Monday, March 24, 2014

Building television communities: the socialization of television

In the past, television has been called the “timid giant” and a passive viewing medium. It is the not the case anymore. Recently, it has become bolder, positioning itself as both a reflection of society and a trigger of profound transformations within it. The new television is not linked to a device, a location or a time. It follows the viewer behavior and challenges the established industry. New series accommodate binge viewing, commentary moves to social media, YouTube and commercial content intermingle. In addition the viewing ecosystem of smart TV screens with more and more high definition and 3D capabilities, cheaper and more powerful tablets and smartphones is expanding. Finally, the number of television viewing applications is growing fast: programs and channels are becoming applications. So while traditional television has been declared more of less moribund, there is a renaissance of TV viewing that is undeniable and it creates a fertile ground for innovation in content production, distribution, consumption and business models.

In this environment, TV regains its prominent position as social and cultural experience that it had seemingly lost to the web based short form video. Culturally, quality television content is now available everywhere. The social aspects of television, in the past two years, has been mainly embodied in micro-blogging (Twitter and other messaging) that captures instantaneous commenting between viewers and a show’ actors and characters or between viewers themselves. This is seen as a builder of brand loyalty towards TV properties and of course the advertisement community is taking note.

But, once the channels of communications between viewers and creators are open, more innovation can take place. For example, In particular, we want to posit television as a creator of communities; communities embodied by the idea of "social television." These communities can be of many types: communities of viewers and creators, communities of devices to allow viewing of and interacting with television content and communities of stories that include entertainment, sports, news and reality shows and integrate the human experience.

Hence, our view, social television brings together both the human stories at the center of the multimedia experiences of the Internet age and the devices that interact with each other through them. It is this essential to address how technology, user behavior and societal changes are impacting the television of today and how television content in turn affects society, users and devices. The trends that were started with the streaming of on-demand movies and television shows on the Internet have now moved to the likes of Netflix and Amazon competing with traditional broadcasters for the share of the viewing public and their loyalty to a show. This will not stop: series “binging” at one’s pace without commercial interruptions is now accepted viewership behavior and watching television, even live television, over the Internet is the new normal. This in turn accelerates the “everywhere and anytime” nature of the new television experience which relies on wireless and mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and cloud based solutions that transcend traditional operators spheres of influence and geographical boundaries. This allows both local and global content to be shared socially and virally via the Internet. And the portability and ubiquity of video capable devices now influences how the content itself is created and produced with the “crowd” now being asked to participate in the creation process.

We call it the “socialization” of television. And while a lot of the current crop of new television application targets the audience, we do not want not limit ourselves to the viewers' point of view, but explore content production and its adoption and how television becomes another form of communication. Television content has always been at the center of social relationships. What was then done in person or via the phone is now achieved via the web. There is a myriad of applications that enable a group of people to share a common programming and what they think about it or what they would like it to be. But can’t we do more? We think so. In our research we have considered using health-relate programming or drama to generate discourse amongst the viewers, use a common television interest to mobilize a group of people to share into a non-television activity or enable the viewers to become their own “virtual operators” and share video playlists with yes friends and families but also in more public spaces. And while some of those question the traditional business models these models are already being shattered by the new offerings and are already changing to adapt to the reality of the new TV with for example subscriptions, viewing challenges and check-ins and sponsored content.

Television has changed and will continue to change: it is no longer merely a piece of furniture, but a rich and impactful medium for social visual communication.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Social Television: Creating Communities of Devices, Stories and People

Social Television is now part of the daily conversation. As video and TV content consumption moves to the multi-screen and device ecosystem of the new Internet landscape, novel challenges are emerging. Devices like tablets and smartphones and sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Netflix have multiplied the choices for content consumption and commenting in the past few years and created a large number of multiscreen applications that complement mainstream story telling. Social television initially wanted to recreate the social communities of the living room and water cooler in an age of where social mobility had engendered the dislocation of the traditional means of socializing but where ubiquitous connectivity had the power to re-invent them. Television content is now at the center of a number of communities: of people, of device and of stories. And in turns it helps create and sustain these communities with innovative approaches.

Community of People: As more and more content migrates to the Internet, “personal” content has become the norm. The immediacy and social aspects of content consumption of every kind, and of video in particular, are being integrated into better experiences. With Internet content, multiple delivery mechanisms and personalization, the applications “sandbox” is expanding fast. The Internet is enabling a major shift on the landscape of video distribution and consumption. TV content in is being impacted by social viewing expectations, which reconnect with and go beyond a type of experience that reaches back to TV’s original social roots.  It reaches to all the facets of the new content experience from video technology to user interfaces and microblogging.

Community of Devices: Connectivity is essential to social consumption of content. The old model based on total operator control of content formatting, advertisement serving and rendering is being challenged by over the top (OTT), user generated content, co-viewing and mobile services. The result of this disintermediation is that any content consumption experience will be influenced by platforms that support it.

Community of Stories:  The creation of communities around storytelling and content production is interesting, promising and difficult. Viewers can be given the opportunity to shape television content and socially influence what they are watching. Even though these concepts have created a new popular genre by allowing people to rate contestants, it remains in its infancy. There is still much research that is being done, since good storytelling is a complicated task that cannot be taken lightly. Nevertheless, there is much to gain by involving content producers and viewers alike with the goal of making television social, beyond checking how programs are doing on social networking sites.

Our Workshop in January 2014 - please join us January 23-24

As we move our Social TV class into it's 6th year we decided to make some changes and with the help of colleagues in the MIT Comparative Media Studies decided to organize a 1 1/2 day workshop before the start of the semester as well as keeping the popular project presentations in May. You will see attached the detailed description of the workshop and it's goals. Of course we want to explore what are the concepts that are most interesting for you in the next few years as well as reviewing the projects of the first 5 years. We also want to reposition social TV as the future of TV and as a response to the disruption in the industry. 

We will not limit ourselves to the social interactions between viewers but also explore content production and adoption. We are re-defining social television at the center of communities - the storytellers, the viewers and the devices - and explore how all these can create the new television experience and how your ideas can be integrated into the class at MIT and it's "sister" series of seminars at the Université du Québec à Montréal. 

The proceedings of the workshop (we will charge $1500) will be used to enhance the class quality with equipment acquisition (tablets  and smartphones for example), travel to conferences for the students and if very successful the possibility of hiring a research assistant to continue development beyond the end of the semester.