Social TV & the Back channel

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People have always connected over common experiences; it creates communities. Sporting events, product launches and TV shows are all important Social Artefacts, and are a part of many communities’ shared experience. State of Origin, Lost, the iPad launch are all examples of public events that form a focus for interaction for many different groups. A lot of this activity is now happening online, through fan pages, hashtags, forums and general conversation.

A lot of people watch TV and discuss it with others watching the same things. Online Back channel conversations around TV shows, live events, launches and sport are more visible than before, thanks to platforms like Twitter and Facebook, adding an interactive social dimension to an otherwise passive experience. This behaviour is not new, but it used to be confined to narrow interest groups in their own online communities, with little visibility to those who are not already directly engaged.

TV’s place as a standalone source of entertainment and information has diminished over the last decade. The proliferation of mobile Internet-capable devices such as laptops, netbooks and smartphones have made it easy to consume content and interact with others while watching TV. This behaviour will probably become even more prominent in future, especially with products like Google TV.

There is a very interesting section in the Google TV Developers area:

  • Remember that TV is social.
    • Consider how groups might use your website or application.
    • Offer ways for individuals to use your site or apps in social settings.

Integrating the Back channel conversations around the content, and making it more visible than even Twitter’s hashtags will enhance the experience for the average user. With most social networks supporting cross-posting, posting out to the user’s Twitter and Facebook feeds from the TV based app, even a message as simple as “/me is watching Show” would be an effective form of social proof for the show exposed to the user’s friends. Similar tools are already being used by games.

Once a best practice has been established for TV as a platform, in terms of interface and hardware useability, this may be the killer app that keeps TV in the living room, and not just for consoles, media boxes, or Blu-Ray players.

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