Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Social TV -- The "Killer App" for Coactive TV -- Ready for Ubiquity

Social TV promises to be the killer app for coactive TV (CoTV).  (A "killer application" is an application that is so desirable to users that it drives the adoption of a larger technology.  The concept emerged when spreadsheets and word processors drove the adoption of PCs, which have obviously broadened to far wider importance.)

There are a number of signs that Social TV is emerging