Sometimes Mark Cuban really nails an issue with a point of view that is simple, overlooked, and right on. Last week, he did it with an opinion on the DVR that I have long shared with him and have been waving my arms about to whoever will listen. This week, it’s sports ratings and the relative value of live televised events.
He’s absolutely right about the added value of events that are better watched live and lend themselves to discussion. The media world has a lot to learn about driving audiences to “premiere” airings and encouraging participation. In addition to reducing time-shifting and the subsequent fast-forwarding through ads, larger audiences tuning in to a given viewing create the opportunity for free “buzz”, higher CPMs, and cross-promotional opportunities.
To that end, the networks should be doing everything they can to foster television as a shared, live experience. The obvious answer is social networking and real-time discussion as a way to do that. Anecdotally, I can tell you that my CBSSports.com fantasy football league definitely tunes into more live games than we would otherwise because of the automatic chat room we are entered in on the live scoring page. We talk about the games, what they are doing for our fantasy squads, and are way more engaged with the television than we would be otherwise. And about half of these games are aired on, you guessed it, CBS.
To date, sporting events and reality TV (American Idol and other competitive reality shows in particular) are the only really good examples of this that I’ve noticed. But I believe this principle can be incorporated into standard serials and sitcoms, too. Sure, Fox has a 24 message board on its website. But where are more advanced interactive features, like live chat rooms, or polls and contests encouraging viewer feedback on which character is the next to die/switch sides/whatever? Where are the live Twitter updates with Seth MacFarlane side jokes to accompany first showings of Family Guy?
And where are advertisers on this? They should be doing way more to make their ads interactive, engaging, and more relevant when seen live. It won’t work everywhere, but interactivity and time sensitivity in advertising has the potential to squeeze more out of the ads people are watching and discourage time-shifting and subsequent fast-forwarding when deployed in conjunction with short shelf-life, high participation value programming.
There’s obviously a limit to the applicability of these ideas, and to some extent, that limit is the result of the newness of today’s social mediums. But that doesn’t mean broadcasters shouldn’t be investigating and experimenting with everything they can to increase their live audiences and the value of their ad inventory.