14 Nov 2011
Listed as one of MIT’s top ten emerging technologies, social TV has been the buzzword of 2011. Manufacturers are now on a mission to create the latest ‘social TV’, which could see the living room television become the epicentre of the futuristic ‘smart’ home. For this to happen however, it is important that these companies do not misunderstand the concept of social TV.
Social TV is not social media combined with TV
The integration of social media and TV has been around for some time, an early example being the last presidential election where a live Facebook stream was used on screen. We also saw this year’s Super Bowl trigger over 4000 tweets per second and it is now possible to chat to the Glee characters on Twitter while the show is being aired. The use of a second screen while watching TV, known as ‘media stacking’, is commonplace; 40% of smartphone and tablet owners media stack on a daily basis, this figure going up to 76% amongst 18-24 yr olds. The success of integrating social media and TV has often led manufacturers to believe this is the way forward for the modern TV – building in social media so as to eliminate the need for a second screen.
Media stacking is not likely to stop however. When asking people what they thought about the idea of having social media platforms on their television set, almost all agreed this would be very anti-social (the very opposite of what we are trying to achieve). Updating Twitter or Facebook in front of everyone interrupts the viewing experience and excludes people rather than being a group activity. Inputting information to our social media accounts is also a surprisingly private activity. If we media stack, then everyone watching the TV can access their own social media sites at the same time, even if there are 20 people watching the same TV. On he whole we only want to access social media sites intermittently, checking emails is in fact what people are doing for 60% of the time when they media stack. Having your own screen for these types of tasks is more personal and so it is unlikely that people will switch to using their TVs for this instead, along with the fact that a remote is not the easiest tool for typing messages with.
Social TV is not connected TV
It is estimated that 41% of TVs will be connected by 2013, however it is my prediction that the majority of these TVs will not be used to their full functionality. Consumers do not want the Internet simply transferred to their television screens. This mistake has been made in the past more than once and has ended in tears as many times. One example which some of you may remember is Web TV, which believe it or not is still around in the form of MSN TV. With a set-top box and a keyboard, Web TV gave us Internet on the big screen. The idea was to use Web TV primarily for email and browsing. Unsurprisingly, Web TV failed to make a lasting impression. When everyone already owns a computer and in many cases a tablet and a smartphone from which they can browse and send emails in the comfort of their own privacy, being able to do this on your TV as well has no appeal.
Connected TV is a necessary feature of social TV, but manufacturers must focus purely on how connected TV can add to the social experience which surrounds watching television or how it can extend our viewing possibilities.
So what is social TV?
Social TV is entertainment based; the relaxing TV experience but socially enhanced. Instead of trying to compete with second screens and the Internet, TVs should work in conjunction with them, making it easy to switch between different pieces of technology depending on the required function. Social TV must promote its own greatest assets, these being that it is relaxing, entertaining, a conversation starter and at least in the past, the social epicentre of the home.
They should focus on how the television can socially enrich the viewing experience for people whether in the same household as one another or miles apart. Interactive games and quizzes as well as ‘watch along with friends’ options, video messages and recommendations are all ways in which television viewing could become more social.
Simplicity is Key
It is a big mistake to try and introduce a keyboard as Sky and other companies have found out for themselves. There is already an abundance of technology with a keyboard, TV must steer clear of this and promote the ‘lean back’ experience with nothing more complicated than a remote control. Face and voice recognition may also be features we see in the future
What might we expect to see in the future?
1. Social TV as the epicentre of the ‘smart’ home.
In order to become central to the family home once more, we might find that the future TVs focus largely on utility as well as entertainment. We could imagine a time when you could control everything from this one point, the lights, the garage door, gas and electricity readings. Maybe one day it could even work in conjunction with the fridge – placing an Ocado order when it sees you have run out of milk.
2. Customised and live Content focused
We have already begun to see much more live content on and surrounding TV. Commercials for bookies stream live odds and viewers can interact with characters while shows are being aired. Arcade Fire’s Wilderness Downtown is a fantastic example of how content can be customised for its audience. It seems only a matter of time before content will be shaped according to live data and audience assets, something which presents obvious benefits for marketers and advertisers. The future may see the audience directly involved in story creation or even being involved in the story themselves
3. Social TV as an interactive entertainment hub – a portal into other worlds
3D TV is already widespread and I don’t believe it will be so long before we see holographic images projected into our living rooms, without needing to wear glasses. Other senses such as smell and touch may also become a part of the viewing experience, fully immersing us in another world. Kinect and other technologies may mean that everything is controlled by motion and we may be able to select what advertisements we see by pointing to different objects in the programme such as clothing or a car etc.
Whatever happens, one thing is for sure… the way we interact with our TVs will never be the same again.