The iTV Doctor Is In!: Proving the Connection between Tweets and Tune-In

Dear Readers:

In my first column about Second Screens and The Olympics, I posed the question about "cause-and-effect" in the second-screen world:

"I saw some Twitter data that showed spikes at specific times during the Friday night Olympic opening ceremonies. And then I got some audience trending data for NBC that SUGGESTS a cause-and-effect between social media and real-time tune-in. We know that a television audience builds over time for social media hits like 'The Vampire Diaries.' But seeing an immediate audience spike when a million people tweet 'James Bond and the Queen just jumped out of a helicopter' takes everything we're doing to a new level. And it should make the content providers, the second-screen providers, and their respective investors salivate!"

But even with stacks of viewership data from the good people at Rentrak, and social media data from Bluefin Labs and SocialGuide, I couldn't make the connection. It seemed logical, even obvious. But it couldn't be proven--at least not to the degree that would be required by a sponsor.
So I started looking at what the second-screen apps were doing right now. Some of them curate a Twitter feed (at least until Twitter changes the rules...) that displays comments about the show I am watching. So the app knows what tweets I receive (but doesn't know what tweets I read), and what I'm watching. In that environment, I get the tweets about, for example, "Once Upon a Time" on ABC because I'm watching "Once Upon a Time" and have checked in.
But what if the second-screen provider had a sponsorship deal with CBS to push "Big Brother" in that same time slot? They would push tweets not only about the show I'm watching, but also about "Big Brother." And with some second-screen providers, tweets from MY circle of friends, along with in-app messages, will have prominent display.

So how does that work? I'm watching "Once Upon a Time" and three of my friends send me a message about something extraordinary that just happened on "Big Brother." I tune to "Big Brother" with my remote control and check in on my second-screen app on my iPhone, iPad or Android.
Now we don't know for sure that I tuned to "Big Brother" as a direct result of getting the tweets about "Big Brother." But we do know that I got the tweets, I read the tweets (some apps can verify that) and I checked in to "Big Brother."
Almost cause-and-effect.
But what if my second-screen app has direct-tune capability (which will become ubiquitous within 18 months)? Direct-tune is made possible when the cable, satellite or telco operator provides API's that allow the second-screen operators to not only sync with the set-top box (and know what is playing), but also to change channels on the set-top box.
Now I read a tweet about "Big Brother" and I double-click on the tweet and the television changes channels to CBS. Just like that.
The app is paid to allow the tweet to come through. The app knows I read the tweet. The app knows I changed channels.
And then the app sends a bill to CBS.
Of course, ABC (where I was previously watching "Once Upon a Time") might get upset. But there is nothing preventing them from doing exactly the same thing.
And just to make sure we're clear, it works with any promotional message: click on the message and change the channel. For television networks and distributors, the second screen is a whole lot more than something for the viewer to play with during the show.

It's a smart remote control. And since we've been using basically the same remote control technology for about 50 years, it's about time that it learned something!
Of course iPad apps from Comcast, DirecTV and others are already providing remote-control functionality (I'm controlling my DirecTV box with my DirecTV iPad app as I'm writing this--it's pretty slick, by the way). But operator agreements with the networks generally preclude shenanigans like encouraging viewers to change channels.
But what if Viggle, or Shazam, or ConnecTV, or zeebox have their apps running on the operator's iPad platform? The operators have no more control over those apps than they do over Farmville. It's an open field.
When I got into this business we called cable TV the Wild West. But the innovation, the deals and the speed at which we operated back then was positively Neanderthalic compared to today!
I do love this business.

The iTV Doctor is Rick Howe, who provides interactive video consulting services to programmers, advertisers and technology providers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was inducted into The Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms.

Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at

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