Everybody talks about viewer engagement, but what does that really mean? What truly “engages” a viewer? Is it simply losing oneself in a story? Or is it feeling part of something communal? Is it a combination of both? Excellent questions all, but in recent years it’s no secret that more programmers are looking well beyond the screen in the living room to answer them. And while general social media tends to hog most of the engagement spotlight, interesting subsets have emerged, including what some would call “gaming” and others might broaden to include interactive experiences that tie into specific shows and network brands.
It’s a tricky thing. But as we learned during our recent Webinar on how cable is using games and apps to engage customers and viewers, the sometimes considerable investment in these activities can pay significant (if not altogether provable) dividends in terms of linear ratings. More measurable, perhaps, is ancillary revenue that can come in from games—whether based on advertising and sponsorship, or even on monetary systems built within the games themselves.
AMC, for example, is beta testing an elaborate social media game around its hugely successful “The Walking Dead” series—and AMC svp, digital media Mac McKean made clear that part of the goal beyond strengthening the show’s franchise is to monetize the game itself. Similar to what massive multiplayer games have done online for years (and simpler games like “Farmville” have perfected on Facebook), AMC allows players to purchase more time as well as virtual weapons and other items that will help them advance in the rankings. It’s an interesting model that goes well beyond simply boosting ratings and fandom for the show itself. And it very well may be the wave of the future.
Discovery Communications has created numerous games around its shows, including the popular “Shark Week Bingo” tied to the net’s famous week of shark-related programming. Discovery vp, digital media Miguel Monteverde noted during our Webinar that bingo has become one of its most popular Shark Week tie ins with fans, who obviously, uh… circle back to the linear channel as a matter of course. With ratings up lately, Monteverde stresses that it’s difficult to prove how much the online games and apps contribute to linear ratings jumps—but he jokes that the digital team is taking all the credit it can.
Truthfully, it will always be difficult to directly measure the impact of show-based games on overall ratings and revenue—unless that money comes directly out of the game itself. And all nets need to make sure their economics match the potential upside. But more and more savvy cable nets are figuring this one out. And it’s going to be interesting to see what they come up with next.
[Check out an on-demand version of our Webinar “Killer Cable Apps: Using Online Games and Apps to Drive Customer Engagement” HERE].

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