This work is a summary of "Innovation at the Edge: Social TV and Beyond," by Natalie Klym and Marie Jose Montpetit, MIT Communications Futures Program, September 1, 2008, link to the original paper.
The transition is happening. Convergence is inevitable. At least I think so.
How much longer will it be (or can we handle) until we move from our passive, numbing, anti-social, traditional TV screens to a more connected and shared, interactive TV space with family, friends, and communities?
Not long. There’s too much of a need for this change.
A full 57 percent of US Internet users reported browsing the Internet and watching the TV simultaneously, according to Neilson Ratings (PDF). On average, Americans spent about 2 hours and 39 minutes per month doing these activities together, with almost a third of their Internet time being spent in front of the TV. “This simultaneous activity is one reason we see continued growth of both Internet and TV consumption,” wrote Nielsen.
What does that mean?
Are people really paying enough attention to both the Internet and the TV to be able to remember what they see? Probably not. But it can be easily deduced, they are yearning for some kind of union of the two mediums.
In the last few years, TV viewers have seen a rise of new systems for delivering TV content to audiences, including digital, IP, and wireless networks and these systems are brushing aside and are considered emerging alternatives to the traditional analogue platforms of Over-the-air programming, cable, and satellite. What are the implications of this new technology and how will this all play out in creating TV 2.0?
There is no certainty of course, who will be the social media superstar of TV 2.0… The Facebook or Twitter of TV, or if even that will occur in the TV space in the foreseeable future. Convergence may just take the form of existing, popular social media sites will make their mark as leaders in the TV space.
The implications are enormous – not just in terms of the convergence of web based social media and TV, but also will likely revolutionise TV revenue models with the introduction of tCommerce, also known as tRetail and Transactional TV.
The most important thrust of these technological developments is the rapid increase and selection of end user devices that connect to these platforms—and each other—including set-top boxes, Digital Video Recorders, PCs, and portable media like mobile phones and PDAs.
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These devices comprise a dynamic part of the value chain for all new TV systems. Devices integrate multiple content and value-added services and their respective value chains into the TV ecosystem, expanding its boundaries and creating new opportunities for both network operators and non-network players (3PD developers) to create and capture value while dramatically changing the TV experience for consumers and creating a long tail scenario, somewhat like iPhone has done for the mobile market with its App Store or other Open API scenarios on the web such as Facebook and Twitter.
Social TV is now looked as an emerging category of interactive television services.
Currently most Social TV applications are focussed on either integrating Internet widgets into the traditional viewing experience or creating new, TV and web-based, independent communities which centre on peer recommendations (what are my friends watching right now? what are their “favourites”?), the possibility of tCommerce, and chat, message and gift sending.
Due to the recent rise of web-based social networks, and the rise of community video sites online, such as Facebook and its many clones, the lack of similar offerings on TV has resulted in a massive shift from TV to PCs and even mobile and PDAs, where users can experience and share video and customize their user experience with items such as “widgets”.
Just as the VCR created a new retail channel for the TV, giving it its first non-broadcast function, the DVR and other emerging set-top-boxes, increasingly connected to the Internet, have also come to serve as an “inbound channel” for online services.
TiVo for example, one of the earliest players in this space and a is a pioneer of the digital video recorder (DVR) can be programmed remotely through Yahoo! TV, integrating Yahoo’s Web program listings into the system… but a more significant feature is its ability to connect and to select Web content sites such as YouTube… which can then be watched on TV. More recently, TiVo has integrated other Web-based media services like Amazon Unbox, Music Choice Videos and even Rhapsody’s music service.
Tivo’s Web video services are one solution to bridging the gap between online content and the TV but it’s not widely used in Europe and is relatively limited to the US market. Though it is now available in Canada, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, and the UK – it has not been very successful in these markets. Europe in particular is flush with scores of competitors in the DVR market which makes any kind of consolidation or move to a general standard for social TV in this sector unlikely.
While the social element of TV is not new, the term social TV is relatively new and used to describe a new breed of TV services that integrate other communication services like voice, chat, context awareness, peer ratings and integration with Social Media on the web, to support an active TV experience rather than a passive one.
