The big buzz phrase surrounding television in 2011 is Social TV. The idea of TV watching being intricately tied to the social networks one maintains online. People are chatting online about TV with one another, thus it is a social experience that can be capitalised upon. With hundreds of apps and websites gearing up to deal with Social TV, the two fronts that many seem to miss is:
a) TV is decentralised and for many viewers (especially those actively engaged online), many of them are not watching the show in real time, or are watching from different timezones. A hashtag is all very good and well for those watching the show live during its first airing, but often loses a lot of relevance and interest as others catch up on it. Consider those who prefer not to watch TV as it airs, but rather marathons it on DVD/streaming/downloads months or even years after the initial airing.
b) While there are a lot of people engaged online talking about TV via specific modes of engagement, I’d suggest that the majority are not actively chatting about the TV they watch online. They may be reading other peoples opinion of TV, but are not actively involved themselves.
At the Mashable Media Summit last month, TVGuide.com’s Christy Tanner cited the online engagement that TV Guide have launched on their website to maintain relevance. The video is available online to watch here:
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While what Tanner cites is interesting enough in terms of watching an organization with an old-school notion of television as a construct adjust their platform to combat the changing ways people watch TV, I feel that TV Guide is slightly off-base in regards to their approach. The TVGuide.com site does offer one interesting and useful innovation, which is their Watchlist that provides viewers access to a list of the different places one could watch a specific TV show (ie which channels it airs on, websites it streams on, etc), but that is information that isn’t generally all that difficult to source within a moment or two on Google.
At one point Tanner uses the magic word: curation. Tanner used it in reference to curating comments on the website, but where it is really going to be of benefit is in navigating toward the shows one likes. As social networks become more intricately tied with the platforms upon which we’re watching our TV, we’re going to see a lot more people follow the tastes of others. Gone are the days of ‘tastemakers’, but rather we’ll see the ability to follow the suggested programs of those with similar taste to our own. While there will always be a certain sense of crowd-sourcing discovery of TV shows to watch (in 1995, we referred to watercooler discussions, though I’ll admit to almost never talking to anyone beside a watercooler), I feel we’ll see an increased emphasis on content curation by individuals.
Online streaming services are already offering complex algorithms to assist with the discovery of relevant content, but it is easy to imagine a day in which we’ll be able to enhance this by following content suggested by others. One can easily imagine a day in which one logs onto a streaming service like, say for example, YouTube to find a ‘Dan Barrett’ channel (again, this is just as an example – you could easily switch my name for Alan Sepinwall, Michael Idato, or your pal from school Peter ‘Petey’ Petersen) in which I’ve cited a list of shows worth a look, along with notes as to why they’re worth watching.
It’s not enough for Social TV to be offering platforms upon which to discuss and rate TV. Those sort of interactions have been happening on the Internet for as long as there has been an Internet. The value of Social TV comes not from the platform, but rather those who will be curating the content, the quality signifiers. As our range of TV options continues to increase, so too will our need to cut through the noise to find the content that truly appeals to us. The quality signifiers will help cut through the echo chamber of friends voices and provide some distinct new choices. Curation of content makes the TV no less Social and any media practitioners working with Social TV applications need to understand its value or risk being left behind.