The fit between social and TV hasn’t quite arrived yet, but when it does, it will be absolutely huge. We’ve seen social technologies affect other media industries, such as publishing and traditional advertising but other than a few failed experiments social TV hasn’t really taken off. In my ones to watch for 2011 I mentioned a couple of services that were well positioned to take advantage of social TV and indeed we have the awaited launch of Google TV, but it will be a long time until that hits the mainstream.
There’s so much that I want social TV to do, and do well, because it has so much potential to vastly transform TV as we know it. I’ll admit that I wasn’t always convinced that TV should be a social experience, believing that it distracted too much from what you were supposed to be watching. But if it’s done in the right way, social TV could be absolutely huge and make TV a much healthier activity.
So often I hear about something good that’s on the telly after someone tells me about it. Catchup players go some way towards fixing this but you miss out on that social experience around watching the same thing and talking about it, especially online. There’s such a big potential to easily access what your friends are currently watching, or to flick onto a TV program and see how many of your connections are watching it. Kind of like a big Like button, only on your TV. I welcome TV viewing becoming more active in this way. I’ve wondered about what happens to my brain when I sit and stare at the TV and if you add in a social aspect to this, it becomes a much healthier pastime because it adds social relevance.
Change live TV
There’s surely no bigger area of opportunity for social TV than in live broadcasting. There’s something fascinating about live TV and being able to phone text or tweet to join in the event. If you add a real social layer into this it becomes incredibly interesting. What I’d like to see is a more clever integration of Twitter into live TV. The scenario of tweeting with your laptop on your knees while watching TV is so common now, and there’s something exciting about tweeting while you’re all watching the same thing. Broadcasters should now take all this tweeting and do something with it. It’s not just about sticking a tweet along the bottom, but I’d like to see TV programmes be reactive to what’s happening online. Think of a live news broadcast that utilizes polls through hashtags, asking questions through Twitter and adjusting the questions based on trending topics. Then it becomes a whole lot more relevant and interesting.
Being able to connect your social profiles with what you’re watching on TV brings with it some really interesting things. I spend a lot of time catching up with TV online, switching between different sites, which is quite cumbersome. What we need through social TV is a completely personalised channel that presents you with a schedule based on what it’s learned from your social activity. This channel would have to be independent of broadcasters and should be able to crawl through my public information to find the content that suits me best. Use Facebook interests, tweets, shared links and conversations with friends to pick up on the keywords for TV and films to give me more relevant content. This already happens online to an extent and it’s now time for this to happen on the TV. With so much content to sift through, customised or personalised content will become the default across all media and TV is perfectly primed to take advantage of this.
What TV is currently lacking, is any real social integration that can enhance the content. The case for a social experience while watching TV has been proven to some extent, through the vast numbers that tweet while watching TV. But TV can be completely transformed through true social integration that enhances the content we’re provided with. If I’m watching a documentary for example, then I want to be presented with a social window (that’s completely optional) that offers me the latest tweets for that program, comments, discussion but most importantly of all – user generated content. Imagine if during or after that documentary or true story you can access people’s real photos and videos from the event. The experience then becomes a whole lot more real and active – it’s no longer about passively consuming what someone thinks you should.
TV in the cloud
With ‘the cloud’ currently being the big talking point (indeed some people are referring to the entire Internet as the cloud), there’s no reason why this shouldn’t extend over into TV. Now we expect to find our own content and personalized online experience available no matter which computer we’re at or what device we use. If TV evolves in the way I think it will with increasingly personalised experiences and social network integration, then this should be available across your TV, computer, mobile, iPad etc. In this way your experience is always relevant to you and you don’t have to lose your social connections that will inevitably become a crucial part of TV viewing.
Some of this is clearly a bit further in the future but entirely plausible given the way that other media have gone, such as newspapers, entirely likely. Everything is moving towards becoming more social and inclusive and TV, although further behind, could really be a huge gamechanger.