Social TV stems from two trends that are linked closely to the TV experience… social interaction and personalization.
TV, once a social experience, akin too and not long after families’ gathered around the hearth (Marshall McLuhan), listening to the radio or talking, was transformed in the latter part of the last century to a solo and less group oriented experience as more families enjoyed more TV’s and different preferences split families up in their own houses. We have been living in an era of anti-social TV for decades.
But the shared TV experience is now returning, as social TV. And the typical ‘family room’ is being replaced by online virtual communities accessed through personal devices.
The social TV experience has its roots online and many emerging online video services like Joost, Youtube and Hulu integrate social networking features like program ratings, “favorites” lists, discussion forums, and multi-user chat sessions directly into their offerings.
Meanwhile, Web-based social networks like Facebook and MySpace have begun embedding video applications into their sites, thereby becoming video distribution platforms in their own right, where viewing is, by definition, a social experience.
In addition to getting movie and TV recommendations from their peers, subscribers to these social networks can now stream selected content on a personal page for a shared viewing experience with visitors and “friends.” In this way, video-oriented social networks essentially become “virtual operators,” servicing the user and their group of friends.
While enhancing the user experience by making it more relevant, this also creates tremendous opportunity for targeted advertising, and the ad industry is taking note. Facebook has changed the way we look at advertising.
Social TV would take targeting to a new level.
Social features in gaming have also risen… now gamers are comfortable with connecting to friends or meet new people using various 3PD or built-in applications. These developments in gaming are certain to influence user expectations vis-a-vis the TV experience, especially as gaming becomes more integrated with TV viewing.
Social TV offerings, today, are on many operators’ roadmaps.
Online, sites like Facebook, Youtube and MySpace have been complementing TV operator services with movie recommendations for the last few years, but not very tightly.
Personalization is also driving the inclusion of Web 2.0 services, future Social TV users will be able to download widgets providing anything from weather forecasts and traffic reports to health care information to two-way video conferencing, or ratings and real-time commentary on programs, to complement and customize their TV experience.
Bridging Web 2.0 applications and widgets across all viewing devices stimulates the cross-development of applications that will encourage a more novel approach video consumption.
Note that a recent high profile Social TV launch did fail in their attempt: “Fox’s Twitter TV Experiment Tweets Its Way to Epic Failure” when users were driven off and annoyed at the intrusion of the Twitter-based babble taking up precious on-screen real-estate.
According to what was being exhibited at IBC 2009, the world’s largest broadcasting event, it appears there is a race to build the dominant Social TV middleware.
Middleware is the set of functionalities that enable the acquisition of content, its conditioning and formatting, its delivery to and rendering on the user end device. However, leaders in this space all were all offering partner SDK’s and some API’s in order to create diversity in the device ecosystem as well as stimulating innovation by third party application developers. Middleware can support interfaces beyond the operator-provided content itself to include portals, provide conditional access and authentication across content types and have unfettered access to the Internet.
Middleware can also control and define the built-in or operator provider functionality of the rendering device (i.e., the “screen”), and can determine the state of the set-top box via APIs to the provisioning system.
Middleware is driving the development of social TV through SDKs (software development kits) and open APIs that personalize the TV experience by supporting multiple devices as well as third-party applications.
In the Open Source space, such as the OCAP (OpenCable Application Platform, recently rebranded as tru2way) and the telcos’ Open IPTV Forum, for example, are opening the set-top box to 3rd party developers who provide the social functions/applications, the same way Google’s Android open platform seeks to open up the cell phone to all networks and application developers.
Ideally creating a single open source standard for the Social TV space is the optimal solution. Not only to fuel innovation and creativity as Open Source does so well, but also provide long tail revenue models throughout the system.
Thanks to many sources online for research, particularly this paper from MIT.
Richard Kastelein, a social media strategist and publisher, is CEO of new startup, Agora Media Group LLC (link), a new creative and innovation agency based in London, UK. Kastelein has been building online communities for over a decade and is an Open Source evangelist. He’s an adept team player – a publisher, writer, photographer, marketing director, web developer and graphic designer with more than 20 years experience in the development and operation of newspapers, magazines, web media and marketing of multinational, companies in international settings.
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