The past few weeks were huge for social TV. First, Twitter announced plans to acquire Bluefin Labs, an analytics company that will help them develop a standardized way of measuring social interactivity with television content. Second, the Super Bowl (or the Beyoncé concert) was the biggest social event of 2013. The musical performances, commercials, and unintended blackout spawned a record setting 52 million social exchanges on Twitter. And then came the second largest social event of the year – the Grammys. The best stats: 15.4 million social interactions, last year was bigger, and people HATE Chris Brown.

Social TV recreates the original intent of television, bringing people together. The cool part is, we are no longer limited to just interacting with the people in our immediate vicinity. Now we can engage with people from all over the world using our mobile devices and social.

My friend and I decided to live-tweet the Grammys from a viewing party. Soon, everyone at the party started contributing quippy remarks for us to tweet, a couple joined in the tweeting, friends from Houston and New York jumped in as well – we could have been a commercial for social TV. Despite being separated by hundreds of miles, we were all cheering for Kelly Clarkson, making fun of Rihanna’s distracting fingernails, and commenting on commercials – together.

Then something went TERRIBLY AWRY.

Another friend showed up at the party… with pizza. We paused the show and put down our iPhones and iPads to chat and eat. Once we finished, we were out of sync with the rest of the world. Twitter and Facebook, once a virtual playground for our friends across the country to interact with each other, was now a minefield of spoilers. We fast-forwarded through commercials, no longer laughing at the #cbscares PSA (to check for testicular cancer on Valentine’s Day) or nodding in tacit approval of the 2014 Chevy Stingray. In fact, the more we engaged in social media, the more frustrated we became. Pizza was all it took to completely derail our social TV Twitter party experience.

The social perils of a fragmented audience

It quickly became apparent that by falling out of sync, the experience would not be the same, but this isn’t unique to just the Grammys show. Lag generated by time zones, streaming services like Hulu, and DVRs thwart any live programming – whether it be awards, sporting events, or the news. This became readily apparent in the United States last summer during the Olympics. Because of delayed broadcasting, Americans could not partake in the social experience consequen in spoiled results and generating general annoyance with NBC.

On the other hand, when brands, networks, and agencies are too timely, the social formula also breaks down.  On Tuesday, the White House tweeted President Obama’s State of the Union in real-time. In some instances, quotes would post to the twitter-verse before he even finished his sentence. It didn’t take more than 10 minutes for people to begin tweeting their discontent. Shel Israel, author and strategist, said,

“Before social media, we shouted at our TV sets.”

Today, instead of shouting at the television, people are angrily (or in other cases, excitedly) typing out messages in their social networks, making their voices far louder than ever before.

Entertainers: Keep media and conversations in sync

Brands have a huge opportunity to improve technology.  As smart televisions continue to grow in popularity, the technology must improve to a more integrated, and intuitive, interface. Allowing people to sync their mobile devices with their social networks (via their television) unlocks many possibilities for better user experience and brand engagement.

To remedy the Grammy party problem,  as we paused, fast forwarded, and rewound, my Twitter timeline could’ve moved right along with it. What if I only saw tweets from the timestamp of the point in the program I was watching? When TVs can connect interact wirelessly with tablets and smartphones, entertainment brands could easily sync conversations to specific points in the program. SmartTVs might even display synced tweets or send alerts when friends pause the shows right on screen.

Twitter and Facebook (in combination with the second screen viewing experience) are changing the way we interact with television content, so the technology should follow suit. To generate more engagement, smart tv interfaces could show viewers where their friends are in the program or allow people to connect with their friends and send alerts when they’ve paused the programming. This would allow people to engage in recorded programs together by linking them together.

In addition for technology to allow for connectivity with our social networks, there is also a huge opportunity to engage people with more information. Another distracting element of the social tv experience is the heightened amount of information being pushed out to people. Brands could enable you buy or add to cart items that people are wearing or using or as in the instance of the SOTU, send links to articles and additional information – who was that 102-year old woman who wait six hours to vote, what are these tech manufacturing hubs and what are they making? Things are moving so fast- listening to content, engaging in social networks, and shopping for products and researching stories is impossible- make it easier.

As technology evolves, television content lends itself to be more social, we become more dependent on our mobile devices, and CMOs pour billions into social TV campaigns, it’s inevitable that social TV will become a bigger part of our viewing experience. For now, I think there are huge opportunities in making social TV more enjoyable for an audience that is never captive. Even if people aren’t tweeting along live at Super Bowl or Grammys parties, they’re sharing YouTube clips, playing video games online, engaging with Carson Daly on The Voice, and sharing their HBO GO passwords so they can discuss Girls…together.

The concept of social TV will pick up and become obvious to the mainstream. As it becomes better suited to our needs, it will be embedded in our lives and we’ll question how we ever lived without it. Until then, pizza wins.

  • http://www.facebook.com/emanuela.zaccone Emanuela Zaccone

    Hi Michael,
    you’re right: out-of-sync and spoilers can really make watching experience awful.
    I know I am a little biased while telling this, but TOK.tv can help.
    TOK.tv released the first voice enabled second screen apps (TOK Baseball, TOK Football and TOK for Oscars): you don’t need to write, you can just talk to your friends even if they live far away (and you can have pizza without worrying for not being able to use the touchscreen while eating!).
    Moreover, TOK.tv lets you sync your device with friends’ ones, so that you won’t have spoilers.
    By the way, pizza always wins. And – just for the record- TOK.tv apps include a”burp” sound (can be appropriate in these cases).