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BET's 106 & Park app impresses with promotion and social network integration

There were a few interesting apps demonstrated at the LA AppShow last night, but the one that most interested me was an app that Black Entertainment Television's Brandon Lucas showed off: the official app for the network's 106 & Park music video show. BET teamed up with developers Bottle Rocket to make it, and I don't think I've seen a more interesting combination of old school media (in this case, a popular cable network) and new school mobile programming.

106 & Park is a daily music video request/pop culture show. Lucas described it as the BET version of MTV's Total Request Live (which itself was the MTV version of Casey Kasem's radio countdown show). 106 & Park (named for the original studio location in Harlem) runs for two hours every weekday, and Lucas said his company wanted to design an app for their very mobile-aware viewers that could be used not only to promote the show, but also to drive engagement with the network at large and to "go for a whole new level of interactivity" with the way these things are done.

So what they decided to do was deep dive into how their viewers watched the show and interacted with each other. From that came a whole bunch of fascinating features, from some really surprising social media integration to even a "fame lottery," which allows their on-air personalities to directly connect with app users.

The app took one year to build, says Lucas, and once it was done, BET spent an unprecedented amount of airtime promoting and selling it to viewers -- the on-air personalities talked about and promoted the app for 30-60 minutes every day for a week during the 106 & Park programming.

People watching the show can, of course, vote for videos, but BET and Bottle Rocket took it a step beyond just pressing a button. Viewers who want to vote for videos are given a scratch turntable, and however many times they can scratch the table in a time limit is how much they're allowed to vote for their favorite music videos. In essence, the whole process is gamified, pushing engagement and encouraging users to come back the next day, not only to vote but also to try harder.

The app also works with various QR codes that are shown on the screen during music videos -- by holding their iPhones up to the screen and capturing the codes, users can be sent to web pages, other videos or anywhere in the app that BET wants them to go. "We wanted to be ahead of the game on this," says Lucas, and indeed, while QR codes are showing up in all kinds of places lately, BET's implementation is very impressive.

But it's the social integration of the app that's most astounding. BET's viewers are heavily into Twitter, and during the show each day, the hosts actually call out a special hashtag for that day's tweets. That hashtag is integrated into the app itself, so anyone tweeting from the app gets BET's hashtag on their tweets. And Bottle Rocket also built a really amazing in-app Twitter wall; it shows users what tweets are out there in real-time, and it also matches the show's on-air presentation. It all works smoothly, and the design is great.

And finally, BET also built in a location-based social service that allows users to see an in-app heatmap of where their fellow app users are at any given time. And even better, the hosts on TV have access to that heatmap, and can even "zoom in" on it to see specific users on screen. From there, they can directly connect to certain users via phone, as in the on-air hosts randomly choose a user on the heatmap, and then the user's phone rings and connects to the on-air studio. Lucas called it a "fame lottery" -- app users who are watching the show might get a call and get pulled into an on-air conversation with a music video star.

I asked Lucas if BET had only released the app on the iPhone, and he said that, yes, while the version out now is iOS, the company has plans to bring it out for Android. In fact, since the demographic is seeing huge growth in other smartphones lately, Lucas said that Android would have been a higher priority if development on the app started right now. He also says there's not a big call for an iPad version of the app yet, even though that's a platform that television has been pushing as a "secondary" engagement device.

It was a very cool presentation for a very cool app. While the app obviously has a limited appeal to anyone who doesn't watch 106 & Park, the implementations with various social networking services and iOS technologies are really impressive, and the whole setup is a great example for anyone trying to figure out how to use Apple's platform to promote other media.

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