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.


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