The Rise of Social TV

June 18, 2013 Paul Van Winssen

Social TV has become one of the most talked about topics in social media over the last year. For those unfamiliar, social TV examines technologies that encourage social interaction and communication surrounding television and program content. It’s a simple concept; you see something happen on television and want to share it with your online community. But over the past year social TV has exploded into a phenomenon that has the attention of just about every TV exec, social technology company, and brand marketer around.

Second Screen & The Rise of Social TV

Over the past year, the social TV movement has completely transformed the television watching experience. The main factor behind this revolution is the adoption of second screen technology, which is the use of an additional screen (often a tablet or smartphone) to interact with others and with what you’re consuming on television. 86% of viewers currently use their smartphone while watching television, and these startling numbers have enabled Social TV to take off. In 2012 there were over 874 million social media comments surrounding TV telecasts, up from 189 million in 2011, a 363% increase. Nielsen and Twitter have even teamed up to deliver Social Twitter TV ratings by which to measure television programs and compare to traditional TV ratings.

Live TV Dominates The Conversation

Although social chatter around television in general is creating a new and immersive viewing experience, it is live TV (rather than scripted programming) that has fueled the movement. The poster boy for this has been the Super Bowl, which in 2013 garnered over 52 million social media mentions during the live event. This was helped along by a competitive game, a half-time performance by one of the world’s biggest stars, and a very unlikely 34-minute power outage; however, the numbers still eclipsed the 2012 mentions 3 times over. The Grammy’s, 2012 Presidential Election, and London Olympics are other examples of live events with massive online audience interaction over the past year.

Networks Adapt For A Social TV World

While they can’t match live events in terms of sheer numbers, scripted programs have also been impacted greatly by social TV, and the marketing departments for programs and networks are continuously looking for new ways to engage their online audience before, during, and after programming. A great example of this is the HBO Series Game of Thrones (disclosure: I’m a huge fan). The show has over 6 million fans on Facebook, over 800,000 followers on Twitter, and is constantly pushing the social TV envelope. They provide intriguing call to actions and reward dedicated fans with not only retweets and giveaways, but fan comments in trailers and promotional spots on the network. The show’s second last episode of season 3 has dominated the social media sphere, setting scripted show records for online mentions and boasting episode reaction videos with millions of views.

Along with scripted shows, reality television has great examples of how networks are harnessing the power of Social TV. NBC’s hit show The Voice was one of the first and most aggressive shows to integrate Twitter voting, and is now seen as a Gold Standard in Social TV. Fox’s American Idol is now allowing viewers to help determine contestant song choices. The unscripted nature of reality programming allows networks to give viewers the power to affect events on screen. This level of interaction provides viewers with more potential touch points to the show and maintains their attention throughout the duration program.

Twitter is Social TV’s King (For Now)

The push towards social TV has moved beyond only television networks adapting their programming, as the social networks that are the mediums for this movement are also paying close attention. Twitter was the first network on the Social TV scene and is still by far the most prominent player. Twitter is a medium optimally built for Social TV. It encourages quick, frequent, real-time interaction on its network, which is perfect for viewers to react to programming as events occur (Live TV) or the plot develops (scripted programming). Twitter proved they were serious about Social TV by acquiring BlueFin Labs in 2012; an analytics firm focused on the measurement of social media conversations about TV.

However, Facebook has a part to play in Social TV as well, and shouldn’t be counted out of the game just yet. Because Facebook has such a strong ecosystem, it allows TV networks and programs to build something truly engaging for their fans. Facebook brand pages can display impressive visual content and Apps & Tabs within pages (as well as other apps plugged into Facebook) provide additional touch-points for viewers. These features (along with the strength of Facebook’s network) enables them to be the key player before, after, and in between programming as they can deliver a more complete viewer experience.

How Can Brands Play a Role?

As the Social TV movement progresses, we’ll continue to see networks optimize their programming to create an ecosystem of online and offline audience engagement. Social mediums will make a further commitment to provide better experiences for end users.

And how can brands play a role? Be sure to look for my next article discussing how brands can blend traditional creative with digital to create integrated social TV campaigns that engage their viewers on all screens.

About the Author

Paul is a social media marketer and startup enthusiast based in Toronto, Canada. He likes to traverse both the tech startup and marketing agency worlds (and everything in between). Paul divides his time equally between tech events and Blue Jays games.

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