Summer is here and that means Falling Skies is back on TNT with its marquee Sunday night time slot. The alien invasion show from Executive Producer Steven Spielberg stars Noah Wylie and kicked off its third season on Sunday June 9 with a 2 hour premiere. I’ll start off by saying I’m a huge fan of this show. So much of a fanboy that I wrote companion viewing content for seasons 1 and 2 that can be viewed using the Miso app – part of their Sideshow feature. I will not be creating them for season 3 due to the acquisition of Miso by Dijit which will likely eliminate the app and Sideshow product when they are integrated. Enough about that, let’s dive right in to what’s new with Falling Skies in the social TV and second screen arenas for the season 3 premiere.
To generate conversation and buzz during the 2 hour premiere on Sunday, Falling Skies created a “Battle for the Handle” Twitter war challenge where fans chose their allegiance between the #Aliens and the #Resistance. TNT teamed up with R/GA to do something unique and unlike anything I’ve seen before from a TV network. In real time, they pulled select fans who were engaging with the #FallingSkies show along with their chosen side and created graphic novel style digital art pieces using their username and likeness. The battle was promoted on-air during the premiere and on Falling Skies social channels leading up to the main event. After the premiere, the Falling Skies Twitter page was re-skinned with the winning side along with a video depicting the battle showing the same graphic novel visuals featuring the fans who participated. This clever initiative combined the real-time production of media assets (currently all the rage in the ad world thanks to Oreo) with a fun reason to drive social chatter during the broadcast. For those lucky fans who had their name and likeness used in the digital stills and video, it certainly was a highlight they won’t soon forget.
Falling Skies also has a second screen experience app for fans to use while they watch the show. It was introduced last season and the newest version appears to be very similar with minor enhancements. How does the iPad app score when looked at under the lens of Control, Discovery, Enhancement, and Sharing?
Control & Discovery: The app is not integrated with cable/satellite providers so there is no functionality to control the broadcast playback as a remote control in the app itself. Syncing is audio based and uses the microphone in the device to keep the content in line with the broadcast feed. This sync is responsive and works relatively fast to re-align itself if you pause, rewind, or fast forward the broadcast. Falling Skies is currently the only TNT show with a synced content experience – last year TNT also had Leverage and Great Escape synced content apps. With it being the only one, TNT has chosen for the app to exist as a standalone experience and separate from their primary TV everywhere TNT app which features all of their shows. Because of this, the Falling Skies app doesn’t get the cross exposure it would under a broader umbrella experience so it is geared for download only by existing fans of the show which does limit discovery from potential new viewers. I also did not see any mention of the app during the 2 hour premiere either as a card during the show itself or during commercial breaks. Your largest audience, and those most likely to download the experience, are the fans actually watching the show. Not promoting a proprietary app on-air during the broadcast is a missed opportunity for any network.
Enhancement: With behind the scenes facts, animated gifs, opinion polling, trivia, and humorous commentary, the Falling Skies app delivers in the enhancement of the broadcast experience. They certainly spent plenty of time creating cards as the app rotates to new elements about once every minute. Some might argue that is a rather high frequency, but compared to other synced network show apps it is relatively consistent. One feature from last season that made a return for season 3 is the photo jumble. During commercials, the photo jumble appears for the length of the break encouraging the user to stay engaged with the app. According to a COG Research study, 81% of people are more likely to stay in the room during an ad break or not change the channel if they are multi-screening. Given there are no integrations from TNT sponsors, it would seem disruptive to distract a user from viewing commercials on the primary screen so they can play with a puzzle on the secondary screen. Building in sponsor integration would help to alleviate that concern and provide cross platform opportunities for network ad sales. During the premiere, Hershey’s was a presenting sponsor and even had a Falling Skies themed spot during the show, but was completely absent from both the app and social TV campaigns (TNT or Hershey’s) that night which is a missed opportunity for the brand.
The app is also one of the locations where fans can watch the 15 minute post-show aptly named “2nd Watch” hosted by Wil Wheaton – the other location being the FS site. Letting users jump right into the post-show following their synced experience will certainly encourage tune-in and is a worthy addition. Other than the questionable puzzle tactic and lack of sponsor integration, the actual content delivered in the app is fun, interesting, and does add to the overall Falling Skies experience for fans.
Sharing: Unfortunately, this is the area where the app begins to show its weakness and where the most improvement is needed. The social conversation elements and share features need to be re-worked from the ground up. All of the content cards offer the opportunity to “thumbs up” and “share”. Even though the user can Facebook Connect their app, the “thumbs up” which looks very similar to a FB “Like” is simply an internal measure of popularity of the card rather than an actual social sharable “Like” to a user’s Facebook timeline. Modification here would create real time exposure to others in that user’s Facebook network that exciting things are happening on the show and in the app, leading to potential discovery by fans and non-fans. The “Share” button found on every content card offers three options for users to help spread the word about the terrific information they are checking out: Facebook, Twitter, and Email. When you select any of the options, a pre-populated and editable text area is generated with a link to the Falling Skies site. One would expect that the link generated from each of the cards where the share button is located to produce a direct path for others not using the app to check out the same piece of content that the user found exciting. This is not the case.
