While social networks have revolutionized the way we communicate online, a significant part of our daily entertainment still comes from TV. Studies show that Americans, on an average spend more than five hours a day watching TV and about three hours on social networks. It is also interesting to note that almost 20% of TV viewers also use a 'second screen' (a mobile or a tablet) while watching TV.
The second screen phenomenon contributes to TV viewership in several ways. Mobile applications that help in discovering TV programs at any given point in time are now available a dime a dozen, and some of them even make recommendations based on user preferences. Another set of applications go the extra mile to provide users with auxiliary information about the programs they are watching - like IMDB for mobile. Some TV content providers took this up a notch by allowing users to engage with the TV program and participate in its outcome - the voting mechanism in American Idol for example.
While all of this had its own tangential impact on TV viewership, groundbreaking change is said to have occurred rather organically when users began discussing their favourite TV shows on social networks. For instance, the Oscar ceremony saw a whopping 9 million tweets in one evening. Adele's Skyfall performance alone received 82,300 tweets per minute. Once this phenomenon caught up, TV content producers also helped initiate and engage in conversations with the public in many ways. The production team at the TV show Castle maintains a Twitter account for the lead character Richard Castle - the twitter account takes on the persona of a fictional character and engages in conversations with the audience as if it were a real person.
Until recently, conversations about TV programming on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr were considered Social TV. Content developers who understand the core of 'social engagement' are now making the effort to create 'social TV content' as against 'socializing the already created content'. Syfy, an American cable TV channel, for instance is developing Defiance - what is possibly the world's first videogame/ TV series hybrid with integrated social elements. Thus, brands these days are no longer retro-fitting social content into TV programming, but are making TV content itself social.
On the other hand, companies like Myriad that offer white label social networks to TV service providers are also being seen. Contextual social networking for TV geeks around a show of their liking enables them to carry on with the cult of the TV show. Interestingly, in this case, it is also a gold mine for advertisers, given the amount of user information it may be able to capture.
Public social conversation about TV programming is happening and will continue with or without help from TV producers. However, the future of social TV lies in social engagement with the TV program.