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Social TV – where is it heading?

Post Author Take1 / June 17th 2014

Social TV seems to make sense, the demand is there. Talk to just about anybody who has even a little tech savvy and they’ll be able to paint a picture of their TV watching experience that would have been totally alien 10 years ago.

TV scheduling means less and less as on-demand viewing soars in popularity. With that freedom we also exercise our freedom to multi-task while watching TV. Phones, laptops and tablet computers are all employed in the TV watching ritual.

For some people what they’re watching and what they’re doing on their mobile device is connected. They might look up information about an actor or writer or remind ourselves of the storyline. Or they might post their thoughts and feelings about the show they’re watching. This is the natural state of social TV.

The issue with social TV is that marketers thought they could use it as a sales tool. In general these apps asked too much, requiring you to ‘check-in’ or take quizzes that distracted from the show. While we do indeed look for distraction it’s clear from the failure of those sorts of apps that gimmicky content doesn’t work.

Social TV is powerful in subtle ways

Simon Dumenco aka The Media Guy from Advertising Age says “Social TV is dead”. Dumenco expresses a feeling that the giants of the social world, that is Twitter and Facebook, are drowning social TV. He says that the initial excitement about Social TV has died down. Smaller companies and start-ups have struggled to carve out their own space and have ultimately, in the case of Bluefin Labs for example, been absorbed by the amoeba that is Twitter.

If you believe that social media can significantly boost tune-in numbers then you’re likely to be disappointed. Dumenco references an interview in the Financial Times where Alan Wurtzel of NBCU said social TV “is not a game-changer”. Wurtzel’s view of Social TV is a good example of how its power can be misunderstood.

The truth is that quantifying the effect of social media on viewing figures is difficult and viewers are fickle. You can’t make people watch a programme simply by investing in more social features. However it the conversations we have on social media platforms about our favourite or most hated shows can have great influence.

Continuing investment

Sony certainly still thinks Social TV has legs. They’ve launched One Stadium Live, a social media curation site that brings together content from different platforms that relates to the World Cup. The site is specifically designed to be viewed on mobile devices and will show feeds from Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Could it be a hit? Well yes, but again it won’t be something that significantly increases viewing figures. World Cup fans will watch the FIFA action because they want to and use the site if it adds value to the experience. The creators of One Stadium Live say “We want it to feel like a big carnival [], to create a wonderful ripple effect around the games”.

The future?

Social TV apps that are solely devoted to watching TV have failed to garner interest with the public. Janko Roettgers (Gigaom) suggests that Social TV needs to become just that, more social. It’s already clear from the content on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook that people enjoy sharing their experiences of TV. Social TV apps need to facilitate our natural impulses.

Roettgers solution is apps that viewers use with their friends. Gamification works a whole lot better when we can share the fun and get competitive. Apps that enhance viewing experiences rather than demanding attention and harnessing the wealth of information from Big Data could kick start this niche again.

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