The New Era of Social TV

Oct 25, 2012

Social TV is on fire. Social media behaviors related to prime time TV viewing surged 194% between April 2011 and the same month this year according to recent data from Trendrr, the social-media monitoring firm. Yet Social TV is not entirely new. The phenomenon first emerged a little over two years ago when hashtag usage reached critical mass on Twitter and the company introduced "Trending Topics" on its front page.

But the main reason Social TV took off in 2012 the widespread penetration of smartphone technology. Nielsen now estimates that smartphone adoption in the U.S. has reached over half of the mobile phone population. Moreover, according to research from app developer Flurry, the U.S. population is far from being alone in its mass adoption of these devices.

Research suggests that mobile digital technology inherently paves the way for the convergence of social networking behaviors and TV watching. In fact Nielsen has found that 68% of smartphone owners and 70% of tablet owners use their mobile devices while watching TV. Similarly, the Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson found that 67% of consumers use tablets, smartphones or laptops in their everyday TV viewing, both for video consumption and to engage in social media activities. Most importantly, Ericsson found that 62% of consumers use social media while engaged in TV viewing.

The tremendous opportunity that the Social TV explosion represents has not been lost on the investment community. Investment research firm MarketsandMarkets recently valued the Social TV business at $151 billion and estimates that it will become a $256 billion market by 2017. Already dozens of startups are flooding the space to capitalize on the opportunity (GetGlue, Viggle, Shazam, IntoNow and Miso are just a few of the more popular Social TV engagement platforms available).

However, marketers have long feared that continuous engagement with social communities via mobile devices would distract consumers from TV content. The good news is that, far from being a distraction for consumers, social media usage in tandem with TV viewing actually makes consumers more attentive to the program they're watching. A recent study by the Time Warner Research Council showed that connecting with friends on social networks via mobile devices or PC while watching TV actually increases engagement with the TV show. Other research from the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement has shown that the three screens actually work together in synergy to augment consumer engagement with brands and social media is the link driving that synergy.

Given the synergy between social media behaviors and TV viewing, Social TV represents a tremendous opportunity for marketers. For example, TV program sponsors could potentially augment brand salience by inserting branded content and messages into the social media conversation related to the TV program in which they've placed their ads. However this approach presents new challenges.

Ensuring Relevance and Value of Branded Content to the Social TV Conversations

Users engaging in the social media conversation related to a TV program they are watching are primarily interested in discussing the program. They are probably not interested at all in discussing the ads that played during the show. In fact many of them may have skipped through all of the ads via DVR functionality. Marketers therefore must be very careful of how they enter the conversation so as not to appear intrusive. The content and messages they insert must not only be relevant to the TV program in question as well as its audience in social media, but they must also add some kind of value to the conversation.

Selecting the Best Channel for Social TV Brand Engagement

Even though most of the Social TV activity currently consists of Tweets to a hashtag, marketers should be aware that the social media behaviors specific to TV viewing are not limited to Twitter. Facebook updates and check-ins on Social TV platforms like GetGlue are also gaining traction. Fortunately, some general trends in channel-usage and preference have emerged. As a general rule, Twitter hashtags appear to be more effective for driving engagement around event-driven shows, live programming and reality TV shows while Facebook and the various Social TV platforms are more effective for scripted programming.

The most likely reason for this phenomenon is that Twitter is a real-time, synchronous medium, while these other platforms are better suited for asynchronous social interaction. Increasingly consumers are watching scripted programs, such as prime time dramas and sitcoms, at their leisure rather than when the programs are scheduled to broadcast. In the case of a user watching a show days or even hours after the scheduled broadcast, Twitter would not be as effective for that user to engage socially since the Twitter conversation related to the show would have ended by then. However, by posting on the Facebook page for the program in question or checking into the program on GetGlue, the user could continue to interact with others socially about the program long after the scheduled broadcast.

The convergence of social media behaviors and TV viewing is clearly an exciting phenomenon. However it remains unclear exactly how it will evolve over the next five years. Marketers would be wise to begin by listening to the conversation to discover the best content strategy for engaging their audiences. Only by listening to the conversations related to TV programming will they be able to effectively capitalize on the synergetic relationship that is rapidly forming between TV and social media.