Not every TV show wants to be more social. But a few shows get it, and are pushing the social envelope in innovative ways, making their programs much more interactive, a commodity as prized as total audience and demographic richness to advertisers these days.
We're kicking off the fall TV season with seven straight days of stories about social TV, followed by continued coverage throughout the season. First up, we compiled a list of nine shows that are breaking the social-engagement mold. We've spoken to network execs, actors, producers and other TV folk who we consider to be the industry leaders in the social TV space. Here's what we're liking right now, but it's obviously not an encyclopedic list. Which shows do you think get it? We're interested to hear what you think. Please sound off in the comments below!
1. The Voice (NBC)
Sunday, February 5
What's Good: The coaches tweet during the episode and throughout the week, and host Carson Daly often uploads photos to Twitter during shooting (like this one of he and coach Christina Aguilera on set). They even do their best to instantly respond to fans who tweet questions like: "What color lipstick is Christina wearing?"
What Could Be Better: The show tapped Alison Haislip to be the show's official "V Correspondent" (we're hoping that stands for "virtual") to connect fans with the show. Now while the online offerings are plentiful, on-air segments from a "Social Media Lounge," where tweets fly by on news zippers while audience members stand at tables, tweeting from Sprint tablets, are a little awkward. As a result, Haslip's efforts often seem extraneous.
2. True Blood (HBO)
Season finale aired Sunday, September 11
What's Good: Back in May, HBO launched HBOConnect, a "second screen" site for users looking to enhance their social experience during shows like True Blood. While it airs, HBOConnect boasts a "Visualizer" tab that is literally a real-time visualization of the most-talked-about topics among viewers. The "Conversation" section allows fans to RSVP to live chats with show creators and stars. They also use episode-specific Twitter hashtags for fans.
What Could Be Better: While the site is a great resource for viewers during the show, it seems to go dormant in the interim. HBO might want to consider adding more elements to HBOConnect that keep fans interactive between episodes — and seasons.
3. The Roast of Charlie Sheen (Comedy Central)
Aired Monday, Sept. 19
What's Good: Comedy Central anticipated the Roast's viral reach, and did a great job of incorporating a show-specific digital dashboard on their site. Users could share clips with their social networks and watch graphic visualizations of hot topics about the roast being discussed on Twitter. They even embedded a "Charlie Cam" that focused solely on Sheen for the entire duration of the roast.
What Could Be Better: It would have been great if roasters like Seth Macfarlane and Mike Tyson live-tweeted during the pre-taped broadcast. Sheen hosted a "roast party" at his house that Jon Lovitz attended, but he mostly didn't tweet until after the airing.
4. 2011 Video Music Awards (MTV)
Aired August 28, 2011
What's Good: MTV embraced the "second-screen" concept for this year's VMAs with its impressive WatchWith app. Notable features: the ability to watch live backstage camera feeds and a seating map tied to each celebrity's Twitter handle that showed who was tweeting in real time.
What Could Be Better: Not much. While the awards show itself may have been underwhelming, its innovative social media efforts made sitting through the two-hour program more bearable.
5. Cake Boss (TLC)
September 26 at 10/9c
What's Good: The show's Facebook page -- its strongest social tool -- includes fun, interactive elements like a "Who Takes The Cake" photo contest, recipes, and a forum for sharing cake disasters. When the page hit 3 million Likes this past August, Buddy Valastro (the Cake Boss himself) recorded a special video to thank fans for the support. He also baked a cake.
What Could Be Better: We'd love it if @CakeBossBuddy tweeted more behind-the-scenes photos and info. The show is unique because its star is actually running a business that viewers have grown to love. We think fans would love a taste of his day-to-day routine — especially between seasons.
6. Deadliest Warrior (Spike)
Finale aired Wednesday, Sept. 14
What's Good: For the show's season finale, they launched an app that allows viewers to vote in polls responding to hosts' on-air questions. Poll results appeared on-screen in real time and the hosts tailored their conversation to what fans were buzzing about. The efforts were a success: The finale, "Vampires vs. Zombies," became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter.
What Could Be Better: Aside from the finale-specific app, their only offering is an iPhone "Defend and Conquer" game that lets users select warriors to engage in a battle. The obvious next step would be an iPad app that offers a more robust selection of social tools. The Facebook fan page is a bit one-dimensional, and might benefit from something like a live chat with the show's hosts.
7. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Thursdays at 10/9c
What's Good: An aptly named "Sunny Social Club" section on the website serves as a hub for each of the show's social outlets: Facebook, Twitter, and GetGlue. They've even integrated an app into the show's Facebook page that allows fans to create individualized Sunny trailers using video clips, graphics, and music, which can then easily be shared with friends.
What Could Be Better: The "Sunny Social Club" landing page encourages fans to discuss the show using the #SunnyFX hashtag on Twitter, yet the show itself has no official Twitter handle. Instead, the link redirects to the @FXNetworks Twitter page. Without a verified account, fans are left without a centralized place to tweet at the show.
8. Survivor (CBS)
Wednesdays at 8/7c
What's Good: CBS is great at social, but no other reality show has a more socially enthusiastic host than Jeff Probst. He live-tweets commentary during every episode, and has starting filming 15-second, real-time video clips using a service called Tout throughout the show to answer fan questions. He's candid and funny, like a good friend with a ton of insider info.
What Could Be Better: Probst's Tout videos should have a more prominent place among CBS' great social offerings. At the moment, he has only 2,000 followers on the relatively new service.
9. Today (NBC)
Monday — Saturday at 7/6c
Sundays at 8/7c
What's Good: During her daily news briefing, Natalie Morales delivers a quick "What's Trending Today" segment that serves as a "roundup of what has you talking online." Topics range from pop culture to politics, and are typically illustrated by video clips or photos. Today has also successfully jumped on the Tumblr bandwagon, posting behind-the-scenes footage and photos of guests, and re-blogging great posts from other Tumblrs — with an uncharacteristic snarky voice.
What Could Be Better: In an attempt to make the fourth hour of Today more social, they introduced the charming Sara Haines as a "web correspondent." Every so often, the camera cuts to her desk and she reads things aloud that viewers have posted on Kathie Lee and Hoda's Facebook wall. It all seems a bit forced; we wish her role was more integrated into the program.