First there was scripted TV, then reality television became the “it” format. But now that’s getting old and stale, and the audience wants something new. The Voice delivers that, with a highly engaging and social co-viewing experience that’s earned it a spot as the top-rated new show this season. People are ready for a change in entertainment, and The Voice is providing a nice alternative.
If you’re not familiar with it, The Voice features musician coaches Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, along with host Carson Daly. During “blind auditions,” singers performed one at a time, and if they caught the attention of one the judges — based on voice alone, as the judges were turned around — then they would join that coach’s team. Each team started with eight artists, then were whittled down to four. The coaches, all of whom have achieved success in the music industry, are grooming the artists and developing their voices and performance skills. Each week, a few artists are eliminated, and the last one standing will be crowned “The Voice.”
Mashable spoke with Nicolle Yaron, the show’s supervising producer, Andrew Adashek, the social media consultant, and Alison Haislip, the social media correspondent, about the show’s social media integration and why it’s effective.
Borrowing an Idea and Making it Bigger
The Voice isn’t exactly a new show — it was adapted from a Dutch television show called The Voice of Holland. During its first season, the show began trending on Twitter worldwide, and NBC executives realized that there was something to the format. Executive Producers Mark Burnett and Audrey Morrissey were passionate about the highly social program and “stood behind us” as the American crew adapted the show, says Yaron.
The Dutch set had screens with live tweets, a social media room, a social media correspondent and a website. Yaron says NBC’s challenge was to take the format from something that serves a small country the size of Rhode Island and make it work over multiple time zones, and also create much more noise and value and push the boundaries in American TV.
“From the very beginning, the social media and digital aspect of the show was very important to us,” says Yaron. She wanted to create active engagement and offer accessibility to the coaches to mirror how the show offers access to top stars. “We wanted to create a true, real-time co-viewing experience.”
The American version expanded the social aspect to include coach tweets, as well as fan tweets, and because of the massive audience, NBC had to create a filtering program to manage the volume (something the Dutch didn’t have to deal with). So while the idea derived from Holland, the U.S. crew had to develop an entire infrastructure to manage the social media content that would be generated each week.
But what separates The Voice from other social television shows is that NBC doesn’t use social media as an awareness and marketing tool — it is core to the show as a whole, so the digital integrations are very organic. “In this day and age, digital and social media for a successful television show can’t be an afterthought — it has to be established in pre-production and developed throughout the show,” Yaron says. She and Adashek laid out a three-stage digital strategy and spent countless hours figuring out the social media strategy and how the show would leverage the judges and the artists. “All the goals we set out have been reached or exceeded, and I think it’s only going to grow and grow as we go into next season. As digital and social media change, we will change too. We set the trends now and we will incorporate new technologies as they develop.”
Casting The Coaches
The show is called The Voice, and not surprisingly the four judges all have distinct radio voices — the raspy Cee Lo Green, the belting Christina Aguilera, the high tenor Adam Levine and the crooner Blake Shelton. Christina wasn’t even on Twitter when she joined the cast as a coach, but her effusive “you go girl” tweets and diva-stacked team have garnered her more than 440,000 followers since she joined — and she has only tweeted 47 times. While Christina’s not the most active tweeter, Yaron says her fans are the most dedicated, and on the show’s premiere day, the “bionic army” had #TeamXtina trending from 9 a.m. until the premiere.
Green had a Twitter account before the show, but wasn’t very active. Levine was moderately active and Shelton was very active on Twitter. But all four coaches had to step up their game for the show, since NBC pushed coach engagement. Since the show is about the artist’s journey under the leadership of the coaches, Yaron says she wanted the coaches to live-tweet the show and broadcast the feeds onscreen in real time “so we continue the storytelling and enhance the experience for the viewers” even when the coach is not on camera. One joke amongst the crew is the “bromance” between Shelton and Levine, which is unabashedly broadcast on Twitter and followed by many of the show’s fans.
Much of the digital integration onscreen in driven by Alison Haislip, who’s no stranger to digital and social media — she spent four years at tech and gaming site G4. Now she’s The Voice‘s “in-show and online correspondent” hanging out in the V-Room with the contestants and serving as “your direct digital connection to everything” related to The Voice.
If you watch the show, you’ll notice that “#TheVoice” isn’t always on the screen reminding you to vote — it’s strategically placed onscreen at times when the producers feel the audience “would be compelled to talk about it.” And it’s an effective strategy. Yaron says that 70% of the tweets about the The Voice include the hashtag #TheVoice, a “phenomenal” rate that a Twitter spokesperson says is an “industry high.”
