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As I Was Saying

Social TV Is Dying. Viva Social TV.

3/20/2012 12:16 PM

Among this week’s strangest “rush to judgment” moments is a blog suggesting that social TV has already begun to founder.

The “evidence”: a trending chart from Topsy Labs, which tracks a downward slide in the number of references to #socialtv, from nearly 1,000 on February 26 to barely 100 on March 16. In between there was a small spike in mentions, presumably during South by Southwest week or coinciding with a New York conference about social media - both of which included dialogues on the topic of social TV.

Topsy Labs chartAs a researcher, I know better than to focus on any short-term, narrow data point to jump to a conclusion. I also recognize the reality that metadata today, such as the analyses of Twitter and Facebook “mentions” used in the Topsy Labs report, are important tools to identify moods and directions amongst consumer and B2B audiences. And I certainly acknowledge a blogger’s right to opine based on the appealing data glut - no matter its soundness.

The aberrational downtrend in “social TV” references just struck me as a routine factor in the rapid-cycling social media environment. The recent slide proves that talk (or texting) about a topic surges for any variety of reasons after which we get tired of it for a while.

My reason for trying to figure out the “faddiness” factor stems from my own current preparation of several reports about social TV. I am awed by the amount of effort to spawn this long-awaited version of interactive TV by MSOs, networks, program producers, advertisers, social TV aggregators and consumer electronics manufacturers and electronics makers. Yes, social TV apps have been under development for several years, with this latest incarnation often taking a second-screen twist.

Indeed, that Feb. 26 peak in Topsy Labs’ social TV report coincided with the Academy Awards telecast, which generated 3.8 million simultaneous online comments from 966,000 viewsers. (”Viewsers” is a neologism for interactive viewing users.) That staggering example of social TV engagement, by the way, paled against February’s other two big social TV events: the Grammy telecast with 13 million “social media comments” and Super Bowl XLV’s 12.2 million comments from 5.4 million people, according to BlueFin Labs’ tally.

Moreover, during the past week, Trendrr’s monitor of social TV engagement demonstrated the continuing appeal of social TV, based on viewer involvement, not just industry discussion of the topic. Tracking TV programs that generated the most simultaneous social chatter, Trendrr identified that five of cable’s top 10 shows and three of broadcasting top 10 chatter-generators were NCAA March Madness basketball games. (For what it’s worth, AMC’s The Walking Dead triggered the week’s most social TV activity, with nearly a half-million Tweets, posts, check-ins and other actions.)

Trendrr’s tiny slice of research happens to underscore a perception that Todd Walker, senior vice president of product management at Comcast Cable, expressed. He oversees the MSO’s social TV initiatives and told me that some programming “lends itself to interactivity, with voting, polls, trivia and additional information and other programming does not.” He also acknowledged that some programmers prefer “to allow social interactivity on the primary television screen, interacting with the remote control, while others are placing their efforts on second-screen experiences for laptops, tablets and smart phones. We want to allow flexibility for programmers to reach our customers and interact with them in the best way possible, which may be different for various programmers”

Walker’s points emphasize the real, ongoing dynamic in the social TV category today. Shawn Cunningham, chief marketing officer and co-founder of yap.TV Inc. told me that users who are experienced in turning to their tablets and smartphones favor the two-screen format because they “prefer not to pollute the first screen with social TV content.”

“They like 1080p on the first screen and expect the second screen to be used for interactivity,” Cunningham said. “Our experience has been that consumers prefer the second-screen companion experience and prefer their first screen for the full HD experience.”

On the other hand, my contacts at Sony, Panasonic and LG Electronics, among others, all believe that the social TV evolution will focus on the big flat-panel TV, although all acknowledge a role for second-screen engagement. Again, their work reemphasizes that social TV is hardly in decline, even though fewer people may have been chattering about it during a short period.

During my recent social TV research, one of the most obvious yet insightful remarks about the current social TV dynamic came from Mike Abary, who oversees social TV ventures as senior vice president-business development at Sony Electronics Inc.

“Everyone is taking their own stab at how to come up with their own solution,” Abary said.
His words reminded me how confusingly competitive social TV is right now and also that just because a topic is not trending this week does not mean that it isn’t important or vital.

Except to people who believe that things are ONLY important if they have immediate buzz.

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

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