Why Social Television Will Be Huge

In Robert Putnam’s 2000 best selling book, Bowling Alone, (still a great and gripping look at the then-current thinking) he emerged as first of the pioneers taking note of the consequences of Americans’ depleting social capital since the 1950s. Among other observations, Putnam said that the advent of the radio, television, and internet combined with the abandoning of traditional neighborhoods for two and three acre suburban lots, have caused people to be far less likely to interact in person, increasingly operating in isolation in their homes. Simply put, we are  interacting with electronic devices and looking to TV for some of the human interaction that used to be called–in the best sense of the word–street life.

Loneliness is a trend/affliction that is spreading, leading us to become more attached to our electronic gadgets. Entrepreneurs are taking notice and creating companies to combat loneliness by enabling social communication via new technology tools. Social communication has the potential to be the biggest upheaval  in television broadcast since DVR.

What is Fueling Social Television?

Putnam was clearly on to something in noting that Americans are lonely, granular, adrift. Studies indicate that television CAN decrease the short-term feeling of loneliness. Is it merely coincidental  television consumption is undiminished?  Americans average 5 hours of television-watching a day.  With 24 hours in a day, minus seven for sleeping, nine for work, (it used to be eight of each)  and one more for commuting, that leaves just two hours each day they don’t spend sleeping, working, or watching television! It seems only natural that social television–which is defined as the combination of social interaction, technology and in-coming stimulus carefully calibrated to appeal to the general anomie of 21st century or other video content–would be the next step for Americans who are looking to stave off  loneliness.

Early Signs of Social Television

In my opinion, the writing has been on the wall for some time. Check your Twitter feed during any major television event (i.e. Oscars, Super Bowl) and you’ll see a plethora of tweets and conversations in real time around that television event. More die hard fans of weekly television shows will also tweet in real time with their friends about the show’s events/plot (think ABC’s The Bachelor). These are instances of regular people who naturally combined existing services to accommodate their own needs. The market was prime for a more formal product to combine the two colliding worlds.

Ashton Kutcher has continually attemped to bridge Silicon Valley and Hollywood through his acting, investments, and Katalyst company. During a live west coast broadcast of Two and a Half Men, Kutcher held a live video chat with viewers all over the world. There was a quite astonishing response. And what an exciting opportunity for young fans all over the world to video chat with the star of the show as everyone was watching it? It was a great example of social television and highlighted the possibilities for publishers, viewers, and advertisers.

How will Social Television Affect Marketing and Advertising?

Television still controls the vectors of a pile of advertising dollars. But with more ads being skipped over by DVR, there needs to be a better way for advertisers to get value for their money. Social television is going to add an entirely new element to interactive advertising. Contextual and real time information are going to be a huge part of the power in advertising for social television. New technologies are begging to be created to better facilitate this communication between brand and viewer.  As the tools progress, advertiser’s imaginations will run parallel.

Imagine you’re conversing with your friends about fashion trends showing up in The Bachelor. You mention you really like the brand of shoes the contestant is wearing. In the stream of your conversation comes a message from the shoe brand and a link to buy the shoe.  No more searching; the links come to you.  Discovery is going to be the next frontier for many start-ups, and social TV advertising won’t be a bit different.

We don’t know for sure how social TV is going to evolve. Lots of incipient notions and early-adopters right now. But, still,  no standard. It isn’t a universally-adopted idea yet . This is still tip-of-the-iceberg meandering.  But marketers and advertisers should start planning ahead so that they’ll not miss the boat, not fall behind as so many did with the advent of mobile.

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