SXSW 2011: My Austin adventure

sxswgeorge_120x161Recently, I made my maiden voyage to SXSW, the annual festival in Austin, Texas, which is affectionately referred to as “Spring Break for Geeks.” I had heard about it for years. It’s all about discovery: new bands, new films, and new interactive media. Each year at SXSW purveyors of technology, film, music, and all things pop culture get up close with tens of thousands of passionate taste-makers as they take in lots of media, have conversations, and receive oodles of free stuff. This year, CBS was the first to bring a new network television show into the mix.

Branding bonanza
pepsi_270x201SXSW has become both a social and business event. Marketers on the scene are big and small, ranging from international brands like Pepsi with its massive playground offering free drinks, Wi-Fi, and ping-pong tables to the smallest of Web sites and indie bands who cover every structural edifice in sight with fliers and stickers. (The crafty people of Austin wrap the poles with plastic before SXSW, thereby ensuring speedier post-conference cleanup.) SXSW is a microcosm of our job of marketing new shows–it’s tough to get noticed amid the din, and to get people to talk about your brand when there is so much else to compete with.

postersTV jumps on board
This year was the first time big network television had a meaningful presence at SXSW. As one of the most powerful forces in our culture, it’s about time! There were several panels at SXSW Interactive about the future of television–both the business and technical aspects and the creative and social implications. Interest in one Social TV panel on Saturday morning was so high that my team and I got shut out! In the true spirit of social media, some intrepid conference goers started their own “rebel” version of the conversation in the vacant room nearby. While my crew and I had already moved on to the next venue, we followed the discussion on Twitter. You can read more about it here

The highlight of the mission for CBS was our CNET party at the Cedar Street Courtyard, where the editors of CNET’s Buzz Out Loud did a live feature on the forthcoming CBS show, CHAOS. (CHAOS portion starts at 0:51). The party was the culmination of a two-day mobile spy game we created to promote the show–and a few lucky players won CHAOS shades.The place was packed with happy revelers who, in addition to some star sightings, were treated to good eats, an open bar, and CNET and CHAOS schwag. That’s how we roll at SXSW!

CNET editors Molly Wood and Brian Tong, CHAOS costars Freddy Rodriguez and Tim Blake Nelson, and Executive Producer Brett Ratner take the stage at SXSW to discuss the making of the new show, coming April 1 to CBS. (Credit: CBS)

CNET editors Molly Wood and Brian Tong, CHAOS costars Freddy Rodriguez and Tim Blake Nelson, and Executive Producer Brett Ratner take the stage at SXSW to discuss the making of the new show, coming April 1 to CBS.
(Credit: CBS)

Thanks to all the great people we met at SXSW, and everybody who came out to join us. Onward we march, right into March Madness. Look for my next post soon on the new NCAA Men’s basketball tournament coverage. And until then, stay weird, Austin. #later #staytuned

Modern-day Magellans and the quest for entertainment

While television screens and programming still command the vast majority of Americans’ media time, digital distribution through alternate platforms is having a big impact on consumer viewing habits. According to a recent study by Deloitte, 42 percent of Americans surf the Web while watching TV, and 26 percent send texts and instant messages. This is great because it enhances use of our medium.

Given all the new ways to access and interact with premium content–be it through iTunes, on Netflix, or on video game consoles and mobile devices, what was once a simple question for viewers: “What’s on TV?” has become a more complicated proposition. What programs can I watch and how, where, and when can I watch them? In essence, it’s now a two-part question: “What’s on TV and what’s TV on?”

(Credit: CBS)

Finding out about shows and figuring out how to view them can be an adventure. Viewers are learning to navigate to the new offerings, and marketers like CBS are adapting our marketing strategies to keep pace with their behavior and preferences.

There are essentially three areas where we focus our attention:

1) Navigation
2) Search
3) Discovery

Navigation is the traditional world of marketing and advertising. It’s going to where the viewers are and showing them the product. In all of our on-air ads (promos), we make it clear to viewers how, when, and where to find our shows.

Search is now an ingrained part of consumers’ expectations. On a laptop, you can type in a few words and find just about anything in seconds. Not so with television–electronic program guides on TV sets have historically been very clunky and “user-unfriendly.” But that’s beginning to change. We are working with tech partners and distributors to better showcase their content offerings and enhance video search on television.

(Credit: CBS)

Discovery is the act of stumbling upon something new. It’s what Magellan did when he discovered a passageway from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, while in search of the Spice Islands. It’s those acts of serendipity that deliver us to new people, places, perspectives, and shows. Given the nature of discovery, it is hard to control. But as marketers we can seek out selected opportunities to spark “off the grid” excitement and empower brand evangelists to spread the word virally. We do this by making sure our shows have a strong presence on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, by rewarding fans of our shows, and by interacting with social influencers on a regular basis.

Regardless of what, where, or how you want to watch, our job is to make it as simple and enjoyable for viewers to learn about, find, and watch our shows. And in a few short months we will have some new ones to introduce. So get ready for a new adventure…and stay tuned!!