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Social Television


Photo by Sarah Perez via flickr

Now that we’re four weeks into the new fall television schedule and the hype has died down (and baseball is getting in the way of Glee), it would be interesting to know how much attention network executives are paying to Trending Topics on Twitter compared to Nielsen ratings. My guess is that one is becoming as important as the other.

People do all sorts of things when they watch TV, according to a recent report from Ericsson, like eat, talk to people in the room, and work. Rarely is television the only screen in the room.
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Despite all the DVRs and Hulus and time shifting, Americans still have favorite television shows and wouldn’t dare miss them. It used to be imperative otherwise someone would spoil the surprises at the proverbial water cooler the next morning. But now, it can be spoiled in real time on social networks. In fact, some programs actually prompt viewers to tweet both subtly by showing small hashtags in the corner of the screen and obtrusively with live hosts begging tweet me. Twitter actually reported in May that across networks and genres, when TV shows bring Twitter elements into the broadcast, there’s a direct and immediate increase in engagement on Twitter: anywhere from two to ten times more Tweets created while the shows air. Ask and you shall receive.

And it’s not just Twitter driving the television viewers to talk. There are two fairly well known apps that try to make television more social by enabling you to share what you’re watching (both with horrible names). GetGlue is an app that basically serves as FourSquare for television shows. IntoNow from Yahoo! (which just launched a partnership with Facebook) has much fancier technology that uses your phone to listen to your television and then reports what you are watching. Like GetGlue, it has a check in feature but it also makes recommendations for similar shows that you might like based on what you’re watching. That’s cool, but it still requires me to go looking rather than disrupting what I’m doing like most social media platforms in general.

So does television need to become more disruptive? Not for me. Does it need to be more social? Maybe. Secretly, I would like to know what my friends are watching. That’s a connection and something to talk about. It’s fun to say: “I love that show too!” The Media Lab at MIT has been working on a cool remote control that could show that. If a brand could bring it to me, I’d take it too. In the meantime I’m fine using Twitter to find out what Snooki is doing. I should be working anyway.

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