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Social TV – the future is here

Integrating social media content with TV as well as advertising that enable viewers to interact with other viewers as well as the televised programme itself is probably the most exciting development in media and marketing today.

It is undoubtedly game changing and has transformed viewer experience. Instead of a passive role, viewers in shows such as Indian/American/ Idol, Glass House, and Dancing with the Stars are now empowered and play a critical role in shaping the programme itself. Similarly, news channels around the globe proactively promote and encourage direct viewer participation through social media channels that are often telecast on air. This is more prevalent in societies where there is a competitive media landscape and an opinionated audience such as India, the US as well as Italy, to name a few.

This development, however, did not stem from altruism or innovation rather competitive compulsion aimed at retaining the attention of the audience. Most viewers, especially the millennium generation and other younger viewers are adept at multi-tasking and often watch a programme while using a second or even third screen that have become ubiquitous with the influx of tablets and smart phones in almost every home. A recent Viacom survey found that Social TV viewers engage in up to seven different types of social TV activities, with 85% watching TV with others, and 56% using social media applications to interact online during broadcasts. Simply put, consumer behaviour has changed.

The question is how does this impact upon programme makers, delivery channels as well as advertisers? An obvious first question for advertisers, for instance, is whether it is better to advertise on the first screen (TV), second screen (digital devices), or both?

A recent study focused on real-time social media responses to social TV strategies, including the placement of on-air hashtags and tweets. When specific tweets are posted on air, viewers are more likely to discuss those tweets than messages created by the same online social media users if not posted on air. As a result, on air tweets with additional information from social media channels result in more engagement than general on-air hashtag posts.

No wonder then clever advertisers are getting in on the act and ensuring that their commercials are not only a one way communication through one screen but a multi-channel interactive effort that , for example, encourage viewers to play games with other consumers or contribute their own brand-specific content to YouTube. In some cases, they even make their target customers a part of the marketing effort by involving them in packaging or product decisions.

It has been a long time since we have been as excited about a specific application domain as we are about Social TV because it is unique and the potential is mindboggling. It enables organisations to generate new insights on how influence and information spread on online social networks with real time feedback and often with large sample sizes. And the opportunities are limitless especially with the proliferation of data and improved cognitive interpretation computing but so are the challenges.

Although a simple concept – Social TV is a complex phenomenon that would make it challenging for researchers and strategic planners to predict business outcomes. In fact, the next difficult step would be to build models and appropriate Business Analytics tools that can capture and analyse data from tv, social networks, text data, and time. On the programming side too, this could be revolutionary. Although many news channels already develop programmes based on interaction on social sphere – a time will soon come where much of TV content could become totally user generated and the broadcaster that curates user content across platforms best would be the winner.

This is going to be an exciting ride.

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