Talent Sidekick: Dick Rempt on Online Social Talent Acquisition Platform

Written by Dick Rempt.

This article was originally publishing in the Association of International Broadcasting (AIB) magazine, The Channel which can be found online here.

Over 900 million people worldwide are on Facebook – more than half of them check in for at least half an hour – daily. Following the eyeballs, brands are shifting significant parts of their media spend to social media – cutting down their spend on TV content and advertising.

This hurts content companies and broadcasters. Even a one per cent shift in budgets is worth millions worldwide. The past year has therefore shown a frantic search for online/social media tactics around TV content that would funnel brands’ online spend back to broadcasters and content owners.

There’s a lot to defend. Fremantle for example has invested heavily for years in successful brands like XFactor, Idols and Got Talent. Key question: is there a way to innovate these great content brands to stay competitive?


Tested approaches include adding a second screen experience, or adding a social contest to your format. Contests have always been a great way to involve people with a brand; social contests of the type ‘upload vote & win’ are rapidly gaining momentum as engagement marketing tool within social media. So why not combine such a contest with a TV show? Offering an opportunity to win a place on a TV show is a great driver for participation.

With a chance to make a dream come true, contestants have a powerful incentive to upload a webcam audition, and then gather votes within their social network; thus automatically promoting and spreading the contest itself. And given the right triggers, you can monetise participants through optin marketing tactics; thus opening up new revenue streams for your content.


This spring, Blue Circle (the Dutch production arm of Fremantle) and broadcaster RTL4 decided to add a social contest approach to ʹHolland’s Got Talentʹ. They involved Talents Media as specialist to produce the contest based on its proprietary social contest platform. The shared objective: experiment with the power to engage the audience while creating new value for sponsors. The challenge: create a great experience without infringing the original format. Sell it to a sponsor, then produce and market it successfully as an add-on format with tangible ROI.


From the start, producers and broadcaster decided on an open and integrated approach to the project. In just a few meetings, they created the concept and gaming mechanics together, and an outline of the production plan and sponsor proposition. From then on, the shared enthusiasm for the concept and a strong desire to make it a success fuelled the project. It enabled the partners to move mountains: quick concepting and sales to sponsor Bristol (a leading clothes and shoes retailer in The Netherlands) – in the preproduction phase the digital arm of RTL and Talents Media operated in sync to produce the complex online and social media elements of the project, while Blue Circle focused on the appropriate calls to action from within the Holland’s Got Talent show.


Pre-production was a breeze; building awareness for Sidekick proved to be a lot harder. Looking back, we see two reasons for this. ʹHolland’s Got Talentʹ itself got massive attention through a great marketing & PR offensive by RTL.

Sidekick started in the shadow of this PR success, the audience was simply not aware of Sidekick until well into the third week of the concept. On top of that, the concept of becoming Sidekick was not immediately understood by the audience. It took serious work from project partners to optimize the online contest experience while creating clear calls to action from TV promos and from the show itself. Finally in the third week, all elements were optimized and the online contest took off through social media. And when the Sidekick was actually chosen and appeared in the live shows, the audience became fully aware of the concept. And that’s when the engagement and excitement really took off.


Visible to the TV audience, in the live shows the Sidekick commented constantly on candidates through his own Twitter channel. The results were astounding. And clearly indicated that a need was served: the Twitter audience at home in no time loved the opportunity to interact directly with a person in the show – they discovered that the Sidekick could serve as their eyes and ears in a place they would love to be themselves.

Many comments expressed the desire to become Sidekick next year…proving that the opportunity to play a role in the live shows will be a powerful driver for participation in Sidekick 2013. Sidekick built an audience of 17,500 followers in just five weeks – about 1.5 times more than the show itself. At peak moments, Sidekick received several direct messages per second. During the final live show, ʹHolland’s Got Talentʹ dominated all media: number one TV show, trending topic nationwide on Twitter, and Sidekick number one tweep (destination for messages on Twitter). In just five weeks, Sidekick became a modestly well known TV and social media celebrity.


The technologies to create add-on experiences are there – but as in any media production it’s still an art and requires hard work to produce a great and engaging experience. In this project, what made the concept of adding a social contest to an existing format so successful in the end was the fully integrated production by a dedicated producer/broadcaster team.