“Canadian Idol,” Canadas counterpart to “American Idol,” is always looking for creative ways to enhance its relationship with the audience (both on the set and at home), not to mention opportunities to create potential new revenue streams.
iUpload understood this last year when executives of the Burlington, Ontario, company approached CTV, the network that broadcasts “Canadian Idol,” about using blogs to give viewers a venue to voice their thoughts and Opinions about the show.
The idea certainly had merit, the executives thought. With reality television programs such as Idol, marketing clout—and advertising revenue—comes with demonstrating not just viewer ratings but also viewer participation.
iUpload officials werent voted off after their first presentation, but their idea was certainly met with skepticism from Wendy Smith, senior Web producer at CTV.ca, and other CTV executives who were concerned about exposing the Idol brand to blogs.
“We talked about having blogging last year, but we turned it down. We didnt even give it a second thought,” said Smith.
Officials at CTV, based in Scarborough, Ontario, would very much like to involve viewers more in the shows format and find ways to bring the audience into every step of the process, Smith said. But, she said, there was lots of apprehension at the network about opening the site to bloggers. CTV officials initially dismissed the idea out of hand because they were worried about getting tawdry entries, she said.
“The Idol brand is so sensitive that we couldnt risk having profanity or anything of that nature coming up on our site. The whole blogging concept was scary for myself and my superiors, and we didnt want to go there,” Smith said.
David Carter, vice president of strategy at iUpload, attributed such concerns to a lack of understanding of blogs at the time.
“Blogs have certainly had a higher profile since the last U.S. election,” Carter said. “A year ago, we did not have as many past successes to demonstrate, and it was a hard message to deliver to CTV senior management.”
While blogs might have seemed unattractive to CTV, Smith said the networks Web site, CTV.ca, had been using moderated message forums to provide an outlet for viewers to communicate their views about the shows. She said the exchanges sometimes got very ugly, with members routinely using profanity—so much so that she had to employ five moderators to ensure that message threads didnt get out of hand and to delete inappropriate material before it reached the site.
Beginning next month, CTV will give bloggers the ability to offer their views about the show. “Each person will have their own space, and they can come back and actually comment on the show as the show plays out and the competition goes on,” Smith said. “We will still have the administration that we can accept or reject blogs, but I believe the plan is to just let them loose. We are going to have to moderate it to see how it goes.”
With all the problems related to message forums and the time it took to edit and review the pictures, Smith and CTV were beginning to open up to the idea of an alternative. In addition, blogs had gained a higher profile in the publics consciousness. As a result, when iUpload approached CTV executives again last year, Smith and her colleagues came away impressed—not only with the product but also with the pitch.
Carter also sensed a sea change in the attitude about blogs from CTV personnel.
Blogs Get Buzz
“Blogs were a recognizable buzzword in the industry, not a geek term, and even a few employees had blogs,” he said. “Also, the various Web teams at CTV understand their client and the importance of customer-driven content. The only real difference [between this year and last] was how common the term blogging was in the broadcast world.”
Whats more, iUpload made an offer that Smith said CTV couldnt refuse: free use of the iUpload Community Publisher blogging platform for the Idol show in exchange for wider use of the product across the organization. iUpload saw this as a way to increase the profile of Community Publisher.
Carter pointed out that getting the Idol blogs up and running had a time component and also opened up the account for other blogging opportunities down the road.
“The Idol pilot was part of a bigger relationship with CTV,” he said. “Idol was an immediate opportunity, with the auditions only weeks away at the time. CTV has news agencies across Canada and owns and operates several specialty channels for sports, science [and so forth]. CTV also won the Canadian broadcasting rights for the 2010 Olympics. While I am not sure how the different departments like Idol are charged internally, our relationship with CTV is broader than just blogs [from fans] for Idol.”
At the same time, Smith and her colleagues saw that blogs could provide them with an opportunity to have the audience comment and interact in a safer way than in the forums, while making viewers feel more connected to the show and, therefore, more likely to watch it.
“My biggest hope is that the user have a personal attachment to the Idol site—their blog is there, their comments are there, and they feel a personal relationship with the show because of that,” Smith said. “The whole point is still ratings. The show has got to do well, or there is no Web site. If we can help sustain viewership by people becoming personally involved with the Web site, then they are more apt to come back to watch the show.”
To promote the show and the blogging feature on the Web site, Smith has been flirting with the idea of encouraging blogging parties where people who like to watch the show can get together and take pictures, then blog the pictures to the “Canadian Idol blog,” with the best picture winning a prize of a catered blogging party, an idea she credits Carter for coming up with, although he is more modest about it.
“I cant take credit for all the good ideas. It was a room full of smart people, and seeding basic concepts really got the creative juices flowing,” Carter said.
Smith said she would also like to involve sponsors for the blogs, but, she said, this is tricky because of CTVs legal arrangement with the owners of the Idol brand.
Before they could do anything, however, the first step was to brand the iUpload blogs so they looked exactly like any page on the Canadian Idol Web site, something that was essential to Smith and CTV.
“We gave them a template because one of the policies we have is that any third-party pages have to be seamless,” Smith said. “Viewers should not readily know that they are moving from one server to another, and they were able to take our template and incorporate it very quickly into the iUpload application, and thats a huge branding bonus for us.”
Smith decided to begin the Canadian Idol blogging foray by having contestants blog pictures of their tryout experiences, instead of e-mailing them to her, as they had done in previous years. Smith said she has found it is much easier to manage the photos in iUploads administrator console than it was slogging through them manually, as she had done in the past.
“We [initially] rolled out blogging so that everyone blogs to one place,” Smith said. “Nobody sees anything until I go into administration. This takes a small amount of time on my part, but compared to previous years, its a breeze. Its been invaluable to me, because I only approve 30 percent of whats submitted. These kids are nuts. They take glamour shots of themselves in the bedroom, so Im glad to have the ability to accept or reject the photos, and iUpload makes it easy to do that,” Smith said.
When the audience blogs go live in May, Smith is optimistic that the blog format will be a successful outlet for audience members to participate and share their feelings about the show. “I think for the most part, people will share their ideas about the show, but we wont have the [rude] banter we have had on the message forums. Im hopeful,” she said.
Ron Miller is a freelance writer in Amherst, Mass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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