Over the past week, TV show ‘The X Factor’ – produced by TV mogul Simon Cowell – has prompted a flurry of thought-provoking stories on both sides of the Atlantic from some of the ad industry’s leading commentators. What’s captured their attention is the seemingly inseparable tie between the TV show itself and the online chatter, debate and argument it generates on Twitter using the hashtag #xfactor. So integral is Twitter to the X Factor viewing experience that UK entertainment critic for The Times, Caitlin Moran, asserted this week that watching the show without it would equate to “going to watch a football match in an empty stadium.”
As the American and UK versions of the competition start to get into their stride, this most striking example of TV and online working in perfect harmony has led reporters such as Brian Stelter at the New York Times to explore what this means more broadly for TV production. He analyses the benefit of having such immediate, frank and real-time feedback from the people that matter, in addition to the ability to draw viewers even further into the show as it takes place.
My ‘day job’ is understanding what the significance of this kind of consumer behaviour is for brands, and to my mind this is one of the best illustrations of something we’ve been talking about at Microsoft Advertising for a long time; multi-screening. For several years now we’ve been talking passionately about how the consumption of content across multiple channels – connected experiences – will give rise to a significant shift in how brands structure their online advertising campaigns. The X Factor example shows how quickly this is becoming reality.
Not only is social TV playing a role, so too is the proliferation of devices in the home. Last year, we launched a study into the rise of the multi-screen consumer, or ‘multi-screener’ – a group of more than 19 million people in Europe aged 16 or above that use a TV and access the internet with a PC or smartphone on a weekly basis (1). Of this target group, 86% of those surveyed confirmed that they use at least one other type of media whilst watching TV2. From an advertiser’s perspective, the traditional reality of a captive TV audience during a show and often in the commercial break has been significantly disrupted by the potent mix of multi-screening and social TV.
So what’s the solution for brands? The key is embracing this new reality and delivering campaigns that are multi-layered and multi-channel. A number of Microsoft Advertising’s clients have already seen huge benefits from this shift in strategy. TOMS shoes, the philanthropic shoe company, ran a campaign last year across PC, TV and mobile and found that consumers who had been exposed to it on each screen were five times more likely to be aware of the publicised event than those that hadn’t. More than half (56%) of the consumers who saw is across three screens visited TOMS.com, and 42% went on to make a purchase. Stunning numbers for a very worthwhile campaign.
Social TV and multi-screening are changing the game for advertisers there can be no doubt. However, this new reality represents an opportunity as well as a challenge. To seize it, advertisers need a partner that has deep expertise innovating across different devices – like Kinect and Windows Phone 7, for example – and enables them to deliver powerful and relevant messages in a way that reaches their target audience. As a member of the European advertising industry, I’m excited about the journey… and suddenly find I have a grudging respect for The X Factor.
Laurent Delaporte, VP EMEA, Microsoft Advertising
 Forrester Research Inc, European Technographics Benchmark Survey, Q2 2010
 EIAA Multi-Screeners Report