SocialTV – the biggest threat to the future of television?

I read a tweet by Jeremy Toeman yesterday that said, ‘I think today’s one of those “Stay off twitter, it’s just gonna annoy the snot out of you” days’. I wish I’d heeded his advice – but I didn’t.  I spent some of the day watching the stream from The Social TV Summit and listening to executive after executive trying to define what social TV is, and the value that can be derived from it for networks, programme producers and operators.

First things first… as far as I’m concerned TV always was a social activity.  Whether it was family sat around the main set, friends talking on the telephone – the ‘did you see…’ moments I experienced as my mother called friends to see if they’d been watching one soap opera or another, or colleagues talking about last night’s prime time show over the water cooler, TV has always been a shared experience.  That hasn’t changed.  Nor is it likely to.

Social TV is a buzz word designed to convince viewers that there is something new.  In reality nothing much has changed, except the technology viewers use to interact.

One of the most worrying things I heard more, than a few times, from the speakers yesterday was how TV production companies or broadcasters could raise awareness of their brands using social networks – and this worries me.  TV has been around for more than 80 years and for most of that time the key to success has been delivering content that people want to watch – NOT trying to convince them that channel X is better than channel Y, or communicate a brand vision for one property or another.  Nor has it been about trying to push brand values, or monetize the relationship with viewers.  If the content is right, viewers will talk about it and share it with their friends, family and social networks, without any prompting or incentive from networks, rights owners or service providers. There will be no need for the ‘social levers’ – that were mentioned by one of the panelists at the Social TV Summit. If a show is good, it’s good. Viewers, in the main, don’t care which channel or network it is on.

How do we know? Because it’s a tried and tested recipe. It has delivered sustainable revenue streams for every part of the TV industry value chain – including the technology companies – for close to a century. Evolutions in both technology and consumer experience have delivered higher programme values [broadcast contracts for major league sports, for example, are at all time highs], strong advertising revenues [the local spot advertising in the US is worth around $5bn per year] and given viewers shows that they love.  It has also given them the opportunity to enjoy the shows on more screens than ever before.

So, why change a successful model in an attempt to make a quick buck off the back of a buzzword?  The current models being discussed for Social TV will, I believe, ultimately break it for everybody.  Viewers don’t want to become commodities – milked for every dollar that the networks can get from them.  They pay for content bundles from their Pay TV operators, they watch adverts wrapping the shows, and they buy merchandize.  And they also use existing social networks [on mobile, tablet or personal computer] to talk about it [or be social] with friends, family and colleagues.  Anything that interferes with their enjoyment of the show – and their social TV experience – will, I fear, be to the detriment of the industry.

If viewers feel that they are being shepherded into using social applications simply because it benefits the networks, operators, advertisers or technology companies, they’ll rebel.  After all, they don’t need any of the new applications the industry is presenting them with – they can – and do – have the same [unconstrained] social TV experience using established social networks like Twitter and Facebook.  If viewers decide that they don’t like the ‘managed’ social TV experience, or feel that their quiet enjoyment is being interfered with, they could choose not to watch broadcast TV at all.  In that scenario everybody loses.

Social TV should be about adding value to the TV viewing experience, not about controlling or monetizing it. If we lose sight of that – as I believe many in the industry are – we stand a very real risk of losing the viewer – and that won’t end well for any of us!

One Reply to “SocialTV – the biggest threat to the future of television?”

  1. You’re absolutely right- TV has always been a social experience.

    The problem with socialTV today is that executives & their teams create products that deprioritize engagement to feature advertising & loyalty to a network. Ideally, what these groups prefer is takeover on-demand ads, a locker of all the ads a user missed during their show & conversations that can be muted 2 clicks deep into the app experience.

    So, most social TV experiences just aren’t social by design. Like mentioned in this article, users are talking & sharing info about TV/Movies already! The whole point of social by design product strategy is to look at what user are doing now, what they want to do in the future and improve the feedback loops between the active user (commentator), passive user (watcher) & network (community managers / characters in Reality TV / writers / actors / actresses/etc.)

    I don’t think Broadcasters need to worry about losing their audience though if their socialTV strategy is failing. Users will just ignore the network & go to Twitter. This is why Twitter has been so successful in filling the gap for broadcast networks. Twitter should really look into embracing that.

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