In the days before Facebook and Twitter, back in the dark times of 2007, TV networks had the brilliant idea that they were going to get into the platform business. Networks spent time, money, and resources to build social networks that combined the ability to talk with other fans and share content. There were tools for voting, commenting, forums, videos, photos which technically allowed people to foster a community. All of these things, as a reminder, were done without the ability to moderate or distribute things through WordPress or Tumblr, which we take for granted today.
Matthew Knell, currently VP of Social Media and Platform Partnerships for About.com, remembers this time all too well. In 2007, he was a product development manager for Viacom’s white label social platform, Flux. It was “a centralized social platform that it allowed for brand-level customization” and was built for wide adoptability across the Viacom portfolio of brands. The centralized tool kit was the same and it was skinned as necessary with around 30 different brands coming into the fold while it was active.
Viacom announced this platform in 2007. By 2009, with the launch of Facebook Connect, the writing was on the wall and soon after Knell left, much of the team was laid off. Flux still exists today, but with this change, a new social focus for Viacom seemed to begin – fan engagement distributed across social networks as well as on trying to build communities on sites.
It was here, Knell feels, that networks “stopped caring about trying to building their own on-site products and started caring about those that already existed.” This is when Social TV started, as Viacom wasn’t the only network that went through the same path of platform builder to platform user.
With these platforms came a new definition of network loyalty. With content available across multiple channels and not solely confined to the owned and operated realms of the networks, loyalty towards individual networks decreased as the content was consumed elsewhere. Some shows, like those in the late night realm, have seemingly abandoned the pretense of working to get viewers to watch live TV all together and are instead focusing on what generates the most next-day social and YouTube buzz, or as Knell calls it, “the atomic essence of their content”. Knell feels this loyalty issue is a major problem that media brands are facing today as consumers don’t know who they are anymore. To a viewer, content is content, regardless of where it comes from. And it’s threatening to overwhelm us.
“With more and more shows on air than ever before, people are finding TV in more non-traditional ways and the need to reach a mass audience through cable is decreasing thanks to this. But that atomic essence, the shareability of the part rather than the whole, remains a major factor and only continues to.”
Knell feels that as we enter the next stage of TV, one focused mainly on this content, figuring out how to consume it, and share it without being overwhelmed by sheer volume will become a crucial factor. And we may wind up looking back in ten years time and seeing the way we handle content today like we view networks building their own platforms: kind of odd, yet charming.