Social TV is not just a buzzword

Last week, a tweet complained about the term “Social TV”, saying that it was just the latest buzzword randomly being used for any new TV trend. In this article, I propose that social TV is not just a buzzword, but in fact, it has two distinctly useful definitions. One definition is narrow, and specifically applies to the use of social media for TV shows. The other definition is a more expansive definition that is used to discuss the broad scope of television, its social implications and what TV will be like in the future.


Narrow Definition (or social media for TV shows)


In the narrow use of social TV, viewers utilize social media tools in association with a television show. The purpose of using social media in this scenario, is typically to promote a TV show, generate buzz and, hopefully, in turn acquire more viewers. The word ‘social’ in this definition means tweeting, sharing, liking, commenting and actions on the Internet that have been labelled as social media. TV is of course the abbreviation for television but in this sense we use it to mean TV show.


The majority of the players involved in social TV are competing for viewers’ attention.  It is the classic competition for eyeballs. TV services providers, like Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T, are using social TV to acquire and retain subscribers. TV networks, like NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, are involved in the creation and distribution of programming and their goal is to make the show popular. Social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, provide interactions around TV shows to generate traffic. Content based websites, like Yahoo!, Hulu, Netflix or fan sites use social TV to generate Internet traffic, which in turn displays more ads. Companies like Trendrr, Nielsen, Blue Fin Labs measure the number of tweets, discussions, shares, comments etc. that a show generates.


The outliers in this discussion are the manufacturers of television sets and over the top devices like Boxee or Samsung. This group builds in social TV functionality as part of the product feature set to make the device a more compelling purchase. So their objectives are not so much about viewer attention, as they are simply trying to sell more product. As an aside, this fall’s Xbox release might push that device into the TV provider category.


This social media-based definition is important because it allows us to create strategies, develop tactics, design products and measure interactions. The success or potential failure of a TV show might be able to be predicted by measuring the use of related social media. We might also be able to predict the longevity of a show or potential DVD or download sales. A specific, narrow definition around social media provides a framework for measuring the performance of the social TV ecosystem.


Expansive Definition (or TV is social)


The more expansive use of social TV is used to discuss how television is changing. ‘TV’ is an abbreviation for television, and in this sense, it is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images.  It is typically accompanied by sound.  The word ‘social’ means the human interaction of individuals and groups. Therefore, on face value, social TV could be any video that involves people interacting with each other. Today, watching television is not the social activity it once was – the family sitting around an expensive box of tubes. Kids today ask if they can watch TV and are handed an iPad which might be playing a Youtube video. Folks tweeting about this concept often use the following hashtags: #socialtv, #futuretv, #secondscreen, #IPTV, #gamification, #socialmedia, #smartTV.


In general, the more expansive discussion involves the same industry groups, however, the discussion is more applicable to understanding the future direction of the television experience. In addition, academics, technologists, and futurists are engaged in helping to outline television and its place in society.


This definition is useful for projecting what’s next for the television. Application developers, manufacturers and TV service providers have a business necessity to look to the future of what television is, and how people use it. Businesses need to plan for the next investment effort. This more expansive definition allows for strategic analysis rather than tactical implementations of social media for TV shows.


The purpose of this article is to point out that there are two distinctly different uses of the term ‘social TV’ and that it is more than just a buzzword. Maybe a clearer definition of the term will lead the industry to create more delightful products for the end user, whether that is a software application, television program or a means to tune-in.



Be sure to check out The Social TV Event on October 20th.