Realizing The Potential Of Participation TV

Realizing The Potential Of Participation TV
By Colin Hornett

I always wanted to be on the other side of the table doing the creative, fun stuff instead of being the guy writing the contracts. In a previous life I was a professional snowboarder, but when I blew my knee out I went to University and then onto law school. After practicing law for a couple years as a corporate commercial litigator, I moved into entertainment law and eventually started my own record label.Along the way, I started making little commercials and music videos—anything I could get my hands on—and got really into online content creation. By 2008, I was running the digital multimedia platform for the Miss Universe Organization as a part of NBC, where I was eventually given the opportunity to come up with creative ideas for the Miss USA and Miss Universe live telecasts to engage people watching at home using their smart devices and computers.


That was the first time I met Gavin Douglas, co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of iPowow. The original idea was to make it a web only experience and not put it on TV, but I really fought for iPowow’s platform with NBC and they agreed to it. What we did was allow people who were sitting at home to score and judge the contestants the same way the judges did inside the theatre. It was incredibly successful and I was so blown away that I decided to join the iPowow team as the Executive Producer.

At iPowow, we are giving people a reason to come back to appointment TV viewing by helping clients enhance their stories and create unique events through participation television. A great story will always win. The question is how do you add to that story to make it even better? For us, the idea is to take a great story and enhance it by making it fun for viewers to engage and play along using a second screen device. We are inviting fans to become part of the storyline by interacting in real-time with their favorite show, while also giving them the opportunity to potentially win a prize or see themselves on TV. It’s through this platform that iPowow is experiencing viewer engagement rates of over 10% compared to an industry average of closer to 1%.

One of the first times we experienced the unique next level power of our platform was the summer of 2013 when we were working with Red Bull Rampage. Red Bull put the power in the viewer’s hands to award a People’s Choice Award. Just like the judges scored each of the rider’s runs, the fans at home did the exact same thing. The response was amazing! We had 163 countries voting with thousands and thousands of votes per second and the fans took it seriously. When we gave them the power, they didn’t just vote for their favorites; they voted based on who they thought had the best run. Eight of the top ten rider’s were the same for the viewers as they were for the judges. After hundreds of thousands of people cast millions of votes, we had received startlingly similar results from the fans as we did the four professionals hired to judge the event, which was really cool to see.

We were always confident with live events because the platform was designed and built for real-time engagement. But automating the system and allowing it to be used on shows like Modern Family and Project Runway blew us away to see the engagement numbers and how excited people were to play. Fans were posting pictures on Instagram and Twitter of their names and Facebook pictures as they appeared on the live on-air leaderboard. It was awesome to see how excited people were.

When iPowow is used properly and put in the hands of really talented producers and directors, it gets fans excited and engaged and we see numbers go through the roof. It’s also fun to see the production teams behind the show get really excited about how it’s all working.

In an industry that changes so quickly, I think the key is to understand the vision that we’ve mapped out, and to stick to it and trust it. It’s also about being able to adapt to new, innovative ideas, but really stick to the basics of where we started with what we know works. Telling great stories leads to great ratings, and iPowow is a story-telling tool that helps to enhance the broadcast and brand.

We’re not social TV. It’s inherently social because you end up sharing things, but iPowow is Participation TV. This also isn’t a fad. Smart devices are only becoming more prevalent, so you need to be able to engage your audience and have them participate. 85% of people watching TV have some type of device in their hand, so why not give them something fun and engaging to do? This is really about engaging the fans in the story in the most entertaining, fun, simple way possible, and we’re having a blast doing it.

Colin Hornett is the Executive Producer at iPowow. While overseeing production and new product development, Colin also travels extensively ensuring clients are achieving the quality of executions they desire and helping challenge the limits of conventional entertainment. You can connect with Colin at @ColinHornett on Twitter.