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Can iPowow bring distracted viewers back to network television?

Written on October 29th, 2013

What will television look like a year from now? Probably much as it does right now.

But what about five years from now? Ten years from now? Change is coming, incrementally but inevitably, to the medium that most people spend the lion’s share of their time with.

Whatever happens, screen-based entertainment will likely not be the pure spectator sport it now resembles. Social TV pioneers iPowow are betting that viewer engagement can be fueled by the gamification of the medium.

For advertisers, the primary challenge is to engage the viewer. While the trend towards “second screen” would seem to hold that promise, the fear is that a scenario in which a viewer’s attention is divided across various platforms will simply dilute the tenuous hold advertisers now have. So the challenge becomes to integrate the viewing experience with the second screen in a proprietary platform that can unify the two.

Some broadcasters have already made good headway in this regard. During live broadcasts of Hockey Night in Canada, for example, the live stream on the show’s website is accompanied by a lively chatbox, full of the rantings and ravings of dueling commentators with a moderator managing things. There is also an HNIC app, which mainly offers the chance to participate in various contests, polls and votes.

The USA Network recently teamed with iPowow on “Modern Family Live”, a “socially enabled” version of the TV show described by the network’s then digital senior vice-president Jesse Redniss.

“We partnered with iPowow to build ‘Modern Family Live,’ which takes the second-screen en’game’ment experience and brings it into a fully integrated ‘Unified Screen’ experience where graphics, trivia, polls and player leader boards are displayed through the night every Sunday night from 9 to 11 for a 4 episode block of ‘Modern Family.”

The combination of the words “game” and “engagement” offers an insight into Redniss’s vision of the future: viewer engagement through gamification. iPowow’s own figures show that interaction with their integrated platform results in viewer engagement of 15%, versus only 1-2% for the usual uncoordinated second-screen social media engagement. The company’s cloud-hosted interactive platform can handle over a million responses per second.

The “Modern Family Live” broadcast meant that viewers could sign in through Facebook and participate by answering trivia questions, compete online for points with other viewers, and see their name alongside their portrait picture on a winner’s list at the end of the night.

iPowow has already worked with CBC’s “Dragon’s Den”, but really came into its own a couple years ago with the Miss Universe broadcast, on NBC. Its other clients have included the 7 News Network, Cirque du Soleil, NASCAR and Red Bull. In the last four months, the company has signed contracts with NBC Universal, ESPN and Fox Sports 1.

Gavin Douglas, iPowow’s chief creative officer, described the company’s methodology in a recent interview with Interactive TV Today.

“The most important factor for a second-screen platform in a TV network is ‘ease of use.’ Instead of the usual need to create masses of new second-screen content and then the need to moderate the flow of viewer-created content back onto the TV, the iPowow platform can easily be operated by one smart intern. Then, once the client is happy that their TV show and iPowow viewer engagement are running smoothly, we can turn on the automation and remove the need for the people in the studio.”

If that sounds like iPowow is trying to remove the human element from TV, it would be more accurate to say that the automation of content delivery paradoxically frees the content creators to spend less time concentrating on the technical challenges of viewer engagement during a broadcast and more on what matters: storytelling.

Douglas affirms this approach, continuing, “It sounds obvious, but a weak storyline loses TV viewers, while a compelling story creates great ratings, which generates increased advertising revenue. That’s the bottom line. iPowow was created as a storytelling tool because, when designing a second-screen engagement for the viewers, we need to remember that we are in the entertainment business. That means Social Media for TV needs to be designed for TV and by TV people, not by app developers. Story was, is, and always will be, the most important aspect of what we do.”

In September, Toronto’s Difference Capital (TSX:DCF) invested $3 million in iPowow Inc. in the form of preferred shares, bringing their effective stake in the company to 32.1%.


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