What is Social TV?

The digital switchover, connected TVs and over-the-top (OTT) content services are all important broadcast industry developments, but maybe the most important new trend to establish itself and stimulate the greatest volume of discussion in broadcast has been the evolution of social TV, not least of all the debate as to exactly what ‘Social TV’ actually is.

After several years of events, summits and investment strategy sessions, I think I’m happy to say it’s a moving target but I define Social TV as the increasingly broad environment within which content, interaction and discussion come together to enhance the traditional viewing experience and deepen the viewer’s connection with content, broadcasters and advertisers.

Something more than ‘liking’…

For most broadcasters/content owners and viewers to-date, innovative Social TV hasn’t really gone much further than assimilating Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter ‘trendings’ (and even in this one arena there remains a host of opinions about what the genuine measures of success are). As this infographic from Trendrr illustrates however, wandering into the proliferating Social TV ecosystem with such limited objectives will leave most practitioners at the mercy of any number of snake-oil salesmen eager to evangelise the latest buzz engagement platform:















We’re all keen to exploit the ‘social opportunity’ but it’s fundamentally important at the audience-owning end to understand a) what you are looking to achieve from the outset and b) how you believe your audience will most want to engage with you.

Players such as Netflix, LoveFilm, Apple and Sony (amongst many others) see a future where content is consumed on-demand or by piecemeal subscription, delivered via IP, and where social media (Netflix partnered with Facebook at launch) will have a role in enabling discovery and building communities around non-linear content.

Broadcasters with foresight by contrast, perhaps understandably see a more ‘corralled’ future for Social TV. They believe social TV’s power is in the ability of social apps like Zeebox (in which SKY has a 10% stake) and their own two-screen plays to enhance and reinforce a live TV service. By allowing viewers to instantly access, share and contribute to a stream of related content they are seeking to develop the existing social trend for a parallel, complementary experience on a connected device, alongside the TV.

Both of these agendas have merit and strategically make perfect commercial sense to those businesses. The spanner in the works is currently in audience adoption. There is widespread market confusion around on-demand service offerings on the one-hand and a lack of ‘stickiness’ amongst second-screen applications on the other. Advertisers, whose own presence on TV will remain critical (both to them and to those delivering content) but who will need to adapt accordingly if they too want to ride the wave, are understandably cagey as to how best to exploit the opportunity.

New technology but the same principles

One of the biggest problems in the B2B social TV marketplace is that those with the technological know-how rarely have any deep experience of creating and managing profitable audience interaction through traditional channels. This generally is the reason that new (and commercially unproven) measurements of effectiveness from ‘likes’ to ‘tweets’ to ‘shares’ are their chosen mantra. For these high priests of social media, execution (usually tactical and relatively short-term) is everything.

Older and more experienced hands can help players from all ends of the value-chain to harness the appeal of social media within the broader TV environment. At Spoke for instance, we advise and assist our long-standing TV and radio broadcast, rights owner and programme making client-base on how to integrate Social TV into our existing ROI brief as well as working with consumer brands looking to harness new viewing behaviour to maximise engagement.

Graham is Digital Business Director for Spoke.
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