Social television

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Social television is a general term for technology that supports communication and social interaction in either the context of watching television, or related to TV content. It also includes the study of television-related social behavior, devices and networks. Social television systems can for example integrate voice communication, text chat, presence and context awareness, TV recommendations, ratings, or video-conferencing with the TV content either directly on the screen or by using ancillary devices. Social television is very active area of research and development that is also generating new services as TV operators and content producers are looking for new sources of revenue. While a number of existing social television systems are still at a conceptual stage, or exist as lab prototypes, beta or pilot versions are available commercially. White-labeled social TV platforms have also emerged (such as Visiware's PlayAlong, LiveHive Systems and Ex Machina's PlayToTV) which allow TV networks and operators to offer branded social TV applications. On the ratings front, companies have emerged to measure the social media activities tied to specific TV telecasts.[1] In essence, these new companies seek to serve as the Nielsen Ratings of the social televisions space.

Social TV was named one of the 10 most important emerging technologies by the MIT Technology Review on Social TV[2] in 2010. In 2011 the Technology Review followed up by publishing a cover story focused on the emergence of Social TV analytics and its applications in the TV advertising industry.

And in 2011, David Rowan, the editor of Wired magazine,[3] named Social TV at number three of six in his peek into 2011 and what tech trends to expect to get traction. Ynon Kreiz, CEO of the Endemol Group told a packed crowd at the Digital Life Design (DLD) conference in January 2011: "Everyone says that social television will be big. I think it’s not going to be big — it’s going to be huge".[4]


The concept of socializing around TV content is not new. But social TV is creating the cyber-living-room and cyber-bar to enable increased interactivity around shared programming both live and time-shifted. In an attempt to recapture the social aspects of television lost since the advent of multiple-screen households, which discourage gatherings to watch television together, social television aims to connect viewers with their friends and families even when they are not watching the same screen. As a concept, social television is not linked to a specific architecture such as cable television, IPTV, peer-to-peer delivery, or internet television (over the top or OTT). Nor is it necessarily limited to a traditional television screen, but could also be presented on a computer or handheld device such as a cell phone, tablet computer or netbook.

Social TV started in the early 2000s with limited success as the creation of the shared connections was cumbersome with a remote control and the User Interface (UI) design made the interaction disruptive to the TV experience. But social networking has made social TV suddenly feasible, since it already encourages constant connection between members of the network and the creation of likely minded groups. The shared content and activities often relate to TV content. At the same time, the smartphone market has been growing quickly. 86% of Americans already use their phones while watching TV. A recent AC Nielsen survey also revealed that 33% of consumers regularly use mobile apps while watching TV.[5]

The tandem growth of smartphones and social media has paved the way for the social TV market to take off; multiple startups have recently appeared in the field. According to a Parks Associates Industry Report,[6] over one-fourth of users ages 18–24 are interested in having more social features integrated into their TV-experience. The most desired social experience was in multiplayer games, though a close second was to chat with others who were watching the same program. Generation Y, those currently 18–33 years old, have been found[7] to actually access the internet more often than they watch television. The same research shows that 42% of the members of this generation access an Internet video at least monthly. And the industry is taking note: popular video sites are now more and more allowing viewers to interact.

Visiware was the first company to create an application that allowed TV viewers to actively participate in a TV Show as it was broadcasting, via Internet. As of May 2010, the first concept of PlayAlong was created. In October 2010, German TV channel ZDF was the first to adapt PlayAlong for one of its TV shows: Rette die Million! (based on Endemol’s The Million Pound Drop Live). United States, France, Spain, Netherlands and Hungary also launched PlayAlong as about 10 other countries by the end of 2011.

The main research areas include the creation of a simple user experience across multiple platforms that encompasses aspects of development platforms, devices and networks. Also necessary are easy ways to filter casual acquaintances their social network from "real" friends or affinity circle members, with whom an individual would actually want to share thoughts or comments in a more private environment. Also because of the multiplicity of platforms recent work has also addressed the networking fundamentals behind social TV. The MIT Media Lab has held a graduate class on social TV since 2009. In 2012, faculty at the Wharton School of Business launched a Social TV Lab to study the link between what is said on television and what is shared simultaneously with the public on social media about shows and advertisements. Other research organizations active in social TV include British Telecom, Motorola Research and Microsoft Research.


