The TV market in the Middle East is fiercely competitive – especially in “shiny floor formats”. The X Factor Arabia (TXFA) was a new player in a cluttered market and with a smaller broadcaster than other similar shows. To get viewers it needed to be more than “just another reality show”.
To add to the challenge, its biggest competitor, ‘Arab Idol’, was in its third season, with a huge, loyal following and was showing at the same time as TXFA on MBC - the region’s largest broadcaster. People had regularly tuned into the show and TXFA knew it needed to stand out, to put The X Factor on the target market’s radar.
It was faced by stiff competition and tasked to achieve record ratings for a new show. OMD understood that while regional viewers at large were not familiar with The X Factor brand and format, talent shows are evidently a high interest category in the region. Also, talent shows offer the regional demographic a break from the everyday political and social tensions.
This is evidenced by the fact that six million Arab youths - or 50% of the target - actively seek entertainment online. In the last four years they have claimed social media as their own. TXFA understood their TV viewing behaviour and that nearly two-thirds of the audience multi-task while watching TV, via a second and even a third screen. As they embrace digital media wholeheartedly, so would TXFA, this was going to be its battleground.
Based on a social media audit and gap analysis, the strategy was to differentiate from other reality shows out there; to be where the audience was and where competition wasn’t: digital media.
OMD would create a highly networked digital media ecosystem, providing exclusive content and importantly, provide a level of control to the viewers. Instead of merely letting viewers watch, share and comment on the show’s content, this went further. Every episode would be designed by the online audience, TXFA engaged with the audience after every episode and took the feedback to the producers who would actually change aspects of the television show as a result of online audience feedback.
The aim for the show was to become the outcome of the regional youth’s collective mindset, delivering content that they want. With an on-the-ground social media newsroom, it was able to create a real-time editorial environment, enabling responsive content, with a strong focus on behind-the-scenes access, which enhanced the viewers’ experience of the TV show. Additionally, it would fight tooth-and-nail to win the audience over. This meant that it would target fence sitters – those unsure of which programme they would watch – and proactively engage with them, to win them over.
In a regional first, TXFA listened to the fans’ sentiment in online conversations about the show and reacted in real-time. It started conversations seeking viewers’ feedback, and also monitored unprompted conversations across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Show segments were adapted or removed, as a result of feedback. For example: contestants’ personal tragedies proved a turn-off for fans and subsequently these stories were minimised. Meanwhile, the contestants’ and hosts’ wardrobe proved a popular topic among fans and their comments would influence style choices.
Giving even more control to fans, TXFA let them direct behind-the-scenes online content, revealing elements not seen on television. This content included segments from styling rooms where viewers helped choose contestant looks, segments from rehearsals with the stars answering viewer questions, and segments capturing the mood backstage after voting results which our fans were eager to see.
The digital set-up also included the region’s first mobile-to-TV application. “Tap-to-Clap” allowed viewers to take their virtual seat in the studio and give direct feedback and show support on performances via a ‘boo’ or a ‘clap’. Results were immediately fed into live broadcasts and across social media. Its “Sing Off” social app, in partnership with the lead sponsor Pepsi, gave fans a chance to compete in a singing contest, with fellow fans as judges. Winners would be able to compete in the next season. Both apps were promoted on owned digital platforms and through mentions during the episodes. More than a TV show, TXFA became an immersive, engaging, fan-driven experience.
The show was a hit, a star in its own right. The broadcasters’ goal was to generate its highest audience levels with TXFA and thanks to the digital community OMD built around the show, this was achieved. On the target of 15-29 year olds, Rotana scored 16.1 and CBC 16.0, a record for both. This is the on-air translation of online success. The audience comprised 8.5 million Arab youths, who generated over 300 million impressions across all digital platforms, exceeding targets by 42%.
Socially is where this campaign really came to life. It had 1.8 million Facebook fans and 150,000 Twitter followers, both more than three times the set KPI’s. On YouTube, TXFA got 70 million views, exceeding the target by 40%, while the show’s website got two million site visits, more than double the set KPI. As for The X Factor mobile app with the Tap to Clap feature, it got over 50,000 downloads and over 615,000 claps and boos.
This operation demonstrated that on-air success is defined socially and the strategy has been recognised as a prerequisite for success for seasons to come.