the hour when the show is broadcast live on NBC.) Fans, thus, will be able to stay involved with the game — and their fave contestants — even when the show is not on the air, offering them nonstop access to the game throughout its run on NBC.

But what about viewers who are not so tech-savvy? One of the Peacock’s targeted demos in a live broadcast like “MSQ” is the upper sector of the 18-49 demo, a group of viewers not as prone to reach for their mobile devices and tweet throughout a telecast as younger auds for whom digital elements are more organic. Demographics older than the targeted 18-49 group are even less likely to engage with social media while watching television.

Hayes doesn’t see this as a drawback, though.

After watching the dress rehearsals for the show I think older audiences will not feel alienated by any aspect of this show,” the exec explained. “If anything, this is a great family show to watch.  The social aspects of the show are very organic.  What makes this show relevant is not the fact that Twitter may be sourcing some of the topical questions, but that the topical questions are what is newsworthy or what people, tabloids and news outlets are talking about.  All ages and demos here about this these type of topics and news.”

Nevertheless, NBC has cast its net wide across digital platforms for the program, setting up “Million Second Quiz” handles on Twitter, Vine, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Youtube and even Google+. The Peacock hopes this neck-deep immersion in the digital space, paired with the live strip element, will give the show a true “event” quality to it.

And, should certain digital and social initiatives pan out successfully for “MSQ,” Hayes could see them being leveraged with other programs on the Peacock’s lineup.

“Some social media elements will work for other shows and some may not.  It is really important that social media be truly organic for a show and scripted vs reality vs. news vs. sports all need to execute in different manners so that they deliver the best experience for the viewer,” Hayes noted. “That said, I am looking forward to see what learnings we may find out of the ‘MSQ’ experience that we may want to roll over into other programs we have in the future.”

“Million Second Quiz” debuts tonight on NBC and will run through Sept. 19. Program is produced by All3 Media America, Studio Lambert and Universal Television. Stephen Lambert, Eli Holzman, David A. Hurwitz and Ryan Seacrest serve as executive producers.

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