American Idol – What’s Behind the Envelope? Interview with Jason George of Telescope

Listen to my interview with Jason George, CEO of Telescope (15 minutes) here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Jason George Telescope

I know this is lengthy, but here is the full transcript of the interview for those who would prefer to …. read ….. yes, read!

Interview with Jason George, CEO, Telescope
Interviewer: Cirina Catania
Conducted April, 2013 at NAB, Las Vegas

Cirina – This is Cirina Catania with Technorati. I am here with Jason George. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Telescope. First of all, it is a very interesting name and second, when you ask him what his company does, that is even more interesting. So tell me, what is Telescope, what does it do and who does it do it for?

Jason George – [00:00:19.470] We really pioneered on our interactivity in the U.S. market, so we’ve been working on shows like American Idol for the past 12 years since the very start of it, managing things like their voting and on air engagement. [00:00:33.357] We’ve seen that migration happen from people calling in to people texting in to now more and more people going through a huge range of digital platforms or accessing through Facebook or Twitter and we are now starting to really see the next range of that which is, how do we harness those conversations that are obviously going on out there around the shows and the projects we do and how can we bring those back in to make content stickier on the first screen and how do we also push that out and distribute that across every single connected device so that’s really what we help our clients with.

Cirina – Help me understand a bit more about how you do that. What is the workflow for that? [00:01:06.480]

Jason – Well, I mean, the first thing is the interactive mechanic that kind of engages with somebody so that might be something like a vote, it might be a sweepstakes competition, it might be a poll or just soliciting comments from people so we really help our clients manage on that certain first bit of media. How do we actually engage people in the first place. [00:01:24.508] The second thing is, how do we actually harness the conversations that are already out there, so for instance, we have access to the Twitter firehose and we can pull in and filter and curate comments from anybody and quickly give our clients real time access to that information and allow them to pull out comments from somebody who has got a lot of followers, for instance, cause they want to use their influence, or just content they find particularly relevant to the showing on their first device and the next part of that is how do we display that, because another thing that our clients are really struggling with, or everybody in the media world is struggling with is, there is suddenly this proliferation of devices that people are watching on and consuming content and interacting on an iPad, a Kindle, a Smart Phone, a feature phone. What are the kinds of ways I can reach all those people, so, the primary way we use is through HTML5 so that is obviously a language that allows people to really create one set of content that can very quickly and easily and cheaply be formatted for a huge range of different applications so it can go into an actual downloaded application or it can just somebody viewing on the mobile web on that device but it gives the universal coverage certainly of an entire kind of mobile universe. [00:02:30.700]

Cirina – I”m a visual person and this is radio, which makes it a little more difficult. I’m sitting at home and they say, “ok, text #1, 2 or 3 to vote.” When you text can you take that text on a trip so that I can understand a little bit more what happens to it

[00:02:50.937] J – Sure, I mean, I’ll talk about a real life project. So, American Idol, which is so near and dear to the heart of America. Over the years, we’ve seen that show evolve from, as I said, from originally calling in, to then texting which AT&T brought to you and, I think, was credited here as one of the things that really changed the view of texting in the U.S. and brought, to become a mass-market phenomenon. More recently we’ve allowed people to be able to vote using their Facebook logins so online voting through Facebook login and this year, we’ve created a kind of two-screen experience as well so to give you an idea of the call to action around the votes, it’s that people go online and you could play a kind of game around rating people’s performances and then at the end of the show when the vote opens you can automatically vote a number of times for you know one contestant or a number of different contestants. [00:03:38.120] Now what I can see through that process and the step change that we are seeing for broadcasters is I can see exactly how many people are in the application at any one time I can see what device they are coming from. I can look at their profile information to kind of see the demographic breakdown and, although we are not using it like this at the moment, it could potentially be used in a number of ways for something like targeting. [00:03:58.413] So that’s an example of how our call to action there can drive any kind of second screen experience and then kind of then also taking that kind of content and feeding that back to the show when it is live. So that is one example. [00:04:10.043] Text is slightly different so we also provide things like text messaging solutions, that is a much kind of simpler, I’ll use a different example. which is, we do a big program with the NBA Slam Dunks program that is sponsored by Sprite and you are asked to text vote for the winner it’s in real time. It is a fifteen minute window, very quick and so the whole campaign is brought to you by Sprite so you get a message back saying, “Thanks for your vote, brought to you by Sprite” and then from that it is offering you extra content that Sprite can bring to you, so it is a kind of VIP experience for participating. So that is an example of how sponsors can also be integrated to kind of provide more value and more benefit for the commercial aspects of that campaign.

Cirina – [00:04:54.177] How did you get involved in this. Let’s go back to the history of this. How did all of this get started?

