Whenever marketers start talking about how to monetize the second screen, the usual tactics are tossed around: synced ads, brand integration (“presented with”), and couch commerce (t-commerce). The first two are certainly the most common executions to date with third party and network experiences. Why? Because the latter can be a bit trickier to accomplish. Companies like Shazam have been experimenting a lot in this space and have shown it can be effective, as is evident from their recent Grammys integration. H&M even tested out the use of smart TVs to enable a purchase using a remote control during this year’s Super Bowl. Finding an effective way to drive consumers to purchase goods & services through second screen integrations is a high priority with industry ad executives. This week, Target and TBS teamed up for a first of its kind experiment to bridge the connection for fans between their Cougar Town show and shopping for products seen on the show.
Cougar Town is a prime demographic for Target, so it’s only natural that the brand would choose to advertise on the show and seek a deeper sponsor connection. That’s where the product integration comes in. Dozens of products from the Nate Berkus line can be seen in the recent “Refugee” episode, so creating an experience to drive fans to purchase those items makes sense. To do this, Target and TBS created two different experiences: a second screen companion version and a time-shifted connected viewing version.
The connected TV version is available on the TBS website until April 15th. The site not only contains short behind the scenes videos with the product designer on the set, but also includes the episode in its entirety with enhanced features. As fans watch the episode, they are prompted with flashing icons that pause the show and let the viewer learn more about the featured product (video player designed by wireWAX). While the icons can present a minor distraction, fans watching in this location on the site are doing so knowing this will happen making that concern a non-issue. Fans wishing to watch online without this feature can view the show in the usual full episode area on the site. Giving fans the choice on whether or not they want the Target integration disrupting their viewing experience was a nice move by TBS.
The second screen sync version was of particular interest to me given the focus of this site. Before and during the episode, fans were shown on-air promos directing them to visit ShopCougartown.com for their second screen experience. Housing the content on a website is ideal in situations like this although does come with its own set of limitations. Given Cougar Town does not currently have a sync app experience(like Conan or Falling Skies, a website is the quickest and most logical place to drive a user with zero barrier to entry. Even if TBS had a multi-show sync app, a parallel web experience would still be a smart play in this particular instance. The responsive format of the site enabled a good experience regardless of whether the viewer was on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop environment.
The biggest drawback to a website second screen sync is that the sync must be done using a push format in timed intervals, regardless of where the customer is in the episode viewing. This prevents a viewer from following along in the correct timed intervals while in a time-shifted environment. Most network second screen app experiences remedy this by leveraging audio content recognition (ACR) to keep the feed lined up precisely with where the viewer is in the program.
Another problem with pushed content on a website is the question on how long do you leave the content visible between east and west coast broadcasts. During the airing on Tuesday night, the website counter was reset for the west coast airing immediately after the show concluded. If a viewer chose to time-shift their viewing during that two and a half hour window, they would not have had access to the synced experience. Once the west coast airing ended, all of the content cards were left up and are now available for viewing (requires manually cycling them).
The second screen content itself was presented with the usual variety of items often found in DVD bonus content style experiences: trivia, quotes, and for this experience the Target partner promos. Frequency of cards was not overwhelming and they all seemed inline with show look and feel. The show microsite was kept separate from the TBS.com Cougar Town experience, but I would liked to have seen some of the behind the scenes videos and partner videos integrated into the experience, possibly after the show finished. Just another opportunity for longer engagement, or to drive users back into the TBS primary site where the partner video promo content is housed.
The primary focus of the microsite is to focus on the second screen content provided with Target products, but the social sharing and conversation elements were a sub-optimal experience. None of the funny show quote cards were sharable to social networks. Viewers could share the general page which was just a link to the site, not related to any of the content presented that might prompt or encourage a user to want to share it. Even when the Target promo items appeared in the synced feed, if a user clicked the prominent share icon a #ShopCougarTown hashtag was dropped in next to a terrible looking Ad.Doubleclick URL routing someone to the Target site. The latter accomplishes Target’s goal, but the URL appears spammy from a user experience. Given how few products were in the show, creating sharable content cards connecting the show to the specific items with a link to purchase would have been a better option here.
On the left side of the microsite there is a Twitter feed column which pulls in all tweets featuring a few Cougar Town and Shop Cougar Town related hashtags. The feed offers no customization for the users or any ability to filter it, just appears to be the firehouse feed. The problem here is that every retweet also showed up in the feed, so if one of the cast or the show sent out an update it would briefly flood the stream with a roadblock of the same content. It also doesn’t let the users follow just the cast or official feeds without seeing the other noise from the public. If a viewer regularly live chats the episode with friends or follows the show feeds, the ability to effectively do that in this second screen experience is simply not possible forcing them out to their regular Twitter client of choice.
Overall, the connected viewing experience on the TBS site was a more experimental and unique partner integration with the products highlighted in the viewing window. Unfortunately, this experience was limited only to those who view full episodes on the TBS site as the Watch TBS app does not have this enhanced Target version. This is likely a relatively small audience, especially compared to the primary broadcast. The second screen sync microsite was a bit of a letdown from a user experience perspective. Removing the content between east and west coast airings eliminated the ability for a portion of users who short-shift to view the partner experience. Social sharing and the Twitter conversation feed were clearly not priorities for this second screen sync experience. If anything, they seemed like nothing more than add-ons just to check the box on social integration. The very limited and clunky sharing of the cards combined with a non-customizable hosepipe feed was not a good experience for those viewers wanting to read and converse with their Twitter network. While Target is likely not concerned with the Twitter conversation feed itself, I’m sure they were interested in viewers sharing their products and how those were integrated into the show. That was just not happening with this execution.
There is no set playbook on how this new frontier of connecting partners and commerce with a linear broadcast should be executed. I applaud TBS for their effort in helping chart a course into the future of advertiser partnerships with this Shop Cougar Town initiative. While there are some elements I felt could’ve been implemented a little better, there are just as many that I thought were handled well. I hope other networks will follow their lead in continuing to drive innovation in this industry. Should TBS & Target announce data on results of this experience, I will be sure to update them here in this post.
[All images were personally screen-grabbed from the TBS digital experiences]