Beta testing artists with NBC’s The Voice

ekastner    October 18, 2015

Title of post: Beta testing artists with NBC’s The Voice


Organization: NBC, Universal Music Group

Industry: Entertainment

CEO: Lucian Grainge

Web references: Mashable, Shorty Awards, PTC Creo, Twitter, Carabiner Communications, Simply Measured

Social media has expanded beyond the role it plays in people’s social lives – today, it plays an increasingly important role in the way people interact with the world allowing them to more easily share information, collaborate, discuss interests, and build relationships. These relationships, as we are starting to see, can not only be between people but also between organizations and their customers and the realization that this interaction can lead to better product design and development. Many organizations are now taking to social media channels to monitor what people are saying about their product and that of their top competitors – they are also starting to use social media as the front end of the innovation process through techniques like crowdsourcing and online design competitions like Lay’s Do us a Flavour, and Tim Horton’s Duelling Donuts contest. What makes this particularly interesting is the role that social media is now playing in live reality competition shows like the NBC’s The Voice.

First off, let me explain why a live reality competition show, particularly a singing competition, fits into the role of product development and design, which is not necessarily a new concept – it all started with Pop Idol in the UK in 2001. A group of music entertainment experts (producers, managers, talent, etc…) got together to audition and find a group of talented individuals that would then compete for public adoration. The prize for the most popular was a major record deal. Many of the show’s elements were adopted from other singing competitions that preceded it, but the new element that proved to be key here was the addition of audience participation through a voting system to determine which contestants proceeded to the next round. According to show creator, Simon Fuller, “the interactivity was important because this would allow the audience to tell me who they liked best and this, in turn, would indicate to me who would have the most fans and eventually sell the most music to become the biggest stars.” Pop Idol then became American Idol and several other adaptations around the world and eventually evolved into X Factor, which again, has several other adaptations around the world. Together, these two franchises have launched the careers of a handful of international superstars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Leona Lewis, One Direction, and many more. Basically, instead of searching for talent through the traditional means of demo tapes and small local shows with no real guarantee that the talent they found and vetted would sell records and make them money, the affiliated record labels could just sit back and let their customers tell them which product, or artists, they were going to buy into.

NBC's The Voice, Season 5

NBC’s The Voice, Season 5

When The Voice came on the scene it took audience participation to a whole new level. Originally developed in Holland, NBC adapted the show in 2011. The format is a little different than Idol and X Factor – contestants audition to a group of mentors who have their backs turned, if the mentor likes your voice and wants to work with you they turn around. The concept is that an individual is being judged on their voice rather than their stage presence, but from there, it’s all the same. Contestants are put through a rigorous boot-camp of vocal training, stage performing, and personal styling all while competing against one another to make the final cut. From there the audience decides from a series of performances and votes who should get a record deal with Universal Music Group. Normally, the vetting process from discovery to superstardom would take years – reality style singing competitions like The Voice, get it done in a fraction of that, resulting in their product being on the market faster and generating quick cash for the label. What was unique about The Voice is that it really capitalized on the use of social media, and in particular Twitter, to engage the audience and vote.

NBC's The Voice on Twitter and an example of their real-time tweeting on screen

NBC’s The Voice on Twitter and an example of their real-time tweeting on screen

The Voice uses social media as an integral part of the show. From the very beginning, NBC exec’s wanted to create a true, real-time co-viewing experience, one that includes mentor tweets as well as fan tweets, and has developed an entire infrastructure to manage the social media content generated each week. But what separates The Voice from other social television shows is that it’s not using social media as an awareness or marketing tool – on the surface anyways – it is core to the show as a whole. Mentor tweets appear on the screen in real time during taped segments, and during live shows fans can tweet in questions and comments which are then shared on screen and read out by the show’s host, Carson Daly. Viewers are encouraged to share their thoughts about the show and its contestants using #TheVoice which strategically appears on the screen at key moments. This level of engagement is not just to boost the ratings, it’s also meant to analyze their product. By tweeting about the show you are allowing the powers that be to pull valuable information about trends. “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 Andrew Adashek, The Voice social media consultant, “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 away.”

Listen to Kwame Hodge describe the show and its effective use of social media

NBC's The Voice #VoiceSave

NBC’s The Voice #VoiceSave

Since season five, The Voice has also starting using Twitter for instant saves, really maximizing their involvement and as a result their product design. Until then the show’s mentors were the ones who had the ability to save contestants from elimination, but with instant save, the power shifted into the audience’s hands yet again. Here’s how it worked: each week, when the bottom three or four contestants were revealed, the audience could choose which contestant they wanted to save by tweeting #VoiceSave and the contestant’s name. The audience has five minutes to tweet out and officials to tally the votes announcing the saved contestant live on-air in a dramatic down-to-the-last-second reveal – just take a look at the nail-biting tension it creates…

The pay-off was almost instant – in just four episodes with the instant save, The Voice generated almost 3.5 million tweets, and during the season, Twitter followers shot up almost 50% to 2.5 million. It was the first time that Twitter was used for an actual voting decision, dramatically impacting the results of the show, and therefore, the product design and outcome.

Lessons for others:

Social media channels provide manufacturers with an important avenue by which to garner valuable feedback—both positive and negative—provided by the marketplace about their products. What reality singing competitions are doing is fast-tracking their product design and innovation (aka the new pop star) by testing samples in the market place and letting their customers tell them what they are going to buy into. This has proved ridiculously successful for major record labels and television networks. Although The Voice has yet to produce an artist with the kind of massive success that other reality singing competitions like Idol and X Factor have had, their social media engagement has let them come out on top in terms of ratings and even put X Factor USA to rest.

Submitted by: Erika Kastner, rare Charitable Research Reserve

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