Everything That’s Wrong With TV’s Approach to Social Media

It is truly bizarre to me that television networks, in trying to capture viewers’ energy and engagement as they talk about shows after they air, would try to supplant existing tools like Twitter:

A recent study by the public relations firm Edelman found that the majority of users comment on shows and share content after they air.

Yet both that study and a Nielsen study found that some viewers do engage with related content while viewing. How to capitalize on that is the challenge. “It’s not like Instagram,” Miso CEO Somrat Niyogi said, referencing the massively successful photo-sharing app. “We’re still trying to crack the code of how do you add value to the TV-watching experience that supersedes what’s happening with Twitter and Google. I don’t think anyone has done it yet.”…IntoNow founder Adam Cahan argues that networks are starting to understand that they should not build their own apps because there is not a great return on investment. But tell that to the networks, who see themselves as having the upper hand because they control the content and have the access to the stars.

I understand that networks like the idea of monetizing branded apps, but given the costs and irritations of development and maintenance, I’m hard-pressed to see why they wouldn’t decide that governing the after-show conversation through existing tools makes more sense. If you’re the social media director at a premium cable network, why wouldn’t you just insist that an actor is available to do a Reddit chat after every single episode? HBO’s hashtags for Game of Thrones episodes are similarly a good idea—it’s an example of a network recognizing where the content lives and giving people a tool they need anyway but that also lets the network effectively tag everyone participating in it and track the conversation.

The larger problem is also just that, whether the conversation is taking place in a medium they control or not, television network social efforts often come across as hopelessly square, controlled to the point of utter dehydration. I can see why FX might be anxious about hosting Kurt Sutter’s blog, in which he goes off on critics who he thinks are insufficiently deferential to his vision for Sons of Anarchy, or his production diaries for GQ—they can be…a little rough. But hosting something like that, and giving creators who want that outlet free reign, would make networks’ sites actual magnets and real sites of engagement. In a way, the best effort I’ve seen by a network to co-opt fan social engagement is Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, Andy Cohen’s late-night talk show. Half new interviews and drinking games with guests, and half a rehash of recently broadcast Bravo programming, the show uses social media as a bridge connecting Cohen and Bravo fans: they can Tweet in questions for the guests, and use Twitter to discuss the talk show as it’s under way. It’s programming that meets fans where they’re at and has been hugely successful as a result—at this point, Andy Cohen is a more-watched late-night host than Conan O’Brien—rather than treating fans as purely monetizable nuggets.