Will social TV ever be a success?
Web-based TV isn’t a new concept, but the idea of ‘Social TV’ is one that’s still relatively untapped in any mainstream way. Social media and television have always been entwined, with live tweeting encouraged amongst audiences and TV networks relying on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and, yes, Snapchat to garner publicity, especially with young viewers.
“Filmmakers and series creators, in particular, are creating programmes which are flexible enough to be pushed in more creative ways by marketing and are set up in ways to support this. It’s got traditional platforms in a head spin,” said Tim Gibbon, founder and director of social media and marketing firm Elemental Communications.
“Web television has been successful because consumers are already where platform and technology providers want them to be, or near enough. Whether from a mobile, tablet, computer and/or television connected to the internet, it’s not a difficult leap for audiences.”
Companies have been prioritising video content for a while, from alterations to Facebook’s Timeline algorithm to Twitter’s acquisition of Vine. Instagram and Snapchat’s focus on image and video over text have made them the perfect home for this kind of content, from users and brands alike.
“The trend here is that social platforms and technology companies aren’t limited to their environments,” Gibbon continued. “They’re better at identifying where existing and new audiences want their content and, more importantly, how they want to interact with it. Unlike their traditional competitors, they’re better at reading the ecosystem and adapting to it.
“Social platforms like Snapchat have to evolve to remain current and to grow. With the relationship between Facebook and Instagram [and] the recent launch of Instagram Stories, the potential for brands – which will include content creators – is bright.”
YouTube has also recently launched subscription service YouTube Red (due to launch in the UK sometime in 2017), dedicated to producing high-quality web series such as Single by 30, Dance Camp and the now-cancelled Scare PewDiePie.
“We’ve only scratched the surface with certain programmes, with dedicated services not as widely used as social platforms [such as] Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube et al,” Gibbon added. “These platforms have been the strongest environments for television, web or otherwise… Bring more players and competition into the mix and more is possible.
“The newer platforms in the ecosystem have serious kick behind them, but more importantly appear to be agile [enough] to create programming consumers want to watch on their terms. Content creators have potentially powerful ecosystems where conversations are consistent and vibrant to delve into.”
The idea behind Snapchat’s five-episode The Voice tie-in is to allow fans to be both a part of the series and to affect its outcome, with more than 20,000 submissions received in less than two days. In exchange, NBC gets cheap user-generated content coupled with free promotion for its main show.
“Our partnership with Snapchat represents inclusion, creativity and innovation, the key elements that have made The Voice one of TV’s more successful franchises,” said Paul Telegdy, president of the Alternative & Reality Group at NBC Entertainment, in a press release. “This interactive collaboration provides our passionate fan base with a chance to participate directly and become a part of our Voice family.”
The partnership with NBCUniversal is the latest effort from Snapchat to bring original video content to the app’s Discover tab, but it’s not by any means the first. The platform’s first foray into the market was with Sasha Spielberg comedy Literally Can’t Even back in January 2015, which was subsequently renewed for a second run.
According to the Financial Times, Snapchat’s coverage of the Rio Olympics this summer attracted 49 million unique viewers in the first week alone, demonstrating that live events are a hit with social media users.
Snapchat also has deals with production companies, including Comedy Central, Food Network, CNN, National Geographic, Vice, Yahoo and Warner Music Group, to create short, temporary content that will appear to its daily userbase of 150 million on the Discover tab.
“The biggest change in the industry is the amount of established actors, writers, directors and producers who are showing interest now in playing in the web series pool,” said Sally McLean, director and producer of web series Shakespeare Republic. “And that’s likely due to the fact that web series are now not just becoming more mainstream, i.e. more widely watched, but also because of the creative freedom it gives everyone involved.
“Another change [is] how series are being delivered. When web series first became a thing, many people were trying to emulate what was being seen on traditional television, especially in regards to length… People are more prepared to experiment with the format, and find the best way to tell the stories that they want to share.”
Snapchat’s latest foray into original video content could be read as a relatively innocuous experiment right now, but it could just as likely be the spark that disrupts the television industry’s relationship with the internet and social media. In a post-TV environment in which services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are just as likely to be the destination for fans and casual viewers as traditional channels, Snapchat’s form of bite-sized, ephemeral content could simply be tapping into an audience that no-one else is catering to.