Hoch said he learned about Echo in a previous role at Discovery Networks, after doing some experiments with audience interaction through chat for TLC's Cake Boss. When viewers asked questions, the producers would pick a few that were pushed to Cake Boss' iPad on the set. WWE is doing some similar things, "but it's even more powerful because this is a live event," Hoch said.
The WWE stars are encouraged to publish their own social posts--and to not be afraid of showing some personality while doing so. Cena's page features a lot about his love of cars, for example, which is something his fans know as part of his persona, Hoch said.
USA Networks has been doing something similar with the fictional characters featured in shows like Burn Notice and Psych. Although USA carries some WWE programming, this was a separate initiative, started in 2010 as part of the launch of Burn Notice. What began as a social app specifically for that show has grown into a platform for multiple shows, called Character Chatter, integrated throughout the website, for example on Ask Kirsten Nelson, which encourages fans of Psych to connect with one of the show's stars.
"When fans come to a landing page, they can see real-time conversation about the shows," said Jess Redness, USA's VP of digital. "We've now layered Character Chatter onto all the pieces of USA Networks."
Although there's no "hard data metric" showing that social activity boosts ratings, "it's inferred because when we see more activity in Character Chatter, we often see larger ratings," Redness said. While much of the social interaction flows through external networks like Facebook and Twitter, viewers get a richer experience when they come to USA's website. Also, because cross-posted comments are attributed as being from the USA site, "now people know where I am," he said.
Echo's Loux said one reason media websites need to invest in this technology is that so much of Web activity is migrating to social media in general and Facebook in particular. "That's all well and good, because these guys have really unlocked social--you have family, friends, and it's social and realtime--but as the traffic flows move to Facebook and Twitter, the revenue flows also more to Facebook and Twitter," he said. In order to prevent losing the revenue associated with their content, media sites need to figure out "how to be as social, as real-time" as the social media sites so they can be "essentially the Facebook of their content."
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