Jason – Sure. The company is actually a British company as you can tell from my strange accent, and it started out managing on air interactivity in the UK and the UK market and actually, in the UK, most things like competition, sweepstakes if you like, voting is all paid for by the consumer so you get 25 pence billed to your carrier bill when you vote, for instance. And we did a small show called Pop Idol in the UK and when it was sold here, it became American Idol and the producers, Freemantle, asked us to come and help them and consult with them to set up the phone voting and actually, so one of our project mangers came across with a suitcase for three months. She is still here. She is now an American Citizen now, so it is a good analogy for the whole business so, very opportunistic beginnings we were very lucky that the show became such a big hit. But from there we really went on to get a lot of other clients and people looking for similar solutions. [00:05:56.903] So we now provide all the voting infrastructure for shows like The Voice, The X Factor, America’s Got Talent, lots of Univision shows, quite a lot of cable reality shows as well. So that was really the origins of the company and as I said, we moved from being somebody that really just provided IVR phone voting, so, landline phone voting, text solutions and then laterally went into a lot more social media and second screen solutions as we’ve seen consumer behavior migrate, it is fascinating seeing how that is happened over the last ten years as people have adopted new technologies and clearly have much more of a focus towards mobility these days, I’d probably say, in all the interaction that we see, and we’ve processed 1.5 billion interactions per year and you see probably 75% of those coming from a mobile device and it is growing so it is fascinating seeing how those shifts are happening with such massive changes in technology.

Cirina – [00:06:54.218] what is your biggest challenge, technologically, to keep this going and to keep it accurate and satisfy your clients

Jason – [00:07:02.457] metrics is the biggest challenge. I think for our, we are mainly focused on the networks and production companies, although we do work with the sponsors but I think what everyone is trying to figure out is what are the metrics that govern success. How can I use this to monetize that content. Clearly as those models break down and things like Nielsen ratings become more and more porous, I think everyone is looking for, “OK, I got 10% of my audience to engage, what does that mean. Who are, who is that audience beyond just kind of knowing their phone number, how can I actually build a relationship with them that I can turn into something that can be valued in a deeper way. So I think that the biggest challenge facing the industry, there are many, but I think the biggest one is metrics and how do we measure that engagement, how do we really measure deep into that engagement.

Cirina -[00:07:54.192] I am just curious about, and this is a little bit more of a marketing question. Shows that are decided, like the American Idol is decided by popular vote. If you look at the demographics of, and you may not be able to answer this and if you can’t that’s fine…but if you look at the demographics of the people who are voting, do you get a good cross-section or is there a personality, a characteristic, a section of the marketplace that tends to vote more than others.

Jason -[00:08:23.518] You are right, I can’t talk in much detail about those sorts of things, but I think it broadly depends on the audience for the show. I don’t think there is particularly one that certainly you might get higher concentrations in certain demographic profiles, but maybe more relevantly, we also run shows on channels like MTV so you will certainly see a different mix of how people vote according to wether they are watching a more youth-oriented kind of show, or whether it is more general market, and I think you do get conversion. [00:08:53.723] I wouldn’t say, for instance, the older demographics are less likely to vote, I mean certainly older housewives are particularly kind of rabid voters, so I think it is more about the method. If you said to those older housewives, you can’t vote through toll-free you can only vote through online, they may not vote, whereas the younger demos, if you said, you can only vote through toll-free they may be less likely to vote. So I think what we really help clients with is, we are very much cross-platform, so it is about reaching the different audiences according to how they prefer to participate, so I think that is the biggest thing, I’d say. I can’t really, we do get some demographic information, but I can’t talk about that, but I don’t think it is particularly, you know, that it particularly over indexes in certain demographics , I think it is really dependent on the general market for the show and kind of how you induce people to participate by really getting involved in the content…the big thing about voting is that you can impact the actual narrative of that show. [00:09:47.787] You know I can be part of deciding who wins and that is one of the most powerful motivators to actually participate along with things like, I can win something, that is a really powerful motivators. But also, people love to get their name up in lights, the fame factor that I am able to comment adn that comment is somewhere in the public domain and that allows me, kind of my voice.. so that is the thing that we see as ways of motivating people to participate. They are actually pretty universal.

Cirina – [00:10:11.228] I think that you are probably gathering historical information that down the road is going to be very valuable. I’m wondering, in your mind, what do you see for the future, technologically. Where do you see this going?

Jason – [00:10:24.480] J – firstly, you know people still talk about television as the first screen and I’m not sure if that is really true anymore, even now, so I think, especially among younger demographics, clearly technology has been such a big disrupter they are not watching on the big screen. They are actually watching more likely on their phone or on their tablet and that is going to certainly progress further so I think things like mobile video, online video in general, but especially mobile video are really going to explode and things like TV Everywhere will be hugely important for the kind of, the broadcasters and the networks as they kind of seek to reach people in a number of different ways. So I think that is one thing and along with that are those notions that now the schedule doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m just going to really program my own schedule, which is actually most of us are doing already because we are recording or going through Netflix or whatever it might be, and actually finding the content that we want and deciding that actually, my mood tonight is this and therefore I want to watch, you know, Breaking Bad on demand. So I think those are the things that are really going to continue and the reall again, part of that challenge is how do I knit people together across a number of different platforms. How do I know who they are so I can try and personalize an experience for them.. And of course, that nature is important because if I know something about them, how can I create advertising that is more relevant for them, that is likely to be more effective as well, so that is the big thing. That is going to proliferate to the point where a broadcast network is probably defined at the moment as the local stations that it is broadcast on and in five years time there may be no need at all for those local stations because they are actually reaching people in a number of different ways and on a number of different devices.

Cirina – [00:11:57.728] where do we go on the web to learn more about your company

Jason – or you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook. We’d love to see you.

Cirina – should we vote for you?

Jason- well, obviously, you know, we’re just a business to business company providing those things, but we’d certainly welcome you at our office or on our website so please visit

Cirina- We’ll give you the big thumbs up on the web

Jason – sounds good

Cirina- thank you

Jason- thank you

End of Interview.