Channel 5’s decision to use Facebook as a voting platform for reality show Big Brother is a gamble, but if executed well could set the scene for future social TV strategies.

All broadcasters are eyeing ways to increase their dual-screen propositions, which means boosting their presence on and integration with social networks. The result is that shows from ITV’s The X Factor to Channel 4’s Misfits already have huge Facebook followings, which are used to stir up buzz in the run-up to and during shows. Adding a voting application for a show is the natural evolution.

ITV is also looking at ways to use Facebook Credits for voting across a number of its programme brands, while Channel 4 – although not currently prioritising using Facebook as a voting tool – is committed to working with the social network as a platform for content and interaction with viewers. The latest iteration of this will see it stream behind-the-scenes footage from T4 on the Beach exclusively on Facebook this Sunday.

Undoubtedly there are risks for all broadcasters that form tie-ups with third parties, particularly ones as powerful as Facebook. But all are aware that to meet the rising demand for social TV, they must collaborate in some shape or form. Channel 5 already took a risk when it bought Big Brother, a show which had been run to death for ten years on Channel 4, with audience numbers plummeting in its last few series.

It has also arguably made its bed when it comes to Facebook. It has embedded its TV catch-up player Demand 5 on the social network and remains the only broadcaster to have done so (nma 12 August 2010). It retains control of its video ads across its embedded player, while Facebook enjoys additional premium-quality broadcast content.

This latest development is likely to prove even more beneficial. It can capitalise on reaching more eyeballs and an already established Facebook audience, while the association with a real-time TV show could boost Facebook’s Credits take-up.

However, one of the biggest issues looming for any broadcaster using a voting system for a TV show – whether it be mobile or social network-based – is regulation. No one has quite forgotten the scandal of a few years ago when broadcasters had to drop their mobile premium-rate phone voting following a crackdown by regulator PhonepayPlus.

The risk that viewers aren’t caught out by paying for votes that aren’t counted is surely still not eradicated; the issue has just been transferred to a different platform.

Facebook has its own regulations for Credits, as does Apple for iTunes. Other mobile apps developed for the purpose of Big Brother voting, such as Android, will come under the regulatory remit of PhonepayPlus. But it’ll be up to all the parties involved to ensure the system is water-tight so that consumer confidence in paying for votes via Facebook, iTunes or any other device isn’t squandered.


Published 7 July, 2011 by NMA Staff

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