Turner Embraces Social TV, Interactive Ads via ‘Conan’ App
TBS planning to leverage audio recognition tech for content, ads, even daily deals
By Mike Shields
Sometime this month, Coco’s getting his own app. And like the Harvard-educated funnyman, this app’s going to be pretty clever.
As part of a major push by Turner’s entertainment networks to embrace second-screen viewing and smart TVs, TBS is planning to introduce complementary content and eventually ad messages to a slew of its shows, starting with a tablet app designed to be accessed during episodes of TBS’ Conan.
Using audio recognition technology similar to that employed by the popular smartphone app Shazam, each episode of Conan will be fingerprinted. As a result, users of the new Conan app (which is being sponsored by AT&T) will be periodically greeted with pop-ups within the app featuring information relevant to the show, such as facts about a guest’s movie career.
And soon enough, viewers will be able to buy tickets to those guests’ movies via the app. At a mini conference centered on media convergence held at the Time Warner Center in New York on Wednesday, Turner executives showed a mock-up of potential Conan commerce integration. During a demo clip, as actress Ellie Kemper of Bridesmaids sat down with host Conan O’Brien, viewers were prompted to purchase tickets to the movie via the Conan app.
The Bridesmaids example was theoretical, but Dennis Adamovich, Turner’s svp of brand and digital activation, said that such ad integrations would be available during the upcoming TV upfront. So will Turner’s new daily deals offerings. Starting this April, viewers watching shows like TBS staple Everybody Loves Raymond will start seeing daily offers pop up on the bottom of their screen—provided they are one of the first to purchase a new line of smart/connected TVs from Vizio and other manufacturers.
TBS and TNT also plan to start building ads into its companion apps for The Big Bang Theory and Leverage tied to TV spots airing during those shows. For example, ads for advertisers like Twizzlers or Little Caesars could prompt viewers to provide their email address or phone number via the companion app to receive a quick coupon.
Clearly, Turner is looking to establish itself as a leader in adopting smart TV technology, and particularly ads that leverage audio fingerprinting. “We think this is a transformative technology,” said Adamovich. “We think this is going to redefine how viewers watch and interact with TV.” For now, that interaction requires viewers to do so via an app. But nearly all of the examples Turner presented on Wednesday could be ported to the TV screen itself, once enough smart TVs are installed, offered Adamovich.
There’s little question that social TV as well as companion tablet viewing are taking off among consumers. However, it remains to be seen how many Americans are ready, or even know about the promise of connected TVs. And there’s also the risk of couponing TV viewers to death—and turning the ultimate branding vehicle into a banner ad-filled direct-response medium.
But credit Turner for trying to learn, and lead. That was pretty much the point of Wednesday’s event, the second of three planned conferences featuring buyers, sales executives and industry luminaries. “We are trying to understand the consumer marketplace,” said David Levy, TBS’ president of sales, distribution and sports. “People react to advertising differently on different screens, and we’re trying to figure out, ‘What is the next evolution of TV everywhere?’ and ‘Do you sell it differently?’ We’re learning with our partners. After all, I’m a brand, too.”
Among the speakers on the docket helping Turner and its guest learn was noted author, journalist and NYU professor Clay Shirky, who warned the TV business to avoid ending up like the music business—which for too long fixated on things like audio quality and ignored its customers’ desire to have more control of their music-buying experience. Shirky noted that TV might be headed down the same path, pushing 3-D TVs when few consumers seem interested, while still making it difficult for users to find comprehensive, on-demand programing choices. “People don’t want to hear about things like rights windows,” he said.
Shirky also urged TV executives to stop treating its viewers all the same. The 3,000 plus viewers who have contributed to the Dr. Who Wikipedia page are a different breed of super-engaged fans—and TV networks should cater to them (though Shirky neglected to say exactly how). “Mass is different than passion,” Shirky said. “All women 25-54 are not interchangeable.…[On the Web] you can’t make your most passionate viewers shut up. People love to talk to each other [about TV]. You should build an ecosystem that recognizes this.”