Not just TV – Social TV

First of all, I think it’s really funny that somebody has cleverly branded using your iPad or iPhone (or similar device) while watching TV as “Social TV.”

Anyway, in case you’re new to advertising, “social television” is a general term for technology that supports communication and social interaction in either the context of watching television, or related to TV content. It also includes the study of television-related social behavior, devices and networks. Social television systems can for example integrate voice communication, text chat, presence and context awareness, TV recommendations, ratings, or video-conferencing with the TV content either directly on the screen or by using ancillary devices.

Social television is very active area of research and development that is also generating new services as TV operators and content producers are looking for new sources of revenue. While a number of existing social television systems are still at a conceptual stage, or exist as lab prototypes, beta or pilot versions are available commercially. White-labeled social TV platforms have also emerged which allow TV networks and operators to offer branded social TV applications. On the ratings front, companies have emerged to measure the social media activities tied to specific TV telecasts. In essence, these new companies seek to serve as the Nielsen Ratings of the social televisions space.

Social TV was named one of the 10 most important emerging technologies by the MIT Technology Review on Social TV in 2010. In 2011 MIT Technology Review followed up by publishing a cover story focused on the emergence of Social TV analytics and its applications in the TV advertising industry.

The concept of socializing around TV content is not new. But Social TV is creating the cyber-living-room and cyber-bar to enable increased interactivity around shared programming both live and time-shifted. In an attempt to recapture the social aspects of television lost since the advent of multiple-screen households, which discourage gatherings to watch television together, social television aims to connect viewers with their friends and families even when they are not watching the same screen. As a concept, social television is not linked to a specific architecture , nor is it necessarily limited to a traditional television screen, but could also be presented on a computer or handheld device such as a cell phone, tablet computer or netbook.

Social TV started in the early 2000s with limited success as the creation of the shared connections was cumbersome with a remote control and the User Interface (UI) design made the interaction disruptive to the TV experience. But social networking has made Social TV suddenly feasible, since it already encourages constant connection between members of the network and the creation of likely minded groups. The shared content and activities often relate to TV content. At the same time, the smartphone market has been growing quickly. 86% of Americans already use their phones while watching TV. A recent AC Nielsen survey also revealed that 33% of consumers regularly use mobile apps while watching TV.

The tandem growth of smartphones and social media has paved the way for the social TV market to take off; multiple startups have recently appeared in the field. According to a Parks Associates Industry Report, over one-fourth of users ages 18–24 are interested in having more social features integrated into their TV-experience. The most desired social experience was in multiplayer games, though a close second was to chat with others who were watching the same program. Generation Y, those currently 18–28 years old, have been found to actually access the internet more often than they watch television. The same research shows that 42% of the members of this generation access an Internet video at least monthly. And the industry is taking note: popular video sites are now more and more allowing viewers to interact.

The main research areas include the creation of a simple user experience across multiple platforms that encompasses aspects of development platforms, devices and networks. Also necessary are easy ways to filter casual acquaintances their social network from “real” friends or affinity circle members, with whom an individual would actually want to share thoughts or comments in a more private environment. Also because of the multiplicity of platforms recent work has also addressed the networking fundamentals behind Social TV. The MIT Media Lab has held a graduate class on Social TV since 2009. In 2012, faculty at the Wharton School of Business launched a Social TV Lab to study the link between what is said on television and what is shared simultaneously with the public on social media about shows and advertisements.

One of the impediments to true interaction of Social TV has been the back office process required to generate engagement. Well, the team at may have just solved that need and, if it works as promised, the last barrier to major interaction and engagement has been removed.

According to a recent press release, has announced Sync, a unique new toolkit for syncing ad content and creating robust two-way engagement between the first and second screens. The first toolkit of its kind, Sync enables broadcasters and advertisers to realize the potential of the second screen for expanding an ad’s reach and power, opening the door for creative new ways to use advertising and giving broadcasters a concrete, measurable way to monetize their investment in social TV.

“ has always been effective at attracting eyeballs to multiple screens and engaging consumers, but this toolkit takes our capabilities to the next level,” said Zachary Weiner, Director of Marketing at

“For the first time, advertisers have a way to coordinate campaigns that make full use of the two screens, and broadcasters have a concrete platform for generating true dual-screen advertising and a quantifiable increase in social-media ad dollars. It’s the first and only closed-loop solution for interactive TV advertising.”

Sync makes it possible to sync an ad on the TV with what appears on the second-screen device. Specifically, timed elements in the broadcast trigger the ad on the second screen, where viewers can interact with it through polling, games, and other such activities. Sync then pulls the results of that interaction back onto the first screen and integrates them into the programming or ad spot in real time, creating one perfectly orchestrated brand experience that hits all consumer touch points. These advertisements last longer and generate unprecedented ad engagement levels that result in far greater ROI for a brand.

The Sync Ad platform also includes robust advertising technologies for tracking and reporting the benefits of the second screen.

“Now just because programming goes to a commercial break doesn’t mean viewers get a break from the second-screen action,” Weiner said. “Sync’s backbone technology creates a perfectly correlated brand experience that keeps viewers engaged throughout both the broadcast and the commercials breaks.

“That’s good for broadcasters because it creates more revenue and monetizes their social TV investment, and good for advertisers because it strengthens the power of their ads.”

Sync is part of’s Interactivity Suite (IS), a platform that supports true participation TV by enabling viewers to influence a broadcast in real time, as well as allowing them to interact with one another and the rest of the world. Using IS, a broadcaster can effortlessly aggregate user-generated content from social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook into programming, and build synchronized companion apps that enable viewers to interact with their televisions using an iPad®, tablet, PC, or smartphone.

It won’t take long to tell if Social TV can move beyond the major social networks, so it’s time for agencies to get ready now.

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