Is Social Media the New TV for Brands?
Traditional TV viewership is declining, and streaming services are picking up the slack — this is what the numbers are showing. More specifically, the rate at which this trend is happening differs along generational lines, and the United States has seen an 11% decrease in time spent watching traditional TV from 2010 to 2016.
Furthermore, the television industry is in a state of decline, with TV ratings down 40% among teenagers and younger twentysomethings.
We can see this playing out as recently as the second presidential debate from this past election cycle. The debate had 63 million TV viewers, whereas 124 million viewers tuned in on YouTube, 3.2 million tuned into Twitter’s livestream, and Facebook’s Live broadcast partnership with ABC News garnered over 7 million views (WIRED).
Additionally, Facebook alone has 191.3 million users in the United States, while there are 118.4 million households with TV sets. To be fair, these numbers are not an apples-to-apples comparison, but they do indicate the growing ubiquity of Facebook.
For brands, the sheer numbers are among a variety of reasons why social media could become a true challenger to television to reach and engage audiences.
It’s not surprising that, with these numbers–and a desire to capture seemingly elusive millennial and Generation Z cohorts–sports brands are among some of the first to jump on social streaming.
The NBA was one of the first leagues to sign a contract with Twitter to stream two platform-specific shows, and they have gone as far as announcing plans to produce one game a week in VR. The US Open, the NFL, and Wimbledon have also all begun to live-stream events.
Additionally, MLB and the NHL have contracts with Twitter for live-streaming games, while MLS produces weekly shows on Facebook Live, and Bleacher Report recently signed a contract to stream high-profile high school football games on the channel.
It’s not just professional sports brands that are getting involved. News outlets, fashion brands, media companies, sporting goods manufacturers, home shopping networks, and cosmetics companies are delivering consistent and scheduled streaming content and shows.
The downward trend of traditional TV viewership can’t be attributed to just one source, but one of the main causes is cord-cutting. Cord-cutting is the practice of forgoing cable or satellite television for alternatives like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or others.
With the declining rates of traditional TV services and increasing platform fragmentation, alternative channels — like social media — can offer solutions to the pain points that cord-cutters experience, such as more relevant, on-demand, and cheaper entertainment.
Moreover, new distribution methods have also created new audiences and demands for streaming content that exists completely outside the realm of TV. One example is Twitch.tv, a video game–watching service, that reaches over 10 million unique visitors per month, with average users watching 104 minutes a day.
For brands, streaming on social media allows for push notifications of broadcasts and built-in call-to-actions to attract and potentially convert viewers.
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Also, a brand can communicate directly with its audiences on social (and target new ones), instead of having to work through television schedules and the broader set of audience demographics for television programming.
For instance, with the dwindling consumption of newspapers, imagine the New York Times leveraging its brand reputation and affinity to offer daily news segments or shows directly to its followers on social.
In such a move, the paper could conceivably cultivate a community and larger audience, and include calls-to-action for digital subscriptions (and even run advertisements for revenue-generation).
Viewers can also benefit. Using streaming, they can have direct access to a brand, speaker, or community around a show or event. Whether a stream is a studio-quality production or something made with an iPhone, there is unparalleled access to the subject and a community-building mechanism in place to enhance the experience.
Furthermore, live video gives brands the opportunity to share behind-the-scenes coverage that is not available anywhere else and exactly matches their audiences’ interests. As a result, this coverage can bring audiences closer to the brand, create new experiences, and establish stronger connections.
Midway through 2015, nearly 50% of videos viewed on social media were done on mobile devices — up 74% from 2014 and up 844% since 2012. Cisco even estimates that by 2020, 75% of the world’s mobile traffic will be video. Granted, these stats are for all video, but it still shows the gaining popularity of mobile viewership.
Social media provides audiences with access to streaming or streamed content anywhere and at any time–most importantly, cost-free. Yes, TV services like ESPN Live exist, but they are only accessible through paid cable subscriptions, which presents a huge opportunity for brands.
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It also appears that audiences favor video content and streaming content. Video consumption on Twitter has grown 220% over the past year, 100 million hours of video are consumed on Facebook daily, and weekly streaming hours more than tripled between Q4 2013 and Q4 2015.
YouTube stars already know the power of revenue-generation on the platform. With production, audience, and scheduling all in the power of brands, they can become their own channels with revenue-generating models.
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Whether these models take the form of traditional advertisements, product placement, product mentions, or something else will be up to each occasion. However, the opportunity is real for brands to begin to use live-streaming as a profit generator.
Data, Data, Data
The digital age has ushered in a time of massive data acquisition. Time will tell how the promise and potential of all of this data will play out, but, in the current state, digital data allows brands to measure the performance of content, understand how content is being received, and track success in order to continually refine offerings at a pace and to an extent not available through traditional TV.
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Also, the abundance of data allows for the development of niche and hyper-targeted content to ensure the efficacy and relevancy. This level of targeting can also be a boon for potential advertisers that want to be in front of qualified or highly-desirable audiences.
A consistent trend like this one, combined with new, cheaper, and democratized disruptive streaming options — like Facebook Live, Twitter, and YouTube — that grant brands more control of their content, a better audience experience, added features, studio-quality production, and direct communication with audiences equals a true opportunity for marketing growth.
Of course, all of this can change as social networks continue to evolve. But for now, social media looks primed to not only own the Internet, but also challenge television.
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Jay Shemenski is a Senior Digital Strategist at Hill Holliday. He is a digital strategist with 6+ years of experience at brands like AARP and Harvard Medical School. His expertise is in developing comprehensive brand experiences and digital marketing strategies to successfully engage audiences and establish long-term growth.