Television vs. Social Media: Who Needs Who?

Social Media TVWhen you talk to television marketers and programmers, many point to the growing importance of integrating social media into their programming. Admittedly, those same marketers can’t tell you what all that integration does. I’ve heard digital marketers for both HBO and Discovery verbally say that they can’t really prove causation between their social media efforts and their ratings. And if social media isn’t turning the needle, then why on earth are TV networks putting so much emphasis on it?

Well, whatever the reason is, social media companies love the attention! Every television producer, programmer and marketer is putting a hashtag on their video. And while the effect of social media on ratings is questionably correlated, there is no doubt that the more television companies promote Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the more posts, tweets and comments those social media platforms get.

Nielsen recently published a study that proved that ratings were positively impacted by more tweets. But the more revealing part of the study was that the effect of television ratings on tweets was much greater…65% greater to be exact. So while TV networks are busy trying to get the most social media buzz they can, social media companies are sitting back comfortably as TV marketers race to make their social platforms busier and more popular–free of charge!

Meanwhile, social media companies are also trying to figure out how to make money outside of banner ads and promoting their advertisers’ social media accounts. The key way appears to be by leaning on the television ecosystem yet again. Twitter is basically trying to enhance its IPO by promising a TV powered future. Twitter wants traditional TV advertisers to pay them to help better track, analyze and extend their video marketing efforts. Does that provide for a profitable future? Maybe. But without a partnership within the TV ecosystem, it doesn’t seem as if Twitter has a roadmap for a billion dollar future.

Then there is Facebook, which is also reportedly trying to get in the video advertising business, by potentially launching their own video service or platform. For them, they see the substantiative video CPMs that pay a lot more money than the cheap, over-supplied banner ads they are currently using to fuel their revenues.

And my employer, Google, appears to be routinely seeking partnerships with content creators to further develop YouTube and to make itself an important component of distributing content to users everywhere.

But with all of these social media companies going after TV dollars, one has to wonder, why aren’t TV companies going after social media dollars?

Sure, we have seen some small social media deals like the one between ESPN and Twitter that led to a split in revenue on social media powered TV ads, but why does ESPN need Twitter?

Truth be told, the TV ecosystem is bigger and more robust than the social media ecosystem. There’s more money to be made in Hollywood and the news capital of the world than there is in the nascent industry of profiles and microblogs. And if TV companies are so hell bent on going after the little bit of ratings increase they get from sticking a hashtag on their television shows, then why don’t they put that same kind of effort towards building social media-esque platforms of their own?

Listen, I’m not saying they try to do something Twitter and Facebook are doing, but there is a happy medium between being completely dependent on others and trying to do your own thing.

Admittedly, I don’t know what that happy medium is…yet. But with the reach that huge media companies like Time Warner, Comcast, Fox, Disney and CBS have, they can push users to a social media platform of their own…and keep the profits while doing so. I mean ask yourself this; if both sides put forth the effort, who really has a better shot at telling advertisers more about their commercials and the people watching them; TV companies or social media platforms? Twitter and Facebook may do a great job of collecting a conversation, but TV drives conversation better than any other platform, and they can ill afford to keep deferring the conversation to entities beyond their control. A good example of TV taking on digital media in a fight to win back its revenue was the creation of Hulu. Sure, Hulu has its problems now, but the business model is proven and their CPMs are bigger and better than anybody else’s on the internet.

I truly believe that if NBC Universal, Time Warner and other media companies like them create social media engines and/or analytical bases of their own, they can stop the Twitters and Facebooks of the world in their tracks. Call me crazy, but if Twitter is betting their IPO on the fact that they can lure TV advertisers with their new products, and Facebook is hoping to create a video network that can rival YouTube and real TV platforms, then somebody who knows video better than them could put their hopes and dreams to an end. And without partnerships with television, I’m not sure these social media companies can stand the test of time. I understand the laws of strategy and competitive advantage, so I recognize that Facebook and Twitter have legitimate moats around their businesses. However, those moats aren’t oceans. If network TV can be disrupted by cable, and cable can be disrupted by premium TV, and the whole damn thing can be disrupted by the internet, then social media is just as subject to attack and fragmentation as the whole lot of them are.

But I digress. I’m not predicting the end of Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. What I am predicting is some serious soul searching if TV people ever get around to unearthing the mounds of data they can create and share with their advertisers. Of course, TV people haven’t exactly been the most adept at change, but as Twitter boastfully does a road show about how its going to change TV advertising (and take money away from TV at the same time), perhaps that will get these network executives thinking about how they can keep the money in their coffers. Because if there is anything they are good at, it’s holding on to the little money they have left.

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