Illustration: Dionne Gain A screenshot of Fango on the iPad.
A gradual revolution has been taking place in lounge rooms around Australia. No longer do we stare mindlessly at the TV, absorbing whatever emanates from it; we can now interact with programs. Welcome to the new age of ”social TV”.
This is the growing phenomenon of watching a show while engaging with it, or with other viewers in real-time via the internet. Passive viewing is on the way out, and so is yelling at the box when we don’t agree with something. Instead, we can tweet our thoughts back to the show, ”like” it on Facebook (or post comments) and even blog about it in detail.
As many tech-savvy people become inseparable from their tablets and smartphones, this multi-screen behaviour is turning into a daily habit. Already six in 10 Australians with internet access use it while watching TV, according to Nielsen research.
Many shows actively promote their Twitter hashtags – key words that group together feedback on a theme – so viewers can share their thoughts immediately.
ABC’s Q&A, for instance, has generated more than 1 million #qanda tweets since 2009.
TV networks understand the potential and are developing their own social TV apps. This also allows them to conduct free, real-time market research.
”Show-runners are able to find out if the audience actually liked the show while the show airs,” says Leslie Nassar, the founder of TweeVee TV, a Twitter monitoring service for broadcasters used by programs such as Q&A.
Social TV is also drawing viewers back into real-time viewing habits that have been challenged by time-shifting and online piracy.
”With real-time social elements, there is now more incentive for a viewer to watch a show when it airs, which is a huge advantage to their advertisers,” says Mark Ghuneim, the chief executive and founder of New York-based social media tracker Trendrr.
This week the ABC announced an overhaul of iView, the most popular catch-up TV service in Australia with more than 8 million programs replayed in May this year alone.
An iView app, now available for 3G streaming on iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, integrates social and interactive media into traditional viewing habits.
”The free-to-air platform is well placed to embrace the connected world and strengthen its connection with audiences,” the director of ABC TV, Kim Dalton, says. ”We’ve effectively put TV in your pocket.”
Meanwhile, the London Games have provided the perfect entry point for official Olympic broadcasters Foxtel and Channel Nine.
The Games have already been dubbed the ”socialympics”, with organisers expecting more tweets, likes, posts and pics to be shared from London than any other sporting event in history.
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics Twitter had only 6 million users while Facebook had 100 million; today, Twitter has more than 140 million users and Facebook a staggering 900 million.
Nine will use the Games to launch Jump-in, a social TV app for iPad, and later iPhone, Android and Windows Phones. The app will feature social-media integration and an in-built TV guide, with users able to ”check-in” to, and comment on, television shows.
”Jump-in provides a vibrant environment for viewers to engage with shows and the talent. Viewers become active participants rather than passive consumers,” the managing director at ninemsn, Alex Parsons, says.
Channel Seven, which released its Fango app last November, has had a huge head start in the market with more than half a million downloads in the first six months, leaving rivals behind in a cloud of dust. The app allows users to ”check-in” to, and comment on, programs as they watch them, earning badges, points and prizes in the process.
”We want to reward our most loyal fans for engaging in our programs and interacting on social networks,” says Kristin Carlos, the head of TV at Yahoo!7. Because the app is integrated with Facebook, it provides a wealth of information for both the network and its advertisers.
”Fango provides a unique experience for advertisers to engage with consumers live during a TV show,” Carlos says.
The technology offers a way for TV to remain relevant to an increasingly fragmented audience.
Whether or not social media can save TV networks from piracy and time-shifting remains to be seen. The phenomenon is still new, and networks are in experimental mode, but experts say this direction is more than just a trend.
”It’s transformative because it was a natural behaviour that the audience was doing on their own – not because some big company thought it was a product,” Trendrr’s Ghuneim says.
”Social TV will continue to evolve in a way that remakes the entire viewer experience.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.