Opinion

The Voice – Australia’s best example yet of social TV

Rodd MessentIn this guest post, Sputnik’s Rodd Messent has a theory on why audiences have taken to The Voice .
I am an addict of Channel Nine’s hit show The Voice. Such is the extent of my addiction I seriously think my housemate might kick me out of our apartment for the semi-frenzied yelling and tweeting that ensues in our lounge room each time the show airs.
It’s the first time in almost three years that such disagreement has resulted in less than civil behaviour towards one another, and it’s made me think it might be a microcosm of the large volume of online debate about the show and, correspondingly, an explanation for its success as a social TV experience.   
the voice logoMonday night’s first live performances saw #thevoiceau trend worldwide on Twitter and the performance of contestant, Karise Eden, reach number one on the iTunes pop charts. Love or hate it, The Voice is arguably the best mainstream example of social TV we’ve seen so far in Australia
The driving force behind the show’s dramatic content is an idea that genuinely resonates and is something people want to share.
Unlike many reality shows that deliberately pit contestants against one another as the main source of drama, The Voice’s drama comes from the contestant’s passion for singing and a desire to pursue their dream. Some like Carmen Smith or Glenn Cunningham have established careers as back up singers and are attempting to make it as soloists. Others, like Karise Eden, tell a heart wrenching tale of once living on the streets to finding her passion for music through the loving encouragement of her foster parents.
They may all still be in competition with one another, yet what engages viewers is less a voyeuristic situational conflict engineered by the show itself but a series of pre-existing, authentic, personal stories helped along by the celebrity coaches.
Combine these tales of pursuing one’s passion with the fact that they’re (at least initially) being judged on their singing merits, and the contestants’ stories represent a powerful egalitarian idea to which we can relate in the pursuit of our own goals. It’s therefore something worth barracking for in social media or, in many cases, against; if you want a contestant’s dream to survive but don’t fancy Delta Goodrem much, then you’re surely not going to want to see them pick her as their coach and will voice your opinion.
The second reason the show enjoys such success is its approach to integrating social media conversations to influence the live content, as well as extending the show beyond merely the television screen. Whilst it’s not unusual for programs like the ABC’s Q&A to do things like display viewers’ tweets on the screen or have a social media manager amplify content with questions via a Facebook page, The Voice takes socialising content across multiple channels to another level.
Critical to this mission is Faustina Agolley’s role as V Room Host. Elsewhere referred to as “social media correspondent”, Agolley’s task is to drive the online conversation back into the live television broadcast and back out again. During Monday night’s show she mentioned the worldwide Twitter trending status, a tweet from Aussie rock band @thelivingendaus for Matt Hetherington’s cover of White Noise as well as generally commenting on other users’ feedback and releasing behind the scenes content of contestants to the show’s Facebook page.
The judges and contestants too are all very consciously active in social media, having conversations not only during but also after into the days following the live show. For most of the contestants this is a new behaviour – indicating the degree of importance that has been placed on it by the show’s producers and the strategy of furthering their personal stories across multiple channels beyond the broadcast slot.
Perhaps the best thing about it though is how well social media elements have been integrated into the show content, making it easy for people to get involved in the conversation at the appropriate time and using the best device platform. During Monday’s live show, viewers tweets about the performances were displayed on screen after the contestant had finished. They also handily displayed the usernames of the contestants own profiles so you could easily find and follow them – all done at a time when you’re more likely to engage after adjudicating their performance.
The choices available for influencing the show’s outcome are also perhaps the most extensive social integration we’ve seen, with viewers able to SMS, call, login to the Facebook page application or even cast a vote in social commerce style by purchasing a contestant’s’ performance from iTunes, counting as two votes.
Ultimately The Voice’s success in social media lies in thinking of itself not as a television broadcast on Mondays with social amplification but an ongoing, multi-channel experience with the right channel choices for the right elements of the story. Viewers are just as important as the contestants and judges in determining the way the stories evolve and, when given easy and multiple means for doing so at opportune moments are more likely to get involved.  For brands looking to behave more socially it provides a great structure for thinking of the way communication can be crafted to meet the desires of users and owned content – one where there is no longer an “audience” but rather sets of participants with different needs.
Rodd Messent is Sputnik’s head of strategy 
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