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Social TV highlights and takeaways from SXSW

Both Natan and I enjoyed a few days in Austin for SXSW Interactive this week, navigating even longer lines than last year, dodging the occasional rainstorm and searching for 3G service that actually worked. As we previewed, there were over a dozen social TV events and sessions, and we saw many more TV folks compared to last year. Here are some SXSW highlights, and we asked several social TV execs who attended for their biggest takeway from the annual event:

- Of all the TV-related sessions, the most entertaining featured Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain and the No Reservations team. In true Bourdain style, the session was packed with F-bombs and snazzy one-liners, with lots of very interesting social media nuggets. For example, when talking about why Bourdain and team controls the show’s Facebook and Twitter accounts — not the cable channel — he explained, “It was a defensive measure, taking over the Twitter and Facebook. We didn’t want them to suck. The No Res Twitter account is actually me.” In another interesting tidbit, he said his team discovered the show’s largest Facebook audience outside of the U.S. is from Finland. “We responded essentially to a Facebook campaign,” he said, explaining that they traveled to Finland to shoot a show. What did he do there? “Sauna, have a drink, sauna, blood sausage, sauna, have a drink, sauna.” Explains CultureMap in a wrap-up post, “It was clear from the panel that Bourdain and his crew really are one tight-knit, fucked up family that relies on each other’s ideas to keep the personality of No Reservations alive – on camera and online.”

- Another popular TV sessions was Bravo’s “Top Chef: How Transmedia is Changing TV,” featuring execs Lisa Hsia, Aimee Viles and Dave Serwatka along with Tom Colicchio (“Top Chef” judge) and Andy Cohen (“Watch What Happens Live.”) With the popular Colicchio in attendance, the ballroom packed up quickly. Bravo is one of the leaders in the social TV space, and they walked the audience through “Last Chance Kitchen,” an innovative web series that extended the success of Top Chef. (As Hsia explained, “If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.”) We walked through some of the success metrics a couple weeks ago, including the fact the web show drove 8 million streams — the most for any NBCU web series.

- Speaking of Bravo, it partnered with TaskRabbit at SXSW to award one thousand SXSW attendees with $25 in TaskRabbit credits, good for things like “line holding” at food trucks and reserving a parking spot. Bravo and TaskRabbit also held a party on Saturday (above) to celebrate the show, “Watch What Happens Live.”

- Pinterest was one of the big buzzy topics at SXSW. Adam Naide, executive director of social media at Cox Communications (and former CNN social guy), talked to us about how Pinterest’s approach could help social TV. “The biggest takeaway for me was a panel that talked about harnessing people’s interest from the social web and finding out about what they like, instead of who they like,” he said. “I think the interest graph is a very powerful idea because people are really sharing what they love, and then they’re sharing with their social graph…. If you think about it from a TV perspective, people on Pinterest that are sharing about a particular show — it could be about Game of Thrones, or characters that they’re in love with — if we can identify and form relationships with people who are hand-raising about their interests, we can then be very targeted with the content we’re engaging with them.” By the way, Pinterest co-founder Ben Silbermann said at a SXSW session that his company is working on a public API.

- Just like last year, CNN spent big on SXSW, converting a nearby restaurant into the “CNN Grill” and tweeting all the action on @cnnsxsw. It held a series of events, including a PromaxBDA-sponsored social TV session with GetGlue’s Alex Iskold, i.TV’s Justin Whittaker, SocialSamba’s Aaron Williams and yours truly. “Social TV continues to quickly grow and head towards broader mainstream awareness in 2012,” said Iskold after the event. “Users, startups, networks and brands are collectively defining the new second screen experiences that are more interesting and more widespread.” Another session featured Sohaib Athar, the man who unknowingly tweeted the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. And Texas Governor Rick Perry drew a big crowd, as well.

- Speaking of CNN, a report that the cable network was buying Mashable was the biggest news buzz at SXSW. So far, nothing has been confirmed.

- Biggest SXSW takeaway from Nisha Chittal, social media manager at the Travel Channel: “Social media for TV has gone far beyond a ‘like’ on Facebook or follow on Twitter — it’s about empowering viewers to participate in programs they love in an organic and authentic way. A constant theme at the conference was that TV isn’t just something you watch anymore – it’s an experience you live.”

- And from Jennifer Kavanagh, SVP of Digital from Oxygen: “Social is still a deep focus which drove valuable conversations around engagement and authenticity for brands, and further how it transforms the sales narrative. There’s an impressive level of product development dedicated to capturing the value of television and streamed content. Whether its second screen or building branded channels, there was no doubt that great video content is what a lot of businesses are innovating around.”

- (The TODAY Show) made its first appearance at SXSW, converting two food trucks (“Munchie Mobiles”) and offering free food, including a winning crowdsourced recipe from (Among the swag, the free umbrellas were a big hit.) Attendees could track the trucks’ locations on @TODAYfood, as well as tweet their own SXSW food photos. (Photo by @Peggy)

- Biggest SXSW takeaway from Sabrina Caluori, VP of social media and performance marketing at HBO: “It’s no longer just the marketers and marketing teams that are interested,” she said. “I think you’re going to see a lot more interest from show runners and writers — how do they make their shows social from the start, not just how you market them.”

- We enjoyed the “Tune 2012″ party, a social TV event sponsored by Miso, Trendrr, Second Screen Networks, Civolution and Clipsync. It was a great turnout — despite an ongoing rainstorm — emphasizing how SXSW has become an annual social TV event, too.

- Austin-based Mass Relevance met with many potential clients including representatives from 10 NFL teams — Mass Relevance partnered with the New York Giants last season. “They were all very interested in what we were doing and in what the Giants had done with us,” CEO Sam Decker said. We asked him about his SXSW takeaway: “The challenge of social TV in my mind is that executive adoption on the linear side, which is where all the budgets are, and all the creative direction is made,” he said, explaining that linear is the top tier at TV organizations, with the digital and social teams following. “And now social is starting to float up.”

- A panel that looked at the social success of the X Factor — which offered real-time Twitter voting and visualizations by Mass Relevance — offered tips on how to get TV creative teams excited about social integration. “It was all about education,” explained Olivier Delfosse, VP of Interactive at FremantleMedia. “Our producers were very aware of the value of social, but they didn’t necessarily know how to implement it.” He said showing them a video of what the social integration could look like made all the difference. “They’re very visual, that’s what we’ve learned about the producers, they really need to see something to understand it,” he said, explaining that a mock-up isn’t enough. He said they started with a few things, grew into a larger social presence, and now season two will be more social than ever.

- What’s Trending host Shira Lazar interviewed Bravo’s Andy Cohen and msnbc’s Meghan McCain at the Samsung Blogger Lounge (above — audio kicks in about 30 seconds into the clip). “This year we saw more than ever before the true convergence of tech and entertainment at SXSW,” Lazar told us.

- If you missed it, we covered several stories earlier this week from SXSW: HBO Girls’ creator and star Len Dunham thoughts about Twitter and the creative process (story), Trendrr rolls out new social features with 2.0 launch (story), Peel launches new features to make Idol more social (story) and a great infographic from Mass Relevance breaking down the tweets from SXSW.

- Coming next week: Our interview at SXSW with Twitter VP Chloe Sladden. We asked about Twitter’s social TV plans, from on-air integration to second-screen apps.

Have any other SXSW observations to add? Please leave ‘em in comments…

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