How to Take Viewers Inside Their Favorite TV Shows

By Guest Comment

Almost from the inception of American TV, the basic 30-minute sitcom and 60-minute drama have consisted of 22 minutes of show and 8 minutes of ads and 44 minutes of show and 16 minutes of ads, respectively. That’s the way it worked, and for decades it worked well, for everybody.

Yet as we all know, with the advent of the internet, and digital video in particular, viewers have become empowered to focus much more on the programming and a whole lot less on the spots that paid for those quality shows. It is becoming regularly apparent that as television advertising viewership has declined so has revenue around so much of that programming.

Marketers, sponsors and agencies continue to search for new ways to counteract the impact the internet has had on advertising, with varying results. One of the most effective approaches has been the development of what’s called “Participation TV” technology, which consistently creates value for sponsors.

Nielsen research shows that 85 percent of TV viewers use web-enabled hand-held devices when watching TV. What was once considered a distraction is now a means to engage viewers, keep them focused longer on the programs they are watching and fundamentally add value for advertisers. This is a tangible solution to the erosion of the $66 billion annual television industry ad spend.

I believe the way to keep audiences engaged and to capture valuable viewership data that marketers crave is by creating a platform that motivates viewers to stay tuned in longer, even during commercial breaks.

Earlier this year, MTV, USA Network and the embattled Miss USA Pageant each used technology to engage their very different audiences with a combination of quizzes, contests, polls and other engagement options. And each of these networks enjoyed sizable viewer engagement as a result. In the case of “Teen Wolf” and Miss Universe, each won their respective week’s Nielsen TV Twitter ratings. USA for its part showed it could build C3 audience retention through smart use of our audience engagement technology.

Instead of encouraging viewers to look away from the TV screen to post comments to social media sites or search for show information on various websites, the real opportunity is in taking the audience inside shows, giving them a chance to participate actively in what they’re watching. The closer you can bring viewers “into” what’s on their screen, the closer you are to making television viewing a truly participatory activity.

It can be games – complete with a real-time on-air leader board – polls or quizzes, all of which can be sponsored. They can do more than shout at their TV, they can let the hosts or producers know what they really feel, instantly and easily. Audiences respond to the opportunity, and sponsors appreciate the viewer insights just as much.

Face it, the audiences have spoken, and what they’re saying is that they will stay engaged with shows, as well as the advertising. TV Networks can engage viewers and enhance revenue, while providing advertisers with deep audience insights. Done right, the rewards are unmistakable.

Gavin Douglas, the author of this post, is CEO of iPowow, a leader in participation TV.