© Anne Marie-Roussel

The word “social” has become one of the most important words in our modern lexicon. There’s social media, social networks, social blogging, and now social TV. In short, the word evokes thoughts and feelings of groups of people with similar likes and dislikes banded together in some fashion or another.

Social TV

So, what, exactly, is social TV? The textbook definition would be something like this: technology allowing social interaction among a group of people watching the same programs on television.

Actually, only the term is new. We’ve been watching television socially for a very long time. Remember when you were a kid and would talk on the phone with your buddies or girlfriends about the latest episode of your favorite program? In a nutshell, this is a form of social television.

Today, however, our technology has supplanted the old corded telephone and instead puts the power in our fingertips. Computers, tablet devices, and smartphones give television viewers the opportunity to interact with others—sometimes numbering well into the thousands—during the broadcast of any event, program, or movie on television.

A Truly Interactive Experience

Social media also provides a way for show creators, advertisers, and poll takers to interact with viewers. Did something significant just happen on your favorite show? Chances are people are talking about it as well as responding to a single poll question about the event. It’s instant positive or negative feedback for executive producers and advertisers, and it’s becoming a critical part of the television experience for all parties involved.

According to a recent Parks Associates Industry Report, nearly one-quarter of smartphone users age 18-24 are interested in a more interactive, social experience while watching television.

It’s fair to say that social TV is a younger person’s game, which should come as no real surprise to anyone paying attention. In response to this youthful movement, television networks have responded by providing some level of social interaction along with their hippest shows.

  • Comedy Central added a Twitter hashtag for the full two hours of its broadcast of its inaugural Comedy Awards show.
  • In 2001, Fox added an on-screen hashtag to its broadcasts of Bones.
  • Shows such as The Voice and Scandal have cast members live tweet with viewers, directly leading to increased viewership.
  • The third-season premiere of Glee came along with a second screen viewing platform to encourage viewer interaction.
  • Psych, one of USA Network’s more popular shows, created a social networking website where viewers and fans could interact with the show’s two main characters.

Conversations versus Proclamations

Social TV is about communicating with other viewers. Twitter, while an excellent social media technology, isn’t really a great platform for having real-time discussions. While Twitter does see increased action from shows using hashtags, these are more proclamations than conversations.

Television viewers do their communicating via Facebook, Google+, and show-specific websites for real-time interaction with other viewers. They’re also turning to social TV apps like GetGlue, IntoNow, and Zeebox.

Zeebox has a distinct advantage over current social TV apps which, to date, haven’t done particularly well to gain traction with viewers: it has the financial support of NBC Universal, HBO, and Comcast Cable, three of the largest and most relevant players in broadcast content. It also provides a real-time interface, so fans can actually have conversations with each other without having to look to a different resource for that functionality.

Current viewers of shows on NBC, Bravo, USA, and SyFy have probably already seen Zeebox advertisements. This means Zeebox subscribers can instantly jump online, or use the Zeebox app, to see what others are saying about the show they’re watching, interact in real-time with other fans, and learn interesting information about the show, a location, or the actors involved.

Building a Better Mousetrap

The trick for social TV app developers is to convince viewers to exclusively use their service while watching their favorite shows. This is no small feat considering people currently use giants like Facebook and Twitter to do the same thing, and they use other services like IMDb and Wikipedia to find additional information.

Hardware companies like Roku and Apple TV are also busy trying to find their social TV niche, but at present don’t have the interactive app functionality that literally defines social TV. They are methods of content delivery, but can’t currently be considered a social TV player. But you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll get it figured out. After all, more than 99 percent of all households in America have at least one television, and approximately 90 percent of all households have access to broadband internet.

The future of social TV is bright. We’re social creatures, and the only thing we like to do more than interact with each other is to watch television. The potential social TV marketplace is so large, and so lucrative, that it won’t be ignored. Before too long, the biggest names in the industry will be providing excellent solutions and suddenly this will be the only way we watch television.

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