I attended the Cable Show in Boston on May 21-23, 2012. The theme of the show was titled, “From Cloud to Screen and Everything In-Between.” I attended several seminars over the course of 3 days which mainly focused on the profound impact digital distribution and technology has had on cable companies. Cable executives discussed how they are adjusting to a new era of multi-screens and application-centric interactivity and how they are staying relevant in a social-media-fueled environment.
I was most impacted by the General Session on the last day of the Cable Show. During this session, Piers Morgan, the host of CNN”s “Piers Morgan Tonight” interviewed Conan O’Brien, the host of “Conan” on TBS. He spoke about his web team “Team Coco” and how they developed an aggressive grass roots movement to stay relevant in the digital media space.
Photo Credits: National Cable & Telecommunications Association
Appointment television and sitting down to watch an 11pm talk show is just not top-of-mind anymore because people are too distracted with all the viewing options available. Team Coco has developed a strategy to drive viewers to watch the show on cable by engaging them with social media. Every time they have a guest on the show they immediately Facebook and Tweet about it – usually with a picture to create an instant buzz. They’ve found this very successful in driving people to turn on the television to tune in. He spoke about his interview with Charlie Sheen shortly after his bizarre behaviors and stint in the press. There were no signs of Charlie before the scheduled interview until minutes before when Charlie tweeted that he was on his way to the studio. Conan started tweeting back – and the buzz created from this one tweet resulted in many additional viewers tuning into the program.
People used to sit around their TV set and watch shows live. When something funny happened or big news was announced – the viewers would find out the same time as the audience. Back in the day when the Beatles performed on The Ed Sullivan Show – people tuned in just to see what they looked like. We’re in a different generation now. As stories break people can find out more information by the click of a button and do not need to tune in to watch a television show. The days of Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan are over and the “surprise effect” from appointment television is not there anymore. By using digital and social media technologies, cable networks can create increased awareness and viewership. Team Coco’s goal is to create a world where people are experiencing and enjoying their content online and are interested in tuning into the show to become more familiar.
With the surprise effect over, shows need to come up with new ways to entertain their viewers. Paramount Pictures approached Conan and asked if Will Ferrell could unexpectedly interrupt his show dressed as Ron Burgundy and announce that they were coming out with Anchorman 2. Team Coco jumped at the opportunity and used it as a way to create buzz and create a wave of viewership. They put bits and pieces of his appearance online via their website and social media channels. The clips were so funny (Will Ferrell took the stage playing a flute) that Will Ferrell fans from everywhere tuned into the show that night to see the entire segment – which is now available on Team Coco’s YouTube Channel.
“Turner is a dream come true,” said Conan in his interview at The Cable Show. He explained that he feels like his show is a tiny comedy club on a huge cruise ship. Turner is a perfect fit for him because they are up for anything and let him run with his ideas and turn them around quickly. Conan made a comparison to Walt Disney saying he was never scared of technology and always embraced new ways of doing things to expand his business. Because of this thinking – what started as a passion for drawing became one of the best motion-picture companies in the world. Walt Disney went on to become one of the greatest innovators in animation and theme park design.
The key take away from Conan’s interview is that funny content is funny content – no matter where you see it. If a show’s content is memorable and engaging, people are going to find a way to watch it – whether it’s online or on air. Team Coco knew that they needed to get the people watching Conan on TBS to also get involved on Facebook, Twitter and the other social media communities. As viewers go online to talk about the show – more people will want to be engaged with the show. This has proven to be wildly successful for them and I think every cable network needs to take note.
Viewers have so many mediums to choose from when seeking entertainment. As of December 31, 2011, 2.79 billion people worldwide were online – which is a 528.1% increase since 2000 (source). The amount of time people spend online will continue to rise as will digital mobile technologies. Every cable network (and I believe every company) should hire a specific department dedicated to social media to keep their fans engaged online and increase viewership. Media companies have a choice – adapt to digital technology or pack your bags and go.