Engaging Audiences in the New TV Landscape

Written by: Audrey Schwab

(Associate Digital Director)

Employee Voices


How do you continue on with the country’s biggest competition/reality shows when a pandemic hits? If the show can (and must!) go on, will audiences watch, can they connect with the contestants and will it change how and why people vote? These are only a few of the questions Telescope and our partners were asking ourselves this Spring.

When people were asked to quarantine (many with their families) at home, watching TV became the primary source of entertainment but also a sense of connectivity between friends. People immediately took to social media to source “must watch” shows and collectively created that virtual sense of “water cooler” chatter without being in the workplace. We craved entertainment and a sense of shared experience even while being separated, our version of #AloneTogether. Thankfully, the newest crop of renewed seasonal favorites was about to drop – just in time to save our sanity and provide some much needed distraction.

'Safer at Home' started while some of the biggest and most anticipated reality competition shows were still in production. In the case of The Voice, coaches’ chairs had already been spinning and auditions had already taken place. So what happens now? How do these giant productions, showcasing super star vocal powerhouses with live bands, in-person celebrity coach and judge feedback continue on?

American Idol and The Voice, two powerhouse fan favorites, showed that they were not only up for the challenge and why they remain such household staples. The shows were stripped down and the focus of vocals and true talent took center stage. Not only that, contestants connected with audiences in a way that perhaps they never had before. Flashy lights and anonymous live cheering sections were replaced by home ambience and emotional celebrations with contestants’ family and friends. Raw talent and personality shined through the screen to our living rooms across the country and the at-home audience felt a deeper connection to the talent and personality of these contestants in ways never before experienced.

Viewers were treated to intimate looks into celebrity homes as the Judges and Coaches invited us in during coaching sessions and performance feedback. They found ways to make these sneak peeks fun and engaging. Pets made guest appearances, the infamous red coaches’ chairs were hand crafted at home and zany costume choices were on full display. Watching the show almost felt like a behind the scenes adventure as we were shown exclusive looks at how the shows had set up to film. It resonated on a deeper level – how to make working from home a success, a challenge many of us are currently facing. And then came the at-home audience…enter Telescope.

Voting and user engagement became an absolute necessity this season. Luckily, those are two things we do best. Rather than stagnant content consumption offered by a majority of programming, by partnering with Telescope, these shows offered viewers the choice to actively participate in the outcome whether it be voting , sweepstakes , ugc , play-along or contests. Our applications became a welcome distraction during an uncertain time and people were ready to lean in.

For this season of American Idol , Telescope offered SMS Voting, an Online vote and a native application with its own vote. The native app houses the vote but also includes bonus features like a social feed (Twitter-sphere buzz about the show visualized as tiles using Telescope’s Fan Feed product), Talent Section, Idol specific promotions and push notifications so users never miss an event. Weekly voting times were extended from the previous season, allowing new users or those returning to the show, a comfortable window of time to learn or relearn how to interact and show support for their favorite contestants.

The Voice native app sms

Engaging with the shows this season took on a different feeling and meaning, bridging the gap between the audience and contestants, and mirroring their real-life situations. Displaying performance feedback and incorporating fans into the all too familiar layout of a Zoom-esque support screen, the shows truly embraced the current situation rather than fighting it. Our television screens filled with the larger visual of a contestant belting out their song and at the top, those familiar boxes with the coaches watching with excitement. Or look to the end of an Idol contestant’s performance and instantly the brain is hit with a “gallery view” of the adrenaline filled performer surrounded by rectangles of reacting family, friends and fans. And in the finale, we saw a return to the nail biting live winner announcement in which home audience votes were tallied during the show. Telescope delivered the final results in near real-time in order to announce and celebrate with the newly crowned winner within moments of the vote closing in show, making the at-home user engagement truly impactful as a “must watch” moment during prime live broadcast airing.

Zoom contestants singing

Taking over Monday and Tuesday nights was The Voice , offering the fans 5 voting methods this season, plus the Instant Save . The comradery among the coaches remained playful and supportive during aired coaching sessions, projecting a feeling of a warm security blanket and a familiar friend to turn to via our screens all throughout America’s households.

The Voice instant save vote

The Voice maintained its usual voting windows that active fans have come to know and made it easy for new or long-ago users to return to. And the people came to play! This season, despite the challenges, there were two instant saves. The vocalists had to fight harder than ever to stay in the competition, with all of the adrenaline of a Save but not the concert-like atmosphere. But they sang hard and blew America away! And The Voice finale saw an increase in both unique voters and overall votes compared to prior season. Whether other shows may have struggled to harness their “captured” audience, The Voice has most certainly gained new fans that will return and participate even when things begins to return to “normal”.

The most recent seasons of American Idol and The Voice exemplified how invested they are in their audiences and how that direct engagement paid off not only for the show’s ratings but for the fans by allowing them to impact the show each week. While today’s competition for viewership can be quite cut-throat, the shows couldn’t rely on glitz and glamour, but on its loyal fans and their continued desire to be part of the show itself. Inclusion with the traditional play along aspects of the shows coupled with fan outreach shows (such as celebrations of frontline workers, Mother’s Day, and a dedicated “Fan Week”) show just how important the audience is and how much their second screen participation mean to the show’s success, now and in the future. People were hungry for a break from passive binge watching and took to their devices to join in the fun, vote for their favorites, and share their fandom and excitement in group calls and Zoom chats with friends and family across the US.

The spring season of TV is transitioning into summer programming and with that transition comes an even bigger range of reality competition shows. America’s Got Talent , So You Think You Can Dance, Bring the Funny and others will need to continue to reward their loyal fans by continuing, and even upping, at-home participation. People will tune in to check out the potential next great star and how these shows (featuring anything and everything from acrobatics to magicians, dancers to comedians) introduce these acts into our homes and allow the American audience to be the ultimate decider. We’ve seen that contestants are up for the challenge and that shows can and will find creative solutions to any problem – whether it be live bands and contestants making music together despite the miles or how to make sure even a pregnant Katy Perry continues to wow audiences with her quirky fashion sense. The question is – how will this new crop of shows reward and include their active fanbases like their spring trailblazing predecessors?

Telescope will continue to build applications, monitor trends, tally votes and provide support to our partners during this new age of television. We have seen many of our products succeed when supporting real-time play along programming in addition to our voting applications such as our Triple Play , Bingo , Inquizator and Passion Meter products. They allow for audiences to learn show specific trivia, lend support in head to head mini battles and experience the ageless joy of shouting “Bingo!” all while taking in their favorite programming from the comfort of their own home. Families and friends are coming together more often on face to face calls, resuming their group TV watch sessions and we can give them so much more to interact with while they indulge in their favorite shows and broadcasted events.

Triple Play Bingo Passion Meter

We’ve seen that it can be done, and done well, so we need to reward audiences by giving them more ways to get involved. It’s been exciting to see real people on TV, featured in support montages and introducing talent, especially when a lot of us haven’t left our homes longer than to go to the grocery store. Now it’s time to up the ante and give the fans more unique content to consume but even more importantly, more ways in which to directly interact and impact that content. And hey, after this is all over and things get back to normal, let’s continue showcasing the feel-good support of contestant families and fans. It’s been truly heart-warming and we could all also use more of that.