Facebook has been on a year-long push to persuade television networks it is vital to the success of their programming. CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants networks to treat Facebook as a cornerstone of their marketing campaigns, spending money earmarked for radio or magazine advertisements on it instead.
And his social network has made headway by showing networks compelling data to prove it can increase viewership of a new show.
“We see TV networks embracing us in ways they didn’t 6 months ago,” David Lawenda, Facebook’s head of U.S. advertising sales, told TheWrap at Digital Entertainment World last week. “They are already eager to place big investments around the fall season. We’ve proven results.”
Lawenda, who joined Facebook after more than two decades working in television, has a favorite example: the “White Queen,” a Starz show that debuted last year. Starz and Facebook collaborated on a marketing campaign, pushing trailers and images toward specific audiences Starz thought would be most likely to tune in — principally women between the ages of 25 and 54.
“It was a shock to a lot of us,” network digital-marketing executive Erin Dwyer told TheWrap. “We didn’t know Facebook could deliver those kinds of numbers.”
Those kinds of case studies have fueled Facebook’s courtship of TV ad money, giving Lawenda hard data to prove networks can spend less for more efficient targeting of potential viewers.
Facebook also wants to persuade the networks that viewers are on the social network while they watch their favorite shows, partnering with Fox recently to host live stats about voting on “American Idol.”
That brings it into direct conflict with Twitter, which has already established itself as a popular platform for talking about TV as shows air. The Palo Alto-based company has partnered with Nielsen to measure how much conversation occurs around shows as they air, and most TV networks encourage their talent to tweet during shows.
For its part, Facebook has partnered with SecondSync, an analytics company, to document the extensive use of Facebook during shows as they are originally aired.
“The fact that people talk about TV on Facebook has never been in doubt,” SecondSync found in a study. “However, it has often been assumed that TV-related Facebook interactions happen outside the show airing and not in real-time. Our analysis challenges this assumption.”
How much conversation takes place on Facebook relative to Twitter remains up for debate. Facebook argues it has far more than anywhere else, but that’s if you count by number of interactions — and every “like” on a particular comment about TV would fit into that box. If you just look at comments, the numbers are much closer, and as those close to Twitter point out, metrics are comparable — even though Twitter is a fraction of the size.
“I’ve always thought there was an intense amount of competition between Facebook and Twitter, but in the early days the platforms weren’t as well defined and the competition was more nebulous,” Gartner analyst Brian Blau told TheWrap. “Today the competition is different. They are clearly staking out similar territories and going after the same type of advertisers.”
Twitter loves to trumpet how much conversation happens during live events since conversation during a show demonstrates an engaged audience. But monetizing that audience is more important than volume of chatter, and Twitter is ahead of Facebook in targeting networks.
The two camps now share advertising revenue generated through Twitter’s Amplify program, which helps advertisers synchronize advertisements on television and Twitter to broaden the message. Lori Schwartz, a former executive at McCann who consults with myriad TV networks, pointed to Twitter’s Amplify deal as one of many examples where Facebook is late to the game.
“They have been really strategic, earlier than Facebook has, in saying, ‘We know we’re part of your social media strategy and we can also be part of your reporting revenue,'” Schwartz told TheWrap. “Facebook is important, but Twitter has gotten so far ahead in audience development, which is more important than during the show engagement.”
Live engagement is central to Twitter’s TV strategy, which emphasizes its public nature, but Facebook has an advantage in the user data it gathers based on profiles and private conversations. The two companies satisfy different needs.
Though the social media rivals are still targeting many of the same potential advertisers, it is not a zero sum game: More spending on Facebook can help Twitter – and vice versa. Both are trying to convince networks that social media is a more effective means of reaching new viewers than print, billboards or, yes, television. They have more data on potential viewers than almost anyone, and they can target them effectively.
Starz, for instance, spent 57 percent more money marketing on social media in 2013 than 2012. That expenditure is expected to grow in 2014.
TV networks are adjusting their ad dollars to better target potential viewers across an increasingly fragmented media landscape where social media is only growing in popularity.
“They have no choice,” Gartner’s Blau said. “Advertisers are slowly moving out of this mode where they are throwing money against the wall and hopefully it works out for them. They want to target users they know will be interested.”
Or, as Schwartz put it, “the smart person right now plays everywhere.”