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How Telescope-Powered Voting Helps ‘The Voice’ Set Twitter Records

thevoiceNBC’s ‘The Voice’ is one of the most social shows for good reason: throughout this season, fans have been able to have a direct impact on the results of the show by tweeting. #VoiceTailgate and #VoiceSave have taken participation TV to the next level, and according to Twitter, “the May 13 episode of “The Voice” became the most tweeted-about TV series episode since Nielsen Social began measuring Twitter television conversation in 2011.” The 1.92 million Tweets were seen 29.8 million times by 3.8 million people.

In November, ‘The Voice’ introduced #VoiceSave, which has given fans the power to save their favorite contestants in real-time during the live elimination show. Then, in April, ‘The Voice’ launched #VoiceTailgate, a social TV pre show where “viewers will be able to feel intimately involved with ‘The Voice’ coaches and their favorite artists by engaging in #VoiceTailgate via Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Snapchat,Pinterest and Tumblr.”

#VoiceSave is powered by Telescope, a social TV company that is able to help networks implement accurate, real-time, fan participation activations. Participation TV lends itself particularly well to award shows, sporting events, and singing competitions, but Telescope’s impressive client roster also includes MSNBC, BBC, and Macy’s.

Lost Remote asked Telescope CEO Jason George, who has worked in the iTV space since 1994, whether #VoiceSave and #VoiceTailgate serve as a counter argument to NBC research chief Alan Wurtzel’s recent comments that Twitter does not impact ratings. “I’m not a stats or data guy, so I honestly don’t know the validity – but I try to look at it logically:” George began, “if, as with #VoiceSave, a campaign is exposing my brand to 3.8m people in a short space of time, is it likely that will have an effect on viewer awareness and their likelihood to tune in? I’d think so, though creating a causal relationship between this and an actual rating eyeball is going to be tricky, I imagine.”

In an email exchange with Lost Remote, George also touched upon the evolution of participation TV, The Voice’s plans to integrate Telescope down the line:

Lost Remote: What was behind the decision to allow anyone to participate in the voting – since the east and west broadcasts are at different times? Doesn’t this put some contestants at a disadvantage?

Jason George: There’s a couple of sides to that decision and it was certainly a big one – involving different elements of NBC, production and Telescope – which touches editorial, compliance, broadcast, as well as the technology aspect.

Firstly, as the company who has to deliver the technology AND ensure a fair and valid vote, we would have the strongest reservations about a national competition that didn’t allow everyone in the country to take part in deciding who should stay and who should go. NBC’s standard and practice team have a similar view of course.

Then there’s also the major question of whether from an editorial standpoint for NBC and the producers, you’d want to effectively disenfranchise a sizable portion of your audience, even though the majority of the population and therefore unique respondents are covered in the east coast time zone.

(Though we have some customized APIs that allow to better geo-target with them, it’s actually very difficult to limit state-by-state with Twitter, even if we wanted to).

So the feeling was that this ensured a level playing field and that fans of each contestant would get the chance to save their favorites, even if they weren’t necessarily watching the live broadcast.

LR:  We have been writing more about “participation TV.” What role do you see for participation TV in the larger social TV landscape?

George: Actually I kind of see it the other way around – Participation TV has been around for a while, going back to Bernie the Bolt, and since 2000/2001 with the rise in popularity of reality and competition shows where the audience was given a vested interest via mechanics like voting. But previously this was very much a “production device.”

Sure, it was important, but it was a means to advance the narrative of the show and that was it. If it was sponsored, then perfect. If there wasn’t a direct reason like this to infuse direct engagement into a show, it didn’t happen. Why would it?

That said, the adoption and growth of social networks has super-charged participation TV and taken it into a different dimension – one where producers and programming executives can see what engaging an audience can do to create buzz, while amplifying the chatter around their shows and promoting the show and its extensions to a wider audience. I see it as part of a move towards making real-time interactivity around the scheduled broadcast a premium experience - “hey viewer, sure, you can watch our content whenever you want and through a different device, but if you want to engage directly with the show, see your opinion/user content/profile appear live on the air, and take part in a mass experience with the rest of the audience in the moment, then you have to watch the live broadcast”.

An over-used metaphor, but it’s the water cooler moment happening live, in real-time during the broadcast. Not the next day.

LR: Does The Voice plan on integrating Telescope technology further next season?

George: The whole team around The Voice – producers, NBC network and digital team, Twitter, legal, and us – are wholly committed to innovating and finding new ways to engage the audience through social and digital. They’ve consistently pushed the envelope, and if there are ideas which add to the show and deepen the relationship with the fans, they’re always open to it. We don’t generally get into future planning until the current season is done, so nothing is firm as of yet – but we’ve started noodling around a few ideas. That’s a long way of saying: I can’t tell you anything yet, but knowing the team there and here I’d expect some new innovations in the Fall season!

LR: Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s head of research, recently said that Twitter does not impact ratings. Don’t #VoiceTailgate and #VoiceSave serve as a counter argument to that?

George: Yes, I saw that article, it was very interesting reading. It’s the $68bn question, isn’t it – does social activity actually drive ratings? To that, I’d say a couple of things:

1. Unfortunately, we’re still in a world where the media valuation is absolutely dominated by ratings, and everyone knows that’s a flawed system in so many ways. They’ve taken steps to improve ratings relevancy (e.g. +3, and maybe +7 soon) but those rating meters are in how many homes, 10,000 out of 115m? That’s virtually a rounding error! So clearly, the system for valuing areas like audience engagement, social amplification and other secondary benefits to pure ratings are and will evolve. Folks like Twitter already spend a lot of time on this, of course, as do media agencies and the networks.

2. There’s been various studies that have argued both ways about whether Twitter improves ratings. I’m not a stats or data guy, so I honestly don’t know the validity – but I try to look at it logically: if, as with #VoiceSave, a campaign is exposing my brand to 3.8m people in a short space of time, is it likely that will have an effect on viewer awareness and their likelihood to tune in? I’d think so, though creating a causal relationship between this and an actual rating eyeball is going to be tricky, I imagine. Clearly, Twitter has a big lead in the area of real-time engagement in the public domain, but it’s also important to consider how other social networks are contributing to the campaign – those conversations are happening across a diverse range of platforms. Facebook’s growing interest and application to this area is obviously one to watch and has already been really interesting for us on other projects.

One last comment: we often do more work with our clients on retaining viewers once they’re watching. I thought the #VoiceTailgate was a genius idea, because it really addresses the “TV tune in” factor -which, because of the ratings implication, is where a lot of focus also goes. I can see a lot more of these types of pre-show campaigns getting revved up in the next 12-18 months. In the future, it won’t just be about driving to TV, but about driving tune in and traffic to digital properties, wherever that content lives. Engagements like #VoiceSave will increasingly drive sponsorship and advertising not just for TV, and help networks to expand the value of what they offer multi-platform.

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