Programming the Second Screen: Social TV Strategies from Discovery and USA Networks

TV gets social by taking the relationship with fans to a second screen.
Animal Planet is creating buzz with its Puppies vs Babies Campaign

Social media has transformed communication in many industries, turning the traditional one-way model into two-way interactivity. Lately, many television broadcasters are finding innovative ways to create buzz and enhance the second screen relationship with their fans.  Research shows there’s a solid business case.  According to a new NM Incite/Nielsen study, an increase in buzz translates into an increase in ratings. Among people aged 18-34, a 9% increase in buzz volume four weeks before a new show’s premiere correlates to a 1%  increase in ratings among this group.

“Social media has made TV a social experience again,” says Gayle Weiswasser, Vice President, Social Media Communications at Discovery Communications. “We’re very interested in facilitating conversation − tapping into the power of social conversations across different programs to give viewers the power to connect with each other and build our relationships with our fans.”

The company operates many worldwide television networks − led by Discovery Channel, TLC, and Animal Channel – that reach about 1.6 billion subscribers in more than 180 countries. It’s been very active in social media with more than 70 Facebook pages that have attracted 40 million fans and 20 Twitter accounts with 2.4 million followers.

Using new tools from a company called Arktan, Discovery Communications now is trying to bring that widely disparate interactive communication back to its own branded vehicles. The Arktan software monitors more than 40 social media sites ranging from Facebook to Stumbleupon, Twitter to Tumblr and aggregates the content on Discovery’s own website. Tweets, Facebook posts, blog mentions and photos will appear on the Discovery website.

“This is second screen engagement, stimulating a conversation on a device other than the TV.  It doesn’t compete with the first screen, but is additive and complimentary,” Weiswasser told The Realtime Report.

I Want My Realtime TV

Sometimes the shows even incorporate social media in realtime. The TV programs “An Idiot Abroad,” broadcast on Discovery’s Science network, and “Burn Notice,” on the competing USA Network, have inserted live tweets into the broadcasts.

Second screen conversations in a branded environment turns broadcast into social TV

“We’re letting the brands become relevant again after the shift in conversation away from their sites caused by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.” says Rahul Aggarwal, founder and CEO of Arktan.  He says that when Burn Notice incorporated the technology it brought 35,000 people into the second screen conversation on its webpage in minutes by pulling in content from outside social media.

Last summer, USA Network had 300,000 unique, completely new registrants on its webpages join conversations, he adds. That convinced USA Network to expand from just one program using his technology to 15 in the last few months on a site it calls Character Chatter.

Branding the Second Screen

Lady Gaga’s team saw the value, too, using the technology to enable it to manage her online engagement in a single place on There fans can see everything she has posted on Twitter, Facebook, etc. and it gives her the ability to control the look and feel of all her social media activity.

“The benefit of doing it on our own platform is we get all the traffic,” says Weiswasser of Discovery. “And it’s happening in our branded environment rather than generic layouts and look and feel of the other platforms.”

She says it’s definitely been a big traffic driver for Discovery in terms of bringing viewers to its websites and increasing page views. That in turn builds stronger engagement with fans, builds buzz about its shows, boosts viewership, and helps the brand learn more about its fans – their likes and interests – which can affect Discovery’s programming choices.

More visitors also means more monetization and revenue, as it can sell more ads on both the website and the programs it airs. “We’re still trying to prove that social conversation leading up to and after a show has an X impact on ratings, but we can’t say that for sure yet,” Weiswasser adds.

The subscription-based service involved is fairly simple to install and run. Curating is done ahead of time, so there’s no need for a moderator unless there’s something like a live interview or live Tweets from a show’s stars being conducted. In essence, it’s plug and play.

A client like Discovery, USA Network, Lady Gaga or Television New Zealand decides which social media sites to monitor, which hashtags to incorporate, etc. They can set up keywords and filters such as ordering the system to bring in tweets, but not response to tweets, and avoid certain words or phrases. It also works hard at avoiding spam.

It’s seamless for fans. They aren’t required to register to participate in what Discovery calls Social Chatter on its website. The service allows sign-in from multiple account types such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Google, WordPress and LinkedIn. So you choose what service you want to log in with and then you can engage in the conversation.

“TV is no longer a one-to-many broadcast model the way it used to be, it now powers social conversation,” Weiswasser says.

Read more about social TV on The Realtime Report: