As I Was Saying

Content, Age of Audiences Key Factors in Fast Rise of Social TV

6/20/2011 10:40 PM

More than 80% of viewers have a “connected device” — usually a smart phone and increasingly a tablet — close at hand when they are watching TV.

Those tools equip them to join “social TV” conversations and other interactions, according to Brian Curtis, senior director of product management, search and discovery at Comcast. His enthusiasm about the opportunities in social TV is focused particularly on reality-based programs, including sports.

Curtis’ fellow panelists at a Social TV session during the Digital Media Conference/East in Arlington, Va. last Friday, amplified the growing significance of viewer participation in programming.

Social TV ventures - both those using a proprietary connection and ones that let viewers “converse” via Twitter or other existing social networks - let viewers make comments and chatter as they might do if they were watching a show together in a bar or at someone’s home. Paul Levine, formerly of Discovery Communication and now consulting via Vector Media Strategies, noted that 30% to 60% of viewers - especially in the 18-to-24-year-old age bracket - are texting while watching TV shows.

That primes them to gab with friends who are seeing the same show. All they need is a prompt, such as a hashtag (# show name) on the screen, which producers are increasingly inserting.

Sean Casey, founder and CEO of SocialGuide.com (www.SocialGuide.com) said that up to 10% of all viewers were Tweeting during the recent National Hockey League Stanley Cup Finals. The average participant posted three tweets per game, he said.

Evan Krauss, executive vice president of  sales of Shazam Entertainment, a company known for its music discovery and sharing ability, acknowledged that sports events currently generate the most participation; two weeks ago, his company made Spike TV’s “Guys Choice” the first “Shazamable” awards program. Krauss acknowledges that viewers seem to be “more private” while watching dramas and comedies, but he expects expanded usage for the shows on Bravo, Oxygen and Syfy networks that are being made “Shazamable” this summer.

As program networks become more involved in social TV ventures, they are moving beyond hashtags to encourage viewers to participate in the real-time conversations. They seek to bring viewers’ conversations directly to the producers or sponsors, moving away from Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, the panelists agreed. Several panelists cited growing interest from advertisers in commercial opportunities for social TV involvement.

The panel also identified quirks among the early social TV users. For example, Richard Fawal, founder of WatchParty.tv, which has managed social TV ventures for USA Network’s Covert Affairs and White Collar, America’s Got Talent and The Voice on NBC, among others, noted that when a show’s script contained legal errors, a bunch of viewers instantly chatted each other about the mistake and funneled their dismay about the dramatic license to the producers.

The engagement prospects for social TV are clearly still a work in progress - hence, look for lots more discussion about how to create and manage this long-envisioned offshoot of social networking.

Another update on Social TV takes place this Thursday, June 23, as part of Consumer Electronics Week in New York City. The “TV Goes Social” conference on Thursday afternoon features more than a dozen speakers from companies such as USA Networks, ABC Digital, Facebook, Samsung and Intel.

Yet another similar event is scheduled for Los Angeles on July 20. The Social TV Summit features more than 30 media and technology speakers.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, MD, and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at GArlen@ArlenCom.com

September