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Second Thoughts About Social TV And Second Screens

Four of last week's 10-most-Tweeted-about shows ran on cable networks.

According to Nielsen's "Twitter TV Ratings," on many nights four of the five highest-level Tweets are for cable shows (although this Wednesday, Fox's American Idol and ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live captured two of the top five spots). Significantly, NBC's Olympic-casts weren't up there in the Tweetosphere, but that's because the Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings do not include sports events.  Although Twitter says that on Day 5 of the Games, #Sochi2014 generated 1.8 million Tweets during a 24-hour period.

AMC's The Walking Dead with 1.2 million was the top-Tweeted show from 526,000 unique "authors" last Sunday night.  That was about five times the number of Tweets and Tweeters for CBS's  The Beatles spectacular, which ran simultaneously.

Separately last week, ConnecTV  said it generated more than 5 million views in the first five weeks of the year, half of them shared via Twitter, Facebook and email.  When he revealed the usage data, ConnecTV CEO Ian Aaron emphasized the value of his service in helping viewers discover "new shows from other TV fans."

In an age of program clutter, such personal discovery and endorsements are becoming a major tune-in value offered via social media.

Yet despite these upbeat findings about social TV and second-screen apps, naysayers are already measuring the coffin for the second-screen category. Skeptics cite the shakeout. For example, GetGlue, one of the earliest second-screen companies was acquired and merged into TVTag  a few months ago. Last week, Viggle  bought Dijit, which offered the "NextGuide" app; that came on the heels of Yahoo!'s shuttering of its IntoNow  app.  At least Yahoo! had fun with the axe, posting that IntoNow is "out like Walter White" (think Breaking Bad).

As this fast evolution continues, Facebook and Twitter are duking it out over who does the better job of social TV and second-screen apps.  A Facebook study, conducted by SecondSync research firm identified many behaviors for second screen usage, including ongoing conversations about what people are watching and the content of the shows themselves. Among the findings:  up to 25% of the TV audience is posting Facebook comments "related to the show they are watching."

The SecondSync study takes several swipes at Facebook's dominance over Twitter, so not surprisingly the "TVxTwitter" report   shoots back with data points demonstrating that, for example, "#hashtags in TV ads drive positive brand conversations" and "Twitter makes TV ads more effective."  Among the Twitter findings: viewers watching TV and using Twitter had a 53% ad recall compared to 40% who watched without a second screen.

True: simulviewing with handset/tablet apps to accompany linear shows is not the same thing as program-related social TV.  Nielsen's Twitter TV ratings encompass the period from three hours prior to three hours after a telecast, so the relationship may be slightly skewed

Yet as directional research goes, the collective findings continue to demonstrate the viability of social TV, that it's not just wishful thinking.

So what does all this upheaval and dueling data mean, especially amidst the changing landscape of the cable and media business?

Working with a sustainable social media provider is essential, and as always, it is tough to pick the winners. A Carnegie Mellon University computer model, unveiled last week, claims it can predict which social media are here to stay (at least for the next five years).  It says Facebook will be around, boldly contradicting another academic study that predicts an 80% drop in Facebook membership by 2017.  However, CMU researcher Bruno Ribeiro acknowledges that "even sustainable sites are vulnerable to upstarts that steal the attention of their members."

In other words: users and viewers are fickle.

That is the other lesson of these social TV flare-ups.  As ABC Family VP Danielle Mullin told my colleague Tom Umstead last week, "We definitely see our success in the social space as treating every fan community differently."

ABC Family is a consistently top-Tweeted network according to SocialGuide data, thanks to popular original shows like Pretty Little Liars. Mullin's focus is on using these platforms "to provide ... a deeper, more-engaging experience than [viewers] can get by just watching the linear [show]."

Ultimately, that seems to be the message from the past few weeks of social TV bravura and consolidation.  Pick your platform but be prepared to move.

And always be flexible, ready to change your expectations of what your audience will want or tolerate.