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Next TV: Social Media Informing Production Strategies

New York -- In today’s world of multiple screens and viceo nearly everywhere, social media is playing an increasingly important role for content providers’ looking to steel brand identities, while also guiding their production and content strategies.

That was the consensus among executives speaking on "Engaging Broader Audiences with Original Content and Digital Media," the opening panel at the NewBay Media' Next TV Summit here at the Grand Hyatt on March 18.

With traditional linear distribution at a premium, tapping other platforms for fledgling network like millienial-aimed music service Revolt, which counts linear carriage on Comcast and Time Warner Cable, is an imperative.

"Young people can get music and related content elsewhere, so we have to work hard to deliver things that are unique," said Revolt CEO Keith Clinkscales. At the recent South by Southwest music, film and technology festival in Austin, Texas, Clinkscales said Revolt was proud when its "crew shifted when the [traffic accident] tragedy occurred. They showed compassion and humanity for the familes." Clinkscales said putting up a video up on Instagram, "those things matter. Gone are the days of saying 'Go to our television network.' Anywhere, we can get content out there, that’s the brand under our aegis.”

Digital content, directed by social interaction, has also set programming decisions at Discovery Communications. Sean Atkins, senior vice president of digital media, said the company looks to turn programming into "superfan experiences" like TLC has done with controversial docu-series, Long Island Medium.  Atkins said the programmer created a digital after-show, that generated millions of streams. That, in turn, prompted the network to re-route such content on-air.

Atkins said TLC has also used a live-tweeting sweepstakes contest, where winners are randomly selected during live segments of the show, and then announced on-air, securing an all-expenses paid trip for two and an audience with show star and seer, Theresa Caputo.

He said whereas content creators previously navigated a “unidirectional, linear” path, today’s multidirectional world “informs programmers.”

For its part, Sony’s vintage movie service, GetTV is using social media and email as testing grounds for content and tools to build audience and steer distribution efforts.

Geetanjali Dhillon, vice president of marketing and digital strategy, US Networks, Sony Pictures Entertainment, said that with GetTV, which launched as a multicast network in February, the company is monitoring social comments about “what’s right, what’s wrong,” relative to flanking content around its classic Sony films from the 1930s through 1960s. “We’re mobile enough to move quickly,” she said, noting that email newsletters have proven to be an effective way to gauge the interest of one of the network’s affinity groups, digital seniors. “If they get something in their inbox and they open the newsletters, we can convert them to fans,” she said.

The service is also creating digital heat maps around social conversations, as a means for affiliate staffers to show distributors  -- why and where -- the network should be carried.

Thomas Ashley, CEO, FlixFling, said the over-the-top movie service offers 20,000 titles, but it recognizes it needs more to stand out in space that is also occupied by Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon Prime, among others.

Ashley said that “no matter how good your algorithms are," it’s difficult for recommendation engines to really be relevant to all consumers, noting that the titles it touts, or the ones that get promoted alongside FlixFling’s studio partners, perform the best.

To set the service apart, FlixFling is contemplating its own entry into the original programming arena. “If you're just licensing, it’s a matter of ubiquity. You need to plant your flag to attract the eyeballs, brand association and loyalty,” he said.

Fortunately, given the proliferations of platforms industry veteran Laura Michalchyshyn --  now president and partner at Sundance Productions, whose Chicagoland is on CNN and its Death Row Stories will soon join the news network's lineup --  said there is more content activity than ever before, citing projects that are landing on OTT, video-on-demand and subscription video on demand platforms, as well as traditional linear outlets. She talked up Amazon Prime pilot process in which viewers vote for what shows they prefer as another force steering the creative landscape, while also advocating for continued professional processes. “I’m a big believer in curation. You still need people in development, in marketing,  those who are tech-savvy,” she said.

As someone who has served as a producer and as network executive, she also appreciates this piece of common currency: While the idea is to make content that can seamlessly migrate from platform to platform, the goal also remains to monetize the fare as it moves across all vehicles.