Last week, during the first of the live shows, tweets that used #TheVoice or the handle of the show, a coach name or an artist name appeared in the lower third section of the screen during parts of the live show. In the V-Room, Haislip is tasked with bridging the online and broadcast elements of the show, and encourages fans to take their dialogue to Facebook, Twitter, NBC Live and NBC.com. “Fans could tweet or post on our Facebook wall and then I could, on air, ask the artists the questions and fans can see the response,” says Haislip. “It really engages the viewers instead of letting them sit back — they become a part of the show.”
The challenge has been managing the sheer volume of tweets — during airtime, there are upwards of 3,000 tweets per minute. “Filtering tweets live has been really interesting because as the show is progressing, the conversation around the show really transforms,” says Adashek. “We have to make sure it fits within broadcast standards, and we want to keep the tweets super fresh and relevant to what the viewers are seeing on TV.” (In case you’re wondering, the West Coast sees a rebroadcast of the East Coast show, so the “live tweets” are taken from the initial airing. However, the West Coast viewers are activated in other ways, and Haislip encourages them to live tweet.)
NBC has been working closely with Twitter to master the live tweet process, and Adashek says Twitter has been very helpful and “really forthcoming with a lot of data and metrics,” which helps the show maximize the impact of its social media-centric platform and also measure its success.
And it is indeed successful. Adashek says that last week, during the show’s first live performances, every contestant, coach and team trended, as did song titles and “Jersey Girl” — an homage to contestant Raquel Castro, who starred in the 2004 movie of that name. “Everything trended last week, no matter how good or bad it was,” he says. “There was enough inertia that everyone was trending.”
“When we look at the graphs and data on Twitter, we can see the peaks and valleys around the calls-to-action — the tweets and the hashtags and the performances,” says Adashek. “It’s like watching The Matrix — we’re pulling massive amounts of data, and when you’re seeing that many tweets, you really can see [trends and sentiment] right way.”
“Twitter was a natural first because it’s very live and real-time, so it lends itself to events,” says Adashek. Facebook is also an important platform for The Voice, but Adashek says it’s more long-term, has different content and is building a fanbase and laying the groundwork for future seasons. Since the coaches have their own highly engaged Facebook Pages, The Voice has been able to reach out to those fans and pull them to the show’s Facebook hub. For instance, last week when Team Christina performed “Lady Marmalade,” the Page gained nearly 10,000 likes within a few minutes.
The Voice is about a journey, and Yaron says the NBC.com homepage has been focusing on “24/7 storytelling and continuing all of the reality stories and experiences of the artists and the coaches and the rivalries between them.” By cultivating the story online and providing a look behind the scenes, The Voice is becoming more than just a weekly television show — it’s nonstop entertainment online, complemented by an hour or two of live performances every week.
“The artists are not sequestered, they’re encouraged to talk about the show as much as they can,” Haislip says. “Regardless of how they do on the show, they still will come out of the competition with something that is going to help them in the future, and they’re all getting a huge leap ahead of the competition.”
That “something” Haislip refers to is digital savvy and a strong fanbase. From the minute they landed in LA for blind auditions, artists were given training in blogging and Facebook Pages and handed Samsung Galaxy Tabs and cameras to document everything from team dinners to rehearsals with photo and video. Each artist has his own hub on the site that links to a blog, Facebook, Twitter, video and photos — viewers really have the opportunity to be heavily invested in the show and the artists, and that translates to better ratings and higher engagement. Giving the artists free reign has let their personalities flourish — Beverly McClellan has started a fake talk show called, “What’s Up With That?” and Jared Blake captured his new ink session on video.
“This is something that every other reality show has kind of shied away from, but we feel really strongly about it,” says Yaron. “We are giving the artists the same platform that real musicians have. We’re training them and mirroring the new ways in which the music industry works. We’re giving them the tools to be the next Lady Gaga. It will help them stay in the competition and become successful music stars. We felt that it was time for a reality show to do that.”
While traditional shows like American Idol — and even The Voice of Holland — rely on calls and texts (Idol only recently launched Facebook voting) to log votes for contestants, The Voice has emphasized digital. Of course there’s the old standard of voting by phone, but there’s also an NBC Live app, NBC.com and an iTunes-driven voting platform. Instead of texting to vote, you can vote with your wallet and purchase your favorite songs, available from Universal Republic Records. Viewers can vote up to 10 times with each method, so the show encourages cross-platform engagement.
“The iTunes component was a huge part of the digital strategy — it’s an active vote,” says Yaron.
“The story of The Voice is not just an hour or two every week,” Yaron says. “It lives online all day and all week long, and it will continue all year long. This is a living, breathing entity, it’s not just show-based.”
And it might just be the future of television.
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