Social Networking displaces the Red Button

By Julian Clover Published: September 9, 2010 15.15 Europe/London

Comment :  This is an important observation as TV does not know anything about its viewers in real time.  


IBC 2010 – AMSTERDAM. Social Networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are beginning to take over from the Red Button as a means for broadcasters to interact with their audiences.

In the session Social media: Look who’s talking now, Trevor Johnson, head of strategy & planning, EMEA, Facebook, UK showed how ITV was using Facebook as part of The X Factor. According to Johnson, the 1.5 million Facebook fans were using the social networking site at the same time as watching the talent contest and returning to it later in the week. Broadcasters including CNN, Sky News and TF1 were using the Facebook’s Live stream for real time interaction through their own websites. “We very much see ourselves as a platform, rather than a website. The opportunity to engage people outside of the platform is significant.”

Tom McDonnell, director, Monterosa, showed how the company had worked with Channel 4 on the gameshow, Million Pound Drop. He said the numbers participating, though still small, had increased significantly since his work for the BBC’s The Apprentice two years ago with 450,000 online players participating in the show. Such audience interaction might have previously found its way onto the Red Button, directly on the TV screen, as was the case with Test the Nation, BBC One’s primetime quiz.

Unsurprisingly, social networking is very important to the strategy of MTV. “We’ve had a relationship with Bebo and My Space, unfortunately the audience decided it wasn’t very cool to be on Bebo,” said Philip O’Ferrall, senior VP, digital media, MTV Networks International. “It is tribal and sites go out of fashion, it will be interesting to see where twitter is in a few years time”. He added that Red Button still worked for children, where Nickelodeon used branded games to encourage stickiness.

However, the discussion was not all positive, although the BBC is a heavy user of social networking, recently introducing a Buzz feature to allow discussion across its content offering, Simon Nelson, controller, portfolio & multiplatform, BBC Vision, registered a cautionary note: “If you compare traditional routes to discovering TV they so utterly dwarf the ways were talking about now, we have to be careful when we focus on this geeky affluent audience”. Nelson expressed doubts as to whether audiences would actually want to view Facebook on the TV rather than on a tablet or mobile device.

One broadcaster in the audience questioned Facebook because of the quality of some of the comments, sport was difficult to engage, and the discussion would often become quite heated.

Facebook’s Johnson said there was little need for moderation because other fans would often come to a broadcaster’s defence. He highlighted API tools that allowed a certain level of automated moderation.