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Backstage at a Bravo TV live show taping: Making television more social on the Web

WWHL live taping sxsw

These days, thanks to video on demand services, I seldom watch television shows at their regularly scheduled time slot … unless of course, it’s live TV. It’s more raw, original, and candid than the pre-recorded, edited, and dramatized crap that plagues my cable set. When Digital Trends was invited to attend a live show taping at SXSW, I knew I had to get in on the action. It also helped that the show in question is Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live on Bravo TV – one of my biggest guilty pleasures that keeps me glued to the network after an episode of Million Dollar Listing or Top Chef ends.

But live TV is no longer just about uncensored interviews or sitting at the edge of your seat for potential bloopers. With Bravo’s recent launch of its Play Live Web feature, viewers’ mobile devices are a second screen to the show, offering the opportunity to participate as the show happens. Aimee Viles, SVP of Emerging Media/Bravo Media, says the live polls are an exciting way to make TV more social for your average couch potato, allowing fans to influence the outcome of the show as it is being recorded.

“For instance, Andy had a new hairstyle one night and he might ask, ‘Should he keep his hairstyle or not?'” she tells me. “Fans are able to vote on that and are able to see the real time results on screen. You can see the results dynamically as people are casting their votes. For us, it didn’t just bring social TV, but it brings participation to a whole new level.”

As an audience member at last night’s taping, the participation level definitely increased with Play Live. I was seated at the front row of the studio, but while this may sound like the best placement on the house, in reality you’ll find yourself ducking left and right to get out of the camera crew’s way. In some segments, I’ll only be able to see Andy’s right ear, or the house band’s lead singer (out of its eight band members). In moments where I cannot get a good view, Play Live offered the opportunity to distract myself and answered polls, hoping for the results to affect the guest’s reaction at the end of the show.

 Andy Cohen WWHL SXSW taping

“Fans in this connected world come to expect that they can have a say,” Viles explains. “They know they can participate in the conversation but they want to see some reflection of themselves on air. When Andy reads their tweet or question fans submit … it becomes their 15 seconds of fame moment.”

Although Andy did not pick one of my tweeted questions, there were definitely enough drama to go around the set. Guest Brandi Glanville of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills threw her fair share of F-bombs and criticisms that could alone generate tons of Twitter conversation outside of Play Live. In fact, I felt more connected to other viewers when we talk about the show on Twitter; More audience members were looking up and down from their phones than talking to the person next to them. This is the future of social TV. It’s not the physical people you are watching a show with, but the people taking to social networks to start discussions. Despite the nature of a typical couch potato, at least this much is true: Your thumbs will get tons of exercise.

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