Certain industry-sponsored research studies suggest that TV audiences are seeking to increasingly "socialise" their viewing experience through ad-hoc use of existing social media channels. Research from Australian media partnership Yahoo!7 surveyed more than 7000 Australians and found that 41% of people reported posting on Facebook while watching TV, and 25% had watched a TV show based on a recommendation from a friend via a social networking site. The research also found that 90% of Australians prefer to watch TV on traditional TV sets.[8][9]

Television shows with social integration[edit]

Here are some examples of how TV executives are integrating social elements with TV shows:

  • BBC current affairs series Free Speech incorporates a Twitter based panelist approval platform called the Power Bar.[10] Viewers are able to tweet-in their approval or disapproval of the panelist's comments.
  • BBC series 'Up for Hire' incorporated social media content from television viewers into a massive in-studio display.[11] Viewers could get their comments on TV and the hosts would interact with the content.
  • ZDF's Rette die Million! allows TV viewers to play and answer the same questions as they appear on TV during the whole two hours show.[12]
  • Comedy Central’s inaugural Comedy Awards used a Promoted Trend and a Twitter hashtag in the corner of the broadcast for the full two hours of the show.[13]
  • Bones added a hashtag on-screen in April 2011 [13]
  • Breaking In added a hashtag on-screen in April 2011[13]
  • C-SPAN streamed tweets from US Senators and Representatives during the quorum call [14]
  • Top Gear has an integrated Facebook branded page and has integrated Facebook into its website. After each episode ends, Top Gear posts clips of the last episode on Facebook.[15]
  • American Idol is piloting a programme where users can login with Facebook and vote for their favourite candidate for free.[15]
  • The Voice had the judges of the program tweet during the show and the posts scrolls on the bottom of the screen. The use of Twitter also led to an increase in viewers.[16]
  • "Glee" Entertainment Weekly created a second screen viewing platform for the Glee season 3 premiere.[17]
  • "Psych" USA Network created a scripted social network where fans could interact with Sean and Gus.[18]
  • The Fango mobile app from Australian media outlet Yahoo!7 allows fans to "check-in" to shows, providing access to extended features, real-time discussions and integration with existing social networking sites. Around 100 thousand fans checked in during live TV coverage of the Australian Open, with many posing questions to commentator Jim Courier via the app's "Open Mic" feature.[8]
  • BuzMuzik is a social music channel from CSC Media Group. Available on Sky and Freesat. It launched in June 2012. The channel plays music BuzMuzik is the first ever social media music channel where viewers are completely in control of the music played and can interact with the channel and other viewers by using Text, Twitter and Facebook to get their photos, messages and shout outs up on TV.[19]

Related publications[edit]

  • Heiko A. S. Johannsen. "Exploring the Relationship Between Engagement and Loyalty in the Context of Social TV: A German Television Show’s use of Social Media Interactions" - April 2012:
  • Erika Jonietz. "Making TV Social, Virtually" MIT Technology Review. (January 11, 2010) [20]
  • InteractiveTV - News about the evolution of social TV as it emerges on interactive multiplatform television. Founded in 1998.
  • 2BeOn (Abreu, Almeida, Branco) – 2001
  • Reality Instant Messenger (Chuah) – 2002
  • Reflexion (Cullinan, Agamanolis) – 2002
  • TV Cabo Interactiva (Quico) – 2003
  • AmigoTV (Alcatel-Lucent; Coppens et al.) – 2004
  • Social software for set-top boxes (Coates) – 2005
  • Lora Oehlberg, Nicolas Ducheneaut, James D. Thornton, Robert J. Moore, Eric Nickell. Social TV: Designing for distributed, sociable television viewing. In Proc. of EuroITV (Athens, Greece, May 2006).
  • Social TV: Designing for Distributed, Sociable Television Viewing (Xerox PARC; Oehlberg, Ducheneaut, Thornton, Moore, Nickell) - 2006
  • CollaboraTV: Using Asynchronous Communication to Make Television Social Again. (AT&T Labs-Research; Harrson, Amento) - 2007
  • ConnecTV: Share the Experience (TNO ICT; Boertjes) - 2007
  • AMUSE: Mobile TV becomes Social - Integrating Content with Communications (ftw.; Schatz) - 2007
  • Ambient Social TV: Drawing People into a Shared Experience. (Motorola Labs; Harboe et al.) – 2008
  • Facebook meets TV (MIT Media Lab, Baca and Holtzman) - 2008
  • Nextream (MIT Media Lab, Martin et al.) - 2010[21]
  • Netstairs – Social Networking Live[22]
  • Social Interactive Television: Immersive Shared Experiences and Perspectives (P. Cesar, D. Geerts, and K. Chorianopoulos (eds.)) - 2009[23]
  • Social TV and the Emergence of Interactive TV - Multimedia Research Group - November 2010[24]


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