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The team that made 'The Voice' a social TV hit

There’s no doubt that NBC’s new hit The Voice has set a gold standard for how to create a live broadcast in the age of the social web. Coverage on the show’s ratings and social media success continues to pour in since the first season’s finale last week.

The genius behind the digital success (and the fact that The Voice has been one the most aggressive shows to integrate Twitter on the air) is that social media isn’t seen as a marketing vehicle but as core to the entire production. Here’s an in-depth interview with Andrew Adashek, the Digital Producer for Mark Burnett (and startup guy) who shared how his team of social broadcasters are creating new roles within the Hollywood production chain.

What were some of the biggest successes?

For sure, the Twitter engagement and to connect with the audience in real-time and making it accessible to the coaches and artists. Giving the artists access right away. A lot of shows would sequester, whereas we were actively encouraging it. One of the bigger successes, we were able to pull back the chains. To grow organically.

What were some of the guidelines you gave to the coaches?

We didn’t want people to give spoilers really far in advance, don’t tell anybody, don’t spoil things that would ruin it for everyone, may not ruin the competition but there’s a certain element of surprise that would be fun. Also, profanity. Artists could use their own twitter accounts. We couldn’t show favoritism towards any one artists. We had to remain neutral, we had to give a fair amount of coverage and just play neutral. We wanted everything to be open and personally.

What was the relationship like with Twitter?

Twitter was super helpful in sharing what was working with us and showing us, and pulling back the vail and saying what was helpful. They gave us the tools we needed to fine tune #thevoice (when to put it on-air) and putting it up at key moments in the show so people were in control. Also to make that single hashtag let peopel connect universally on twitter around the show. They helped us see when we would see spikes in activity, when activity would slow down. When we hit the Social Media Room, we’d see great deal of buzz. We were pulling in interesting commentary from the viewers at home, who had awesome opinions.

How do you get a tweet onto live broadcast?

On our side, we’d pull in filter for the tweets we were looking for. We had a rundown of what we thought would happen next, what performances, I’d think about that experience and customize everything about the show. Real-time watching the show and watching the television. Things change very quickly without us knowing, so we’d need to update the filters.

If there’s an episode where two artists kissed, we’d look to see what people are saying. You have to be real-time. Then we would take all the information go through standards and legal. We built all the pieces so it would connect from that system to the expression which would actually show it on air. We would have it down to 15seconds from real-time to get it through everyone on the air. That’s probably what took by far the most energy and development to get it real-time through all of those pieces.


(Photo: NBC.com)

How did the Social Media Lounge work?

The Dutch version had social media people. We wanted to work with Alison. Her background was in technology and in social and she was so passionate about it on her own. You couldn’t have someone in that position who didn’t genuinely want to be involved. We’d be looking for on air, tweets that would go on the wall in the social media room, on air. For finding a question, we’d have to search for multiple questions that Alison would be asking on Twitter and, NBC.com. We would send to Alison’s Sprint tablet in real-time, because we wanted the questions that are the most relevant at that moment.

Did you use Facebook at all?

It’s one of those things where I would like to do more with Facebook, things are moving so fast on the show. The other social networks, because you have to actually go and negotiate to put anything on air, you’d have to make the agreements for each use-case.

What other tools did you use?

Mass Relevance was a help, to assist us in filtering, from an insane amount of tweets, to a mass. They helped us pull signal from noise. Software and technology can only take it so far. I look at my job and my team and Nicolle who connected us to the main show and was the glue behind social through her creativity that would carry over. Our community managers who helped us manage our accounts. Work flow that made this all possible.

How big was your team?

Including NBC, 20+ people at any one point. Specifically on the production side, to 10-12. One thing I think is important, now that we’ve done this is to have the people who have the tools to do what we did. And then keep pushing it further and further.

Throughout this we were also delivering over 250 never before seen exclusive clips. Behind the scene clips, exclusive clips. When youre sharing on Twitter and Facebook, you need to have something interesting to back it up. Text is cool but it isn’t enough.

For us it’s kind of cool. You can’t make a mistake on live television you aim for 10000%. When doing things that are social and digital, there is this understanding that we’re all still pushing the boundaries of technology and production on digital. It’s a lot easier to take a risk online than on air, and I think for a large part of the audience that’s appealing, you can really get behind the scenes and spend some time getting to know the wardrobe people and the makeup artists, the history behind the stage that we’re working. The things that are a little bit more in depth.

We did a clip on “in-ears” that are custom made to help the contestants rehearse. If you watched that clip on television it would be like paint drying, but if you’re interested we try to give you the ability to dig deeper as much as you want to go, and a certain percent of population really gets into it.

Social is not about what happened a week ago and that we can get into the marketing goal. We have to be glued to the ground. NBC’s community managers lived with us, I shared an office with them. They were there taking pictures of everything that went on in real-time.

Did the coaches have to tweet?

Christina didn’t even have a Twitter account when we started. They became so genuinely engaged, you cannot contract their genuine engagement. Those coaches, they were the most genuine group of people I’ve worked with. I didn’t know what to expect. Carson Daily must have put 100 photos up all the time.

Mark Burnett himself was active and engaged. Mark Burnett personally made it a big effort to do social in the right way. His whole’s thing is to do things at a premium level, deliver the best experience and people will be happy. Taking the same approach to social, what is the best experience for the fan. Their approach is how do we bring the worlds together and take off the blinders, we’re not just a telvision company, we’re an entertainment company.

What’s in store for next season?

The one thing I do know, is that they don’t want to just let the season die because it’s over. They want to carry social through to next season. Maybe we’re not on the air, there’s still casting, etc. that we want to keep our fans engaged with. We’re just touching the tip of the iceberg on what we’re going to do.

Why did you get the role of digital producer and social media consultant for The Voice?

I had worked in television, I had started in China, working on small web technology, in the late 90s, then I ended up coming out to LA where my wife is from. I worked on some HBO shows. I worked on the production side, which was one of the most valuable things on the hind sight. It gave me an insight on how intricate a dance production is. I have a great respect for people who put on these shows. It’s a sophisticated process. What I learned from it was that everything you do has some sort of impact on production. Whether your press that wants to do something on set, to catering. Social is no exception to that. When you need to create content and you need to plan and program how everything fits together, you have to understand how it’s going to impact the main show.

I worked for rehearsal.com, where I learned how not to run a startup. There was an old school mentality of ownership, information wants to be free on the internet and they didn’t get. I worked on the production side and content creation and distribution elements. For example, how you take then new tools, like Final Cut Pro, and cameras that used to cost 1/4 million dollars and now cost $10,000 and so your still creating premium content. I did some live events with the Knitting Factory as well.

I got a call from Rick Pizante, he called and asked if I would come see what the show is about and see what the social plan was and if there was a way that I could help. I came on, sort of a part time thing. Within two weeks, it expanded into a massive 24-hour seven month adventure.

How did you take The Voice’s social success from Holland to the next level?

The creators of the show in Holland, brought the show over with a lot of soical formatted into it, they were very creative. Nicolle Yaron, who really understood, was the direct link to the show creative and has a great digital mind as well, it was a great benefit to all of us that she could have a big picture all the time of how the pieces could fit together, working in that scenario was hugely helpful. We also worked with NBC to push the boundaries together.

We had to think about what this will all look like when you add in bigger pop and different time zones. How do we manage it when we think about broadcast standards and practices? How are we going to walk the line that has to be walked, but at the same time be 100% true to the real-time of social. We tried to troubleshoot everything really early. Let’s walk through every process of the show. We didn’t know. There was a blueprint from holland, use a lot of Twitter.

What’s your startup Voxbloc about?

Social engagement. Our whole goal is about the constant engagement with fans. Hey, we like you on Facebook but after you have 100,000 likes how do you continue that engagement. Whether with your fans on TV, or a band or artist. If you’re not engaging with your fans in your community regularly, it’s like you never got those likes or followers, there’s so much other noise. As soon as you make the connection you have to keep it up. Our goal, our fans and partners are doing a lot for these companies, we see that when somebody shares something on Facebook, the click through rate is immensely higher when it comes from a friend.

It’s a self-serve application, anyone can come on signup and build a Facebook application at voxbloc.com, customize graphics and copy. With the band Social Distortion, we streamed whole album live. Every 100,000 likes that got listened to the price on Amazon went down. Anyone can come get tools for $9.95/month, tools that biggest companies have. We did something for the Survivor season premier. A promotion for Stand Up For Cancer.

My big vision of television and social is that the the experience will be as simple and deep as the fan wants it to be when engaged on the social graph.

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