Examples of online communities in the TV industry

We return this week to our series of Online Community Examples. There is a lot of talk about the way 'old' and 'new' media combine - how newspapers are using Twitter and how television broadcasters and production companies are working with online media. So this week we take a look specifically at examples of online communities in the TV industry

Online communities in the TV industry

The TV industry has a relatively long history of online communities - both fan sites and sites sponsored by the brand itself. People like to discuss both within the fantasy of a programme (fan plot lines, character diaries and so forth) and also discuss the content itself - evaluating what happened, talking about the acting, new characters or a twist in the plot. What is more, there is a real rise in people discussing TV programmes whilst they are being broadcast - people combining the online community experience and the TV experience simultaneously. This industry is fertile ground for online community examples, as the three case studies below show.

Rate My Space

HGTV in the US set up their Rate My Space online community to accompany their broadcast schedule which, as their full name suggests is Home and Garden Television. The concept was originally very simple. Users could upload an image and brief description of a room or part of their house that had been renovated. Others could then vote for or comment on these images.

As we've discussed before, simple concepts can often be the best ones in online communities, and so it proved in this case. HGTV wanted to both generate engagement and discussions with it's viewers, and to use the increased volumes of content to increase revenue from advertising on the site. And from an outside perspective they seem to have done both quite successfully. Just looking at the site you can see the speed at which images have views, votes and comments - the engagement they have created and the interest in the site is huge. And also there are reports of considerably increased traffic and advertising revenue from those parts of their site that have online community elements.

A further sign of the success of Rate My Space as an online community site is that it has now spun off a TV programme of it's own. Users are asked to pick rooms on the site that inspire them and then a designer will come to their home and use elements from these to make over a room in their house. So an online community grew out of the broadcast element, and then a new broadcast element grew out of the online community.


Heroes is a well-known case study of how a range of online community and social network tools can be used to support a TV show. It is also a good example of how a hub and spoke approach to social media strategy can be the most successful. As well as a central hub (NBC's Heroes site) they had presences in a range of spokes - other social networks and sites where viewers and fans might be. This approach allowed them to engage with users in a place and in a manner that was appropriate to them, but also to bring them back to their own site where they could share their interest for the show and meet people like them.

The range of spokes employed by Heroes was extensive and impressive, from the Ninth Wonder fan site, through social networks like Facebook and MySpace, to widgets, games and a Wiki that explained everything Heroes. The benefit of this approach for them was that it enabled them to reach out to people where they were, often in very active fan sites, and then bring them back to their own territory where they could interact with them and get value from this. They also worked the other way - letting those on their site take widgets and content out to their other social networks and communities and spread the word for the show.

This shows that sometimes, in fact in our experience more often than not, a standalone online community does not get the most benefit possible from your target audience. You need to work with the other discussions and online communities out there and build a hub and spoke model of engagement. Engage where people are but as a way to bring them back to your site, where you can both get most benefit.

The Sex Education Show

Channel 4 in the UK has run two frank and educational series on sex and sexuality as part of their public service remit. The first, the Sex Education Show, gave advice and information on sex issues. The second, the Sex Education Show vs Porn, looked at how the portrayal of sex in porn compares with real life experiences. Both shows were successful and both were accompanied by a strong online community: Sexperience.

The subject matter of the programme was clearly sensitive, but also highly suited to an online medium. Subjects that can seem sensitive or difficult to discuss face-to-face can be much easier to talk about online. Especially in an online community where you know you are with people like you. You have the benefit of the level of anonymity that online can bring, with the reassurance and community feeling that you get in a well-nurtured online community. And this is why on Sexperience you get a range of discussions that would not happen elsewhere - discussions on penis size, premature ejaculation, and sexually transmitted diseases.

An online community can be a safe place and can be a place for people to share information, ask questions and suggest answers on a common theme, subject or issue. The Sexperience site does this well - encouraging and nurturing discussions on sensitive subjects alongside videos, blogs and forums that support this content. Factual programmes and in particular programmes that deal with more sensitive issues or subject matters are prime targets for successful online communities. You can add real value and real service, and you can encourage people to engage at a level they might not otherwise.

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Matt Rhodes

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