Beyond dual screening: how to bake in viewer participation

A few advertisers have tried Shazam, we’ve witnessed an exceptional Mercedes campaign (, we’ve got excited about Zeebox…but the potential of dual screening is being realised better and more consistently in the US. The evidence is staring me in the face at a session at SXSW in which two US networks are sharing their work in this area.
In the UK, our broadcasters, like our advertisers, have only scratched the surface so far. While shows like X Factor and I’m A Celebrity give viewers a vote, they don’t acknowledge the viewers’ voice within the show itself. All those tweets and Facebook posts are ignored on air. It’s almost as if the programme makers don’t know what to do with them.
The same cannot be said of Univision, the Hispanic-focused network, which recently overtook NBC as the fourth biggest network in the US. Univision is hardly your typical TV channel: 90% of its primetime programming is live. Univision’s head of social, David Beck, has a big role in making these shows as participative as possible. Judging by the clip he plays us, Univision isn’t going to be winning a Golden Globe any time soon, but what’s remarkable is the way viewers’ social media comments are used as an integral part of the shows. Not just through tickers, but using graphical overlays which the presenters refer to periodically.
The network’s commitment to interactivity is underpinned by its policy of making the programme makers responsible for the number of website visitors, as well as the number of programme viewers.
USA Networks makes a very different type of show for a very different audience, but it is also on a mission to bake viewer participation into its programmes. Its tagline “characters welcome” is an open invitation to viewer participation as well as a commitment to character based TV shows.
The company’s head of digital, Jesse Redniss, tells SXSW that “digital storytelling is a crucial part of TV today”. What he means is initiatives like Suits Recruits, in which fans of Suits were invited to “apply” online for a job at the law firm that is the setting for the drama. This not only gave them a sense of being involved in the show, but also supplied lots of additional reasons to engage in between broadcasts, not least to unlock additional webisodes.
Suits Recruits was sponsored by Lexus. When quizzed from the floor about the value of this badging exercise to the sponsor’s brand, Redniss shows a video of half a dozen or so other commercial tie-ups, which makes for a pretty impressive body of work. Perhaps strongest of all is Capital One’s sponsorship of a special episode of Covert Affairs, in which viewers regularly steered the plot through online voting. This was a perfect fit with CapOne’s brand platform of “choice”.
It’s worth taking a look for yourself at the range of interactive content being facilitated at It surely can’t be long before UK channels take note and start doing more of this kind of thing? And it wouldn’t hurt for advertisers to start lobbying for this, either.

John Owen is the Deputy Chairman of Dare and is at SXSW this week


    A reaction is not the same as an interaction.  Tweets and other online chat about TV are reactions really, as any quip on the sofa is, just made visible.  Some TV companion apps are simply more sophisticated reaction mechanisms (eg ‘tap to clap app’ on the X Factor).  A vote however is a genuine interaction in that what the viewer does affects what happens in the programme. 

    I think you are being a bit unfair about the UK’s investment in this area.  The Million Pound Drop was the first live play along TV app in the world, where Davina talks about the people playing at home all the time (‘come on, blokes, the girls are beating you’/’200,000 of you still have £1m intact’ etc).  About 12% of viewers play live and the best online players then get to appear on the programme.  The Vault followed.  The other great example is one curated by Mother for New Look with a live programme on C4 called Style the Nation.  Viewers could style their own outfits online and the best were then featured in the programme before the end of the live show, plus you earned discount vouchers to buy the clothes as you played along.

    It’s early days but I think you’ll find that British TV is right up there exploring this area.  Even BBC Question Time for instance takes questions and comment via Twitter.  It will affect commissioning of course, with live TV becoming more valuable if an interaction/transaction, rather than just a reaction, is what you’re looking for.

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