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Integrating Social Media and Traditional Entertainment May 9, 2011

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Remember when social media was going to re-invent the entertainment business? Back in 2007 and 2008, Viacom’s MTV Networks tried to tie its shows together into the since-abandoned Flux social network, and even launched a short-lived TV channel driven by user-generated content. About the same time, NBC Universal’s Bravo network bought snarky fan site Television Without Pity, but has done nothing with it since. But that was then, and recent news suggests the social entertainment space is far from dead.

Last week, two big old media companies made acquisitions that signal new life: Warner Home Entertainment, home of the movie studio’s DVD efforts, acquired Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes, and News Corp.’s IGN bought Hearst’s UGO. Warner’s move hints at Netflix-envy: It said it wanted to use Flixster’s Facebook-driven user reviews and Rotten Tomatoes’ aggregation of professional ones to “grow digital content ownership.” Meanwhile, by doubling down on video game info sites, News Corp. is constructing a traditional aficionado-magazine model, but with lots of social media elements (user blogs, friend-following, points for participation). Most think News Corp. will spin off the combination.

Given these moves, has the industry finally figured out how to add social media to traditional entertainment for fun and profit?

Extending and Enhancing Entertainment Formats

Excitement about tablets and apps, lots of startup activity and Facebook’s role in distribution and audience acquisition are combining to create new opportunities to extend and enhance traditional entertainment forms. Expanding on Michael Wolf’s analysis of how this is working in social TV, here’s what TV and other entertainment media can do to capitalize on social media:

  • Discovery and user-based curation: GetGlue is the early leader in cross-media entertainment check-ins, smartly using Facebook and Twitter (a check-in auto-generates a topic hashtag) to amplify the promotion.
  • Extension: Forums and discussion boards give a fan a dose of his favorite TV show more than once a week, and book clubs are migrating online.
  • Shared experience: VH1 showed a slick app last week that, in addition to adding user commentary to live viewing, acts like a “DVR for tweets.”
  • Gamification: Entertainment check-ins deliver the ubiquitous participation stickers and leaderboards; they should offer virtual currency for loyalty.
  • Commerce: Apple’s Ping social network doesn’t seem to be boosting iTunes sales yet, and Facebook’s only just begun to dabble in video rentals.
  • Analytics and fan feedback: FOX Broadcasting and others use Think Passenger’s private communities for audience analysis. Who will figure out if simultaneous Twitter traffic means anything?

What’s Still Missing?

While the check-ins have stickers and can act as a launchpad for Twitter conversations, by and large, companies try to deliver the six objectives above via separate apps or experiences. Would they be more effective if they were integrated? I always thought digital music could blend discovery, retail and consumption, but Rhapsody combined them better than iTunes long before Spotify, and Rhapsody failed to catch on. Likewise, while a friend’s reviews and curation could emerge as valid components to an entertainment recommendation engine, by themselves they don’t appear to be as effective as the collaborative filtering approach of Netflix or Amazon, or Pandora’s professionally and algorithmically curated recommendations.

Perhaps the experiences should remain seaparte, but the business engine behind the apps and sites can benefit from roll-ups like News Corp.’s game-site play, or from formal partnerships and licensing. Some are emerging now: Time Warner already owns a piece of GetGlue and is responsible for many of the paid promotions that run on the service. Yahoo scooped up video check-in service IntoNow and is using audio recognition to track TV advertising. A handful of publishers are building a new digital book club and looking to tap AOL and Starbucks for ad sales and distribution.

It is inherently easier and more efficient in terms of audience reach, segmentation and analysis to offer advertising displayed on a network rather than an individual title or show. That means big media companies are best positioned to package and deliver social entertainment experiences along with advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

Question of the week

How can traditional entertainment companies implement social media strategies?
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Facebook Patent Hints at Social Search Plans March 21, 2011

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Last week Facebook was awarded a patent that covered essential elements of social search. Patents don’t always predict products, but this one was acquired by Facebook when it purchased intellectual property from Friendster, which perhaps indicates new and active intent. Is Facebook is building an alternative to Google? Possibly. Let’s examine the state of social search and its potential implications for online media.

There is a “social will replace search” theory that runs something like this: Overwhelming amounts of data, along with SEO gaming, make Google’s traditional approach to ranking results less effective than it once was. And driven by social networks, a passive, feed-based user interface is usurping the old “seek and search” style of online navigation.

The big search engines like Google and Bing are already incorporating social signals into their ranking schemes, and into how their results are presented to users. It’s likely, in fact, that both social and search will co-exist as navigation modes. Some observers may have over-interpreted back-and-forth traffic among top sites (Google, Yahoo, MSN, Facebook) as an indication that Facebook drives more viewers than Google. A lot of cross-site traffic for them is the natural flow of an online session — check mail, headlines, social network — rather than a search- or feed-directed path. And sometimes a user’s friends aren’t the best source of relevance. Seeking medical information rather than a preferred dentist, or a convenient airline ticket rather than a fun vacation destination, will remain directed queries based on authority and the breadth of information coverage.

Social Search Competitors

If Facebook’s creating a social search alternative, Google is the big target; it has, after all, over $25 billion in search advertising revenue. It both integrates and segregates social technologies. Personalized social search that displays content shared or posted by a user’s friends is buried under More Search Tools on Google’s results page. It puts real-time search — licensed Twitter results and what public Facebook content it can crawl — a little higher on the page, and sprinkles in a few real-time results on its main results pane. With its existing strength in ad networks, Google is in the best position to build out real-time advertising.

Microsoft’s Bing, which isn’t really gaining ground on Google yet, has partnered with Facebook to gain more access to Facebook data like friends, status updates and Likes. Bing’s results feature Facebook and other social content a little more prominently than Google’s do, but Bing also offers a separate social content-only search function.

Other social search players include Topsy, which searches real-time content and keeps a deeper archive of tweets than Twitter does, and blekko, which uses human editors to create authoritative indices of results, partly by blocking what they determine low-quality sites. WOWD was building a social search engine, now concentrates on personalized feed filters. OneRiot ceded its real-time search to Topsy while it attempts to build an ad network.

What Facebook Might Do

The Facebook patent covers ranking and displaying search results by their popularity among a searcher’s contacts and those removed by a few degrees of separation. In fact, Facebook nearly does this already. When users start typing in the search field, Facebook auto-suggests content that’s been Liked by the user’s friends. Carefully adding friends of friends would expand the results index.

Facebook could be thinking of using its patent offensively to gain licensing royalties. But although Google’s patent portfolio isn’t as big as Microsoft’s, it’s pretty diverse, and even contains a lot of social technologies. So maybe the patent’s just defensive.

Building a full-blown search engine requires attempting to index the entire Web. Even if Facebook relied on its users to do the indexing, the results would be spotty. Facebook search would no doubt do well on entertainment, baby photos and sports trash talking. But that medical content and those travel arrangements would likely remain thin. Chances are, Bing remains Facebook’s search engine strategy.

Question of the week

What is Facebook’s social search strategy?