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August 30, 2013

Television, Socially Speaking

Posted by Vaibhav Bakre (View Profile | View All Posts) at 7:44 AM

Mobile Phone-TV Convergence at CES Brings Web to Sets [Source:BeetTV http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Vd0f_Sg3t8]

It turns out that the passive beings who once sat in front of television sets have evolved into a new species. It's a group that has become very social and proactive. So much so that "what" they're doing while watching TV is on the verge of influencing programming in real time.

Credit the smart phones and tablets for this convergence of digital activity. Television sets might be getting larger, but smart devices are all about convenience, especially when someone is sitting and watching the larger TV screen. Viewers can text friends and use social media to discuss the minutia surrounding the latest contestant to be voted off a reality show.

And by programming, I mean entertainment as well as advertising. The latter is the sweet spot. TV ads have until now existed much like newspapers adverts of old: Saturate the marketplace with a message and hope that the more desirable demographics (adults with disposable incomes) are watching the commercial in question. There was never an ability to target ads short of knowing that certain types of people watched soap operas and other types preferred the network news each evening.

It turns out that all of our tweeting and emailing during the airing of television programming is a boon to advertisers. That's because they can use the live data feeds to adjust and optimize TV content and the ads that support it. According to a recent report, some 40 percent of Americans are plugged into social media as they watch television. The seemingly unquenchable need to be heard - no matter how trivial the subject matter - is driving the convergence between social media and television.

One of the most fascinating examples of the social television phenomenon is a low-budget, made-for-TV movie called "Sharknado." The storyline goes something like this: A storm over the city of Los Angeles brings with it thousands of angry, man-eating sharks. During any other era, the assumption would be that this goofy movie might get a small cult following of teenagers or sci-fi geeks. But within minutes of airing, Sharknado became one of the most tweeted and discussed television programs over social media ... ever. A-list celebrities were feverishly sending comments over social media about just how loony the movie was, which in turn spurred more viewers. By the end of the two-hour airing, the show was one of the most watched of the year. A sequel is already in the works. The movie proved that it's not what the TV network airs so much as what people are saying about it. Remember the line that any publicity is good publicity? The same goes for social television - even if it's downright nonsensical, rest assured you'll get millions of viewers pointing that fact out.

Where the application of social TV gets really interesting is sports-entertainment programming. By that I mean professional wrestling. Bear with me if pro wrestling doesn't appeal to you. I bring it up because the way it utilizes social television convergence is a model that other entities will eventually follow.

This genre is consistently at the top of the most tweeted show category each week. Fans of the staged wrestling bouts send massive amounts of comments over social media. Those comments can (at least that's what we suspect) influence the outcome of the choreographed matches between the good guys and villains. For advertisers, the convergence is a bonanza because they can deduce what kind of viewer is commenting on the wrestling matches and then pinpoint their marketing messages accordingly.

In fact, Twitter is reportedly telling advertisers that they can use the social media tool as a way to continue their brand messaging when the TV commercial is over and the television set has been turned off for the night. Twitter feeds can continue indefinitely.

The next step in this convergence is for the hardware to catch up. Some big name companies are already discussing their plans for social television platforms. Why place a tablet in your lap and sit in front of a large TV screen when you can watch it (and interact with it) all on one device? My personal prediction is that social TV convergence will reach new heights with wearable computing platforms. When that happens, we'll be the producers, directors, and stars of our own television shows.

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