Japanese TV Execs Share Social Media Strategies at Tokyo Content Market

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Japanese is the second most tweeted language, with local producers devising innovative social media strategies

Japan has long been called one of the world's most Twitter-savvy nations. After all, Japanese is the second most tweeted language behind English, and some 30 percent of the country's Internet users are said to be on Twitter.

On day two of the Tokyo International Film Festival's content market, TIFFCOM, TV executives gathered for a panel discussion to share strategies and case studies on how local networks are leveraging the platform to reach, engage and retain audiences.

Kicking off the presentation, entitled "The Audience Strikes Back: How to Engage Television Audiences Through Mobile and Social Media," Masaki Hamura, managing director of digital creative agency AKQA, made the basic case for why TV producers need to be more aggressive about integrating social media into their content.

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"Social interaction always affects one's primary experience," he said. "For example, if you see a beautiful sunset, that's probably pretty memorable. But if you see the same sunset with your daughter, it's going to be more significant because you've shared it."

Hamura, who recently served as head of brand strategy for Twitter in Japan, said that TV viewing has always been a social activity best enjoyed with family or friends, but social media has made this possible across distances and with larger groups. "I often turn on my TV because I see all my friends talking about some show on Twitter," he added.

Mikiko Nishiyama, a senior director at Nippon TV, Japan's oldest and highest-rated commercial broadcaster, then took the podium to share some of the innovative ways in which Japanese networks are utilizing Twitter and mobile apps.

The broadcaster's drama Piece Vote, which launched in 2011 and airs at midnight, has begun featuring an on-screen overlay of live tweets from viewers. "While watching the program, you can also watch the response from other viewers," Nishiyama said. "Often the response is as entertaining as the action. Our producers choose the tweets. It's a highly interactive way of watching TV."

The network's recent dating show Tweet Love – with the tagline "her love life is in your hands" – goes a step further. Co-developed by Sony Pictures U.K., the format features a young single woman and three male suitors. Much like conventional dating shows, the bachelors are profiled in their daily lives and each gives performances and engages in various competitions in an effort to impress and win the interest of the woman. The key difference: she is unable to see the bachelors themselves. Instead, viewers tweet their reactions and impressions and select tweets are presented to her on three floating screens. It's not until she makes a choice that she sees the various contestants and interacts with them directly – with still more action later determined by viewer tweets. Rather than merely supplementing the viewing experience, viewers' tweets dictate every aspect of the action.

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Nippon has also developed an app to interact with its various programming. Named "Furi Furi TV," which translates to "shake shake TV," the app makes shows into interactive games that viewers play by shaking their smart phones at key moments during broadcast.

For example, during Nippon TV's recent airing of The Amazing Spider-Man, if viewers shook their phone anytime Spider-Man shot a spider web, they could win points and prizes provided by advertisers. The app also has social network integration so viewers can compete against their friends while watching. During music programming, audiences can win points by shaking and dancing with their phones in synch with the music.

"The idea is to create engagement and viewer participation, while also creating a new channel for advertisers and sponsors, said Nishiyama. "The response was greater than we expected."

Twitter users in Japan set a world record of 143,199 tweets per second in Aug. 2013 by tweeting "balus" during a television broadcast of Hayao Miyazaki's anime classic Castle in the Sky (Tenku no Shiro Rapyuta). A magic word in the Miyazaki universe, "balus" triggers a spell of destruction when said by characters at the beloved film's climax. Germany’s soccer World Cup blowout of Brazil during the summer set a record of 580,000 tweets per minute, but Japan still owns the per-second title.

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