TV Gets More Social

SocialTVNew technologies focusing on the convergence of TV and community continue to turn watching TV into a social activity. The connected TV experience is aimed at providing remote users with a joint viewing experience – chat, vote, comment, or just watch your favorite shows with other fans or distant friends.

The idea of transforming an experience that is traditionally isolating and turning it into a social activity works for me. I’m not saying that gone are the days of inviting friends over to watch the American Idol finale or the Sunday games. But, what if your friends just can’t make it or are in another country or state? If joint viewing was available during the heyday of 90210, my friends and I would have had a blast commenting on whether Dylan was going to choose Brenda or Kelly. Now we can share thoughts on the presidential debates (or Audrina’s poor choice in boyfriends on the Hills). It’s only natural for fans of shows to share.

The connected viewing experience is not linked to a specific architecture. It is happening on the PC, internet-enabled TV and the set-top box. Within both original and premium content, we are witnessing broadband platforms for social viewing, where community elements are built in to the experience. Viewers share, vote and provide feedback on content.
TV content has long been driving online communities. A Grunwald Associates study showed that 64% of kids and 49% of teens report going online while watching TV, 50% of teens visit websites they see on TV even as they continue to watch and 45% have sent IMs or e-mail to friends watching the same TV show.

Fans of shows are driving online community with ratings, blogs and chat. You can join the Survivor fan community or check out the Dexter wiki where fans, write the guide to the cast, characters, episodes and themes.

Social features are extending their reach to the set top box opening up the social web across devices. Using remote controls, a traditional linear broadcast is amazingly transformed into a single-screen interactive, two-way experience. Interactive overlays or widgets blend with full-screen video. These overlays are themed providing an opportunity for marketers to get involved with ads or branded skins. And so not to interfere with the viewing experience, the widgets are usually movable, resizable, and transparent. Viewers answered trivia questions with their remote on Bravo’s Top Chef. Navic’s eTV solution was used to invite viewers to vote and voice opinions on NBC’s last comic standing.

This week, Comcast acquired Plaxo in a move that intends to bring the social media experience to mainstream consumers. Comcast subscribers will be able to be able to find recommendations to shows, post information on Plaxo’s Pulse and get it on their set-top box when watching TV. This is certainly making the cable giant’s offering more interactive bringing a little social activity to your set-top box.

The joint viewing experience is in an active area of research and development with the technology mostly in beta or pilot stages. I’m looking forward to seeing if social media and TV are truly the perfect match.