CBS Interactive: On a Path to Solving the Piracy Problem

A stat from Jeffrey Cole, Director of the Center for the Digital Future, of the Annenberg School furthers one my favorite theories about TV’s evolution. When talking about second screen usage, he notes that 42% of TV viewers were online at the same time that they watched TV – looking at related content (a still-growing number that tripled in just a few months).

I think it’s obvious that the 42% of TV viewers who go online to see more about the TV content they’re watching do not go online to find and watch the exact same video clips that they’re watching on their TV machines. What are they looking for? And why?

As when I explored the reason online social networks first took off years ago, if we can better understand why people are looking online, then we might better know what they’re looking for. Only then you can give it to them. Or sell it. “Why” is a more powerful question than what.

Technically the why is the viewer’s dopamine response to a good payoff, which is for the TV industry what nicotine is for the tobacco industry. In the pocket between every setup and its corresponding payoff, the brain registers these surges, conscious or unconscious, of curiosity. That space is valuable. These little thrills from the prefrontal cortex are literally addictive. That’s what an advertiser pays for – proximity to that wonder. Storytellers are masters of setups, payoffs, and cliffhanger act breaks for a good rea$on.

So in the case of television and crossmedia, I believe the long arcs which are so prevalent in today’s TV are front-loading a lot of setups early – lighting fuses for payoffs which are supposed to come only much later. This is a good problem to have, but it’s obviously making people hungry for payoffs which they want to be integrated into the TV show’s core narrative content. Their curiosity is driving them online. They’re looking for payoffs.

I think TV networks could start engineering some payoffs online. Non-video payoffs. They could be hints. They could be head-fakes. They could charge advertisers for proximity to these revelations, these eureka moments, and they could even offer up branded content integration around those payoffs. That is a profitable approach to crossmedia. And its a fun experience for your audience when done right. And it is an approach to capturing viewer behavior that seems to fit with the big Why behind this phenomenon.

Networks Integrate Digital  

During the London Olympics, NBCUniversal set out to drive big dollar cross-media deals, not stand-alone digital deals. “We are not really interested in selling digital adjacencies unless they’ve bought the core [broadcast] property” Peter Naylor, exec VP-digital media sales, said. “We had 30 advertisers on the Olympics digital platforms, and 30 out of 30 were TV advertisers.”

At the Upfronts, ABC ad sales chief Geri Wang promoted the ability of advertisers to buy TV and online ads with one deal and one CPM. “In a world of fragmentation, we are offering you aggregation,” she said. This trend is great for the kind of crossmedia I root for, because the same demos can and should be reached on all platforms in association with one TV show.

When Les Moonves talked about how CBS is also offering cross-platform ad packages, he stressed that “the first screen must come first, and there’s no second screen without it,” he is exactly right. Audiences crave story thrills – stories from the TV. Moonves also noted that CBS’ ratings lead its competitors “by the largest margin of any network in 23 years. “Integrated sales has become part of our culture,” he added.

So everybody sees the value in the second screen and they’re all getting advertisers accustomed to buying on all platforms. These are good developments.

I’ve said before the biggest players in television are the ones with the power and leverage to experiment with the form — both with storytelling on TV, and crossmedia storytelling. And it’s true: CBS’ Hawaii Five-o will become the first primetime drama to allow viewers to choose the ending of an episode in real time.

Meanwhile, there continue to be many attempts at experimental crossmedia offerings, ranging from peripheral game extensions, or paratext wikis, to backstory webshows, and more. And though some are great examples of crossmedia storytelling, many are merely crossmedia marketing gimmicks and diversions. Which are fine. But they’re not what people are actually hungry for. They want story.

If TV networks as big as CBS see the value of experimenting with narrative on the first screen, and if they continue to experiment with the second screen as well, then I hope we’re not far from when we hit paydirt: When the experimenting expands the telling of our primary narrative onto other mediums – beyond video or even games.

Thinking outside the box will take a lot of creative energy. It will take coordination with the EP’s show bible and season arc schedules, but audiences want new payoffs, easter eggs, physical artifacts, hints, hunts, side-stories, and the accumulated pageviews will make it worth the effort. And as a bonus, these engineered experiences cannot be pirated.

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