At USA Network , there’s money in those tweets.
The cable network with the highest ratings is also one of the most advanced when it comes to social media. And that early activity is starting to pay off with major clients such as Ford Motor Co., Toyota and Lexus looking to socialize with USA Network viewers while they are engaged online.
"I can’t give you an exact number of how much money we’ve been able to generate so far, but I can tell you it is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Jesse Redniss, senior VP of digital at USA.
Redniss says 700,000 people have tried USA's Character Chatter social media platform, which aggregates activity on Facebook and Twitter. Social media was already sexy in the marketing world, and the big numbers are really turning advertisers on.
“Over the course of the past four or five months, every single client that we go and talk to, the first question out of their mouths is, ‘What are you guys doing in social TV and how can we be a part of it?’” Redniss says.
The two automakers are already engaging with USA viewers through social media programs based on original series currently on the network.
Ford’s Explorer sponsors White Collar and is also presenting a transmedia experience called Mozzie’s Mission, which combines live-action video shot at many of the show’s locations and gaming elements with messages from Twitter and Facebook to tell a story. There’s also a quiz in which answering a question about a Ford integration will help unlock a secret sweepstakes. “That’s an example of how we’ve organically integrated in the Ford brand in an engaging way for audiences without overtly giving them an ad in their face,” Redniss says.
Meanwhile, Toyota has been a sponsor of USA’s Royal Pains for several years. This season, the sponsorship includes a vignette with series regular Jill Flint, integrations featuring the Toyota Prius v and branded tune-in spots. Toyota is also backing a two-screen synchronized execution on Character Chatter that allows Royal Pains fans who answer questions during the midseason premiere and the season finale to view unaired scenes from the show.
Being able to engage a show’s fans via social TV is “a gigantic step forward” for advertisers, says John Lisko, executive communications director at Saatchi & Saatchi, Toyota’s ad agency. “Where we have meaningful integrations with content we will see a higher lift in ad recall awareness engagement with our advertising than we would have seen otherwise.”
Lisko declined to say how much Toyota pays to participate in social TV. “We measure the value, we measure the lift and we look at the partnership we have with USA in totality across all the shows that we buy,” he says.
Lisko notes that USA and its parent company, NBCUniversal have been at the forefront in creating new real-time experiences with custom content. Toyota also sponsors Top Chef, the halftime report on Sunday Night Football and the Today show concert series. Lexus is also doing an interactive and social ad in the first two mid-season episodes of Psych.
Analyst Elizabeth Shaw at Forrester Research says television networks have been focusing on the business of social TV. “USA has been a little bit more proactive in testing this than other networks,” Shaw says. “They’ve figured out how to do that, and they kind of understand this behavior. Now they’re trying to figure out how they can actually benefit from the connection and make money from this.”
Shaw says that the industry has not settled on a business model, but “with the upfronts coming up, I think you’re going to see that in your typical 30-second media buy, you’re not just purchasing 30-second spots. You’re actually purchasing what would be the social reach as well.”
Redniss says it’s not clear that social TV is adding viewers to USA’s programs. “Right now, there is no kind of Nielsen data point that can directly correlate the engagement in chatter we’re seeing on Character Chatter and Facebook to a specific ratings point,” he says.
Nevertheless, USA is using social TV activities to try to get viewers revved up for new seasons of its shows. For Psych, USA ran an effort it called “#Hashtagkiller,” in which viewers competed to find clues. Those that interacted the most were immortalized as murder victims.
And leading up to new episodes of White Collar, the net launched whereiselizabethburke.com, where fans could post their theories about FBI agent Burke’s kidnapped wife and interact with series creator Jeff Eastin.
“The whole engagement with consumers in the social TV space is in its infancy. There is no ‘this is the final frontier.’ We are in the middle of a humongous frontier and we don’t even know where the edge is yet,” Redniss says.
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At USA Network , there’s money in those tweets.