Authoring The Social High Ground - Simon Applebaum

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When Telemundo launched primetime telenovela Relaciones Peligrosas almost a year ago, the idea was to engage its Spanish-speaking audience as much social online as over its airwaves. Viewers were invited to Facebook and Twitter their reactions in real-time to the characters of this slice of high school life. The character emphasis, along with the Facebook and Twitter emphasis, was on students dealing with a variety of issues from racial profiling to substance abuse.

At first, the Facebook and Twitter reaction came through, reportedly better than Telemundo anticipated. Unfortunately, the Facebook/Twitter response was deemphasized as the series continued, when Telemundo producers changed course on Relaciones' focus--far less students and their troubles, more play on one teacher's controversial love affair and its consequences. The shift, as it turned out, didn't help the ratings, and the series quietly ran its course.

You have a hunch if and when Telemundo begins another primetime series with heavy social media use, the network will not U-turn in midstream again. Credit that to the outcome of Secreteando, an experimental online 10-part novella set in the offices of a popular music label. The series launched earlier this year on YouTube and Facebook, with direct sponsorship participation by Trident gum and its ad agency, Starcom MediaVest Group.

The players in this unusual trial of social media's ability to engage an audience went public last week at the latest Social TV Summit in New York (co-organized by Jack Myers, overseer of this Web site).Telemundo produced Secreteando and arranged the online distribution; Trident was displayed in several ways over the series' run, from 30-second spots to product placement (gum packs on the desks) and Starcom co-promoted.

From the start, Facebook and Twitter users were invited to suggest plotlines as well as offer their reactions to the characters' actions. On their end, Secreteando's writing team created a Pinterest board (in what may be first-of-its-kind initiative) where viewers could visualize the plotlines they wanted to see, or celebrate their feelings about the series inventively. At one point, social media responders were invited to come to a special audition for roles on later episodes. For the finale this summer, a live segment was presented on Google Plus, where the outcome of an important plotline determined by viewers was revealed.

Telemundo estimates that more than eight million people caught Secreteando during its online run, but did not detail at its Summit showcase how many in that huge crowd used social in a participatory way. Apparently, the participation is not only enough to commission a second round of episodes next year. Borja Perez, senior vice president of Telemundo's social outreach, declares there's considerable interest among parent NBC Universal's English-language networks to try some series concepts out online, with social media initiatives embedded. Telemundo digital executive vice president Peter Blacker gives a ditto to that.

"Consumers are telling us we have to do more in this area," Borja adds. "It's a given we'll have to create more social novelas." As for on-air consequences, Borja believes he'll witness a day in the near future where "the consumer will co-produce content with us"--and not just for Telemundo.

"This is going to be the new reality of what we need to do," concurs Starcom executive vice president Marla Skiko.

Chalk up another case of, if you're someone who wants to create or manage television programs, this is getting to be your lucky century. So many ways to break in.

*****

More observations from the passing parade:

***More people have the ability to use Facebook and Twitter over TV, thanks to smart sets and features from FiOS TV, U-verse and soon Comcast. Yet, despite considerable publicity about these abilities (four years in FiOS' case), there's not much more than anecdotal evidence to determine how much Facebook/Twitter TV activity's happening. Facebook/Twitter executives stay quiet on the subject, leaving it for others to judge, such as the participants on another Social TV Summit panel. "I find it very hard to imagine a world to put your smartphones down to use your TV for social media," Social Guide founder Sean Casey (Disclosure point: a past Tomorrow Will Be Televised guest) noted after asking attendees if they used Facebook/Twitter on TV--to silence. "It may not be likely now," responded Bluefin Labs marketing vice president Tom Thai. "Maybe in the long run, connected/smart TVs and what they can do will be more interesting than they are today."

***In search of a good keynote speaker? Search out Fox News anchorperson Harris Faulkner. Engaged and engaging simultaneously, Faulkner did the trick for Social TV Summit. Even invited the crowd to Twitter in their questions, responding to them without missing a beat in her prepared observations.

***Women 2.0 has their first-ever Pitch NYC event happening this Wednesday. More than 1,000 people are expected to converge on Manhattan Center for this start-up showcase, featuring a keynote from former Nickelodeon/Oxygen chief Geraldine Laybourne. Unfortunately, whoever's handling publicity for Women 2.0 is taking Internet Week NY's negative playbook--limit press access to a few, instead of embracing and accommodating tremendous interest for coverage. CNBC, being a sponsor and having one of its correspondents host, will insure considerable attention. Going forward, both Women 2.0 and Internet Week NY will be extremely well-served by PR giving all journalists who want to cover them the means to do so.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

Simon Applebaum is host/producer ofTomorrow Will Be Televised, the Internet radio-distributed program all about TV, running live Mondays and Fridays on BlogTalk Radio--and soon to premiere as a weekly series on the new UBC-TV (UB for Urban Broadcasting) network. Replays of recent episodes are available at www.blogtalkradio.com/simonapple04. Have a question or comment? Reach out at simonapple04@yahoo.com, or the new Twitter hashtag @UBCSimonTWBT.

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