I was delighted when Tessa Sproule, CBC’s Director of Interactive Content tweeted at me to tell us about the social voting “Cover Me Canada, a reality elimination music show,”...

By NATAN EDELSBURG on January 27, 2012

I recently wrote that a television property has yet to exist where the voting was solely on social. I was delighted when Tessa Sproule, CBC’s Director of Interactive Content tweeted at me to tell us about the social voting “Cover Me Canada, a reality elimination music show,” that aired on CBC from September to November.

The Canadian television market is an important one that continues to grow in ad revenue and accounts for over $7 billion. There’s also great content that comes out of Canada that often ends up on linear in the US. While Cover Me Canada was only on for a short period of time, “it was the first reality elimination show in North America to use ‘social voting’ with fan activity on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube video views determining the show outcome,” Sproule told Lost Remote.

Sproule’s background is extremely interesting. She’s been at the government-owned CBC since 1998 and proves how valuable an understanding of social TV plus a deep involvement in the production can be. She spoke with Lost Remote about Cover Me Canada‘s social success.

Lost Remote: Can you share some background on the show’s social components?
Tessa Sproule: When the concept for the format was first pitched (some two years ago) it had a standard phone/SMS/web vote approach. Given how digital distribution (Napster begets iTunes) and social media (YouTube begets Justin Bieber) had turned the music industry on its head, we knew we could do better. So we created a “social vote” app to track audience interactions with Cover Me Canada and the competitors on the stage/TV screen. (The app isn’t live anymore, but you can stroll around in the content from the finale here).
Every week we called on the fans to tweet, watch and discuss their favorite competitors. The more a fan participated, the more they could influence the outcome of the show. Their activity was tracked and ultimately the competitor with the most engaged fan base won the competition.
LR: What successes did you achieve?
TS: The total social vote activity for Cover Me Canada exceeded 2.9 million interactions — tweets, comments, video views and content shares. And while that sounds like small potatoes when compared to the activity around Idol this week (and The Voice and X-Factor from the fall), remember that Canada’s population is 35 million, just a little more than 10 per cent of the US. For us, a big audience to a show is in the 1 – 1.5 million viewers range.
LR: How did you keep social activity going even when the show wasn’t airing?
TS: We’ve been doing elimination/reality shows here for quite a while and we’ve been experimenting with lots of ways to make the voting element more engaging. To me, there’s not much less enticing than dialing a phone over and over again. We wanted to engage the audience beyond the broadcast. We didn’t want the social activity to spike just during the broadcast. So we extended the vote window (opened showtime east coast on Sunday and closed midnight ET on Fridays) and we built the social activity between broadcasts into the overall storyline of Cover Me. What we saw was sustained social activity through the week, as well as a nice build of social throughout the run of the series.
What I found really interesting is that we still saw spikes in the broadcast period (i.e. activity coinciding with pushes from the TV screen) but we also saw spikes *outside* the broadcast. In some weeks, we asked the competitors to do challenges (e.g. simple things, like asking them to come up with a way to build followers to their Twitter handle – we’d give bonus points to whoever got the most new followers). That drove up activity between the broadcasts – and next time we’d like to integrate those challenges even more into the format so we can really build on the fan engagement between shows. (Get fans to go out and do something — e.g. throw a listening party and share pics from it on Facebook)
LR: How did the social success of Cover Me compare to other programs?
TS: What I also found really interesting was that the social activity around Cover Me Canada surpassed the activity around other CBC shows that drew twice the audience on TV. The blue and green lines in the graph represent activity around two other popular shows with much larger TV-viewing audiences than Cover Me Canada. Both of those shows had twice the TV viewing audience but significantly less social activity, likely because the social activity wasn’t part of the TV format as it was with Cover Me
LR: What are future plans for your programming and how was this a big win for public broadcasting?
TS: We’re really looking forward to when we can hit that beautiful sweet spot and have both a highly-viewed show and social voting baked into the format. We’d also extend the voting window to end as close as possible to the broadcast (we closed it on Fridays at midnight ET and saw activity plummet until the broadcast started and the vote window opened again – if Nielsen’s “activity 3 hours before broadcast” is correct, we missed big opportunities there to raise awareness of the show.)
Overall, for Cover Me, we wanted the activity around voting to be more engaging. We also wanted the competitors to walk away with something. So we created CMC Twitter and Facebook profiles for them (those eliminated from the competition walked away with a new and engaged fanbase to boost their careers, something tangible beyond just general awareness from being on TV). That’s something that feels good as the public broadcaster – it’s not just numbers for the TV viewing we’re after, but a meaningful experience for both the fans and participants in our shows.