Television has undergone profound changes over the past 80 years since its inception. And although the number of households with TVs increased steadily during most of this time, the past 5 or so years have seen a growing number of consumers “cord-cutting” by making the switch from traditional cable companies to watching videos online via mobile phones or through streaming services.
Of course, the recent decline of traditional cable subscribers can be a serious cause of concern for the major networks. However, this technological and societal change can also be seen as the beginning of a new world of exciting opportunities for the incredibly popular medium of television. And most experts agree that engagement is the key for success, as TV evolves into an interactive experience.
One of the latest innovations being used in broadcasting to increase engagement is chatbots, and its potential to work quickly is definitely intriguing. Although we are early in the game, some television and production companies are already testing the possibilities for chatbots, which may set the stage for the future, thereby making it highly worthwhile to analyze what they’re doing.
MTV has always been known as a network that takes risks with emerging technologies and platforms in an effort to develop new engagement concepts with fans. And in 2016, the network partnered with Telescope to allow fans to vote for their favorite artist in the Best New Artist category using a real-time Facebook Messenger chatbot during the MTV Video Music Awards. Fans simply had to click ‘message’ on the MTV Facebook page and send the word ‘vote’. They immediately received an auto-reply with a carousel displaying all of the nominees, and could easily cast their votes by clicking on the ‘vote’ button underneath their favorite artist. And this was just one of MTV’s innovations in the chatbot realm. Three days before the Europe Music Awards, the network introduced the first real-time bot experience as part of a live awards show, with the bot not only providing access to the latest news and images, but also presenting fans with the ability to interact with the official backstage show, which streamed on Facebook Live. Users were able to take part in polls, submit questions to be considered for interviews, and upload photos and videos that could be featured in the live stream itself.
CNN is another network that is diving into this technology’s possibilities, having rolled out a variety of chatbots over the past six months across messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, Kik, and LINE, in addition to voice-activated devices like Amazon Echo. The company considers itself to be in the experimental stage at this point, and says it is constantly evolving its usage while exploring additional chatbot possibilities on both smart home and automobile platforms.
So, what has CNN learned from its experiments? Although the research is still very early, one of the most valuable takeaways is the importance of finding an effective balance of sending notifications, while providing viewers with control over the quantity of alerts they receive per day. While it’s essential to make users feel that they are having a personalized conversation with CNN, the network discovered that a chatbot that is too chatty is going to turn people away. Therefore, finding the right balance of being highly engaging yet non-intrusive is definitely the key.
While chatbot experiments by MTV and CNN certainly illustrate some of the potential to engage fans with this technoloogy, they are just two of many networks taking the plunge into using chatbots. Others, such as Hulu, HBO, Netflix, and Channel 4, have also utilized chatbots as an engagement tool in recent times, and it’s expected that we’re still only seeing the tip of the iceberg of this technology’s potential in broadcasting. And regardless of the direction that chatbots take moving forward, the emergence of a new engagement tool is certainly an exciting development in the world of television.