I Want My MTV, Along with My iPhone

It’s nearly impossible to sit through an episode of Jersey Shore without texting, tweeting, Facebooking or Tumbling about one of the many classic quotes that are uttered each episode. In fact, there were a million Shore-related tweets during the Aug. 4 East Coast premiere of the show’s fourth season, set in Italy.

That’s a prime example of the growing trend of co-viewing, watching TV with a Web-connected device in hand. Several startup companies have gained traction in the emerging social TV arena, including app companies like GetGlue, which rewards frequent viewers, and Yap.tv, which promises to connect fans of similar tube tastes. Twitter takes this area so seriously that it is advertising a job in its marketing department for help managing TV network relationships. As the listing puts it, “Twitter’s impact on TV has just begun.”
MTV is embracing the co-viewing wave, while also trying to own it to a degree. Rather than just throw open the conversation to the dominant social platforms, MTV is looking to strike a balance by harnessing it in a custom app but also remaining open to the wider social landscape. Sister network VH1 launched Co-Star in May. A few weeks ago MTV rolled out WatchWith on the iPad — an application specifically designed to be used in conjunction with watching the network’s programming. And on Thursday (Aug. 18) WatchWith makes its debut on the iPhone.
Fans log onto WatchWith using their Twitter or Facebook IDs. They can use the app access clips, bios and other tidbits about Jersey Shore, Teen Wolf and Awkward. They can also participate in live conversations about a particular episode, with comments pushed out through their social networks. For example, fans can look up the same kind of bio information about various characthers from Teen Wolf that they could get on MTV.com, while also reading a stream of live comments about this week’s plot — from a person’s friends as well as other fans of the show.
In a way, given its highly social, supremely wired demographics, not to mention its chatter-inducing programming, MTV Networks has no choice but to glom on to co-viewing. Kristin Frank, GM of MTV and VH1 digital, noted that VH1 is the most social cable network, according to Trendr, which aggregates data from Twitter, Facebook posts, Miso and GetGlue, tracking the frequency of show titles, character names, actors, show-related hashtags, etc. And MTV’s core Millennial audience multitask 20 hours a day, per the network’s research.
“Our viewers are true digital natives,” Frank said. “We started early on Twitter in 2007. We’re on Tumblr. We have to tap into the social nature of our shows. And we’re constantly trying to create incremental experiences. With WatchWith, we asked ourselves, ‘how do we capture our great story arcs to serve as tentpoles that extend across platforms?”
MTV is also testing various tactics with WatchWith, including video clips tied to particular scenes in shows. The network is also training its casts to become more social-media proficient, so it can seed them throughout WatchWith (most Shore fans would pay to watch Snooki’s Twitter training session). According to Michael Scogin, vp of Mobile for MTV, the network is still figuring out how much content is enough, and how much content might distract. “We’re experimenting,” Scogin said. “We’re learning like everyone else.”
“We’re not askings users to do anything they aren’t doing already,” added Frank.
And unlike some co-viewing apps, which read audio feeds from live broadcasts, WatchWith is timed to work with MTV’s schedule. So if you missed the premiere of a Teen Wolf episode, you can still use WatchWith during any of the show’s many repeats later that week. It even works with DVRed viewings.
On the horizon for WatchWith is bringing advertisers to the party. MTV has nothing to announce just yet, but executives spoke about the possibility of brands featuring commercial messaging on the app tied directly to their TV spots. Seems like there would be some obvious synergies for several gym, tanning or laundry-related advertisers.
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