Redefining the spectator experience

Photo: roommates watching tv with mobile devicesWe live in a multi-screen world, and it’s changing the way we watch television. Shows no longer have our undivided attention. Today’s audiences are multitasking, not only watching programs, but searching for additional information, expressing opinions, and building virtual community around them. This flurry of activity has the power to impact ratings, viewer attitude toward advertising, and channel loyalty.

Professors Frank Biocca and Joon Soo Lim have studied this phenomenon and their findings show that television watching has greater engagement when audiences live-tweet during the program. Their study, “How social media engagement leads to sports channel loyalty: Mediating roles of social presence and channel commitment,” was recently published in Computers in Human Behavior.

Biocca and Lim, with colleagues at Korea’s Seoul Broadcasting System and Dankook University, examined the tweets of spectators during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. They analyzed three different dimensions of engagement: functional (the number of tweets, retweets, mentions, etc.), emotional (the content of tweets, expressing emotional response), and communal (tweets intended to build a sense of community or affinity). Taken together, these dimensions form what the team called “social presence,”the digital equivalent of “the feeling one has in their favorite sports bar,”says Biocca.

Achieving social presence can be highly valuable to sports channels, which strive to create loyalty among viewers, maximizing ratings, a desirable outcome for advertisers. Applying these findings can be beneficial not just for producers of traditional sporting events, but also in another competitive realm—political debate during election season.

“Measuring social engagement is considered the Holy Grail in PR and social media,” says Lim. “When you have channel loyalty, the sports channel becomes the place where you meet.” Establishing a strong sense of that meeting place can give marketers an advantage in positioning their brands, whether that brand associated with a sports team, political candidate, or consumer product.