No matter what card you share from and through any of the three methods, the destination of the link in the share takes users to the Falling Skies app page where they can read about the Sync app and the Mass Defense mobile game (which is a lot of fun). Nothing about the individual piece of content where the share originated from exists on the page. The terrific photos, trivia, polls, and gifs that inspired a user to share the app are lost on the recipients of the shares because they have no idea what content the user was excited about sharing – despite the pre-canned messaging leading someone to believe they will be able to view the piece of content. To truly make users want to share elements from the app, those same elements must be seen by the public to help drive further real time social interactions during the show.
Below the content zone, there is a commentary feed from other fans broken down into “All”, “My Group”, and “Popular”. All is the entire feed from all users, My Group allows you to flag certain users who you like seeing updates from and grouping them into a custom filter, and Popular highlights only those posts that receive a certain number of “thumbs up”. As you add your thoughts to the conversation pool, you do have the option to share only in the app, or to also simultaneously cross post to FB and/or Twitter. That by itself isn’t actually a flaw with the app, but the rest of the social integration tructure creates a lot of issues. The conversation you see in the bottom feed is only that which originates from the app. There is no integration of the show Facebook or Twitter feeds, cast members, or even the primary #FallingSkies hashtag that is being promoted on the screen. So while I may share a witty comment to Twitter when I post in the app, I can’t see any responses to that tweet without opening up a Twitter client – thus either making me exit the Falling Skies app or opening a third screen – my chosen solution was opening a third screen with my iPhone.
As you can see in this image, there is the illusion that you are seeing tweets from the show on the synced cards. That is not the case as the card which appears to represent a tweet was never sent from the @FallingSkiesTNT handle. Since you aren’t retweeting an actual tweet from the show handle, the context in this example looks strange since that information originates as a new tweet from a user. If you really want to get picky, the #FallingSkiesTNT hashtag shown and generated from the app is not the same version used in the on-air promos, by the official show account, or in the paid Twitter promoted hashtags and posts. Consistency is key, there should not be a discrepancy between the app generated hashtags and what the show is encouraging fans to center their conversations around.
Not integrating the general conversation taking place on Twitter around show hashtags, TNT and Falling Skies official accounts (including cast/crew), or my friends not using the app into a customizable filtered solution, limits my ability to leverage the social TV elements going on in real time during the show. Even if the show wanted to create an exclusive walled garden conversation only for app users, there is no functionality that allows someone to reply to other users in order to have a back and forth dialogue. That terrific social TV campaign for #Aliens vs the #Resistance taking place during the premiere on Sunday, you would never know it existed nor would you be able to enjoy the conversation and content it generated if you were only using the Falling Skies Sync App. A second screen app should enhance the viewing experience with content, yet still provide opportunities for users to engage in social TV related behavior with friends and other fans of the show as well.
For the third season in a row, Falling Skies has continued to use the GetGlue platform to reward fans with stickers for checking in to each episode. In what has now become a standard social tactic for any television show, GetGlue episode stickers are a terrific way to encourage check-ins and stimulate conversation within the app among fans which helps add to the overall social discovery strategy. For the week of June 3-9 (premiere was on June 9), Falling Skies was the number 2 scripted cable show on GetGlue with approximately 40k actions taking place – Game of Thrones season 3 finale took the top spot. Roughly 10k people unlocked the season 3 premiere sticker on Sunday night. GetGlue integration to allow for check-ins and as part of the conversation hub is currently missing in the Sync app experience. This is another feature that would help promote using the app as a vehicle to encourage social sharing from the users. Integration of bonus stickers that are exclusive to check-in strings generated from the app itself would also increase awareness of the app, encourage Falling Skies Sync downloads, and stimulate additional social shares.
In general, the Falling Skies second screen sync app does an excellent job at providing fans with an experience to bring them closer to the show with entertaining and informative content. From a marketer perspective, seeing the app opened to sponsoring brands to create their own elements to allow users to interact with would certainly be of interest. Keep in mind, by interacting with users I mean brands taking an effort to add to the experience beyond a simple banner ad. Where the app falls short is in the sharing features. At present, the app is not a useful tool for active and engaging conversation with other fans or the official network channels. Elevating functionality of this area needs to be a priority if the network wants to create a well-rounded experience for fans. The social conversation campaign highlighted with the Twitter battle was a unique way to kickoff the season and I’m looking forward to seeing what else the social and marketing teams at TNT have in store for fans as the season progresses.
UPDATE 6/25: The Sync app was updated for the S3 Ep 4 that aired on June 23 to change the #FallingSkiesTNT hashtag in the app to #FallingSkies. This now matches the one used on-air and on the TNT social channels. The show does briefly show a graphic on-air to promote the Sync app once at the very beginning of the episode. Frequency could be increased to further promote the app to viewers who might miss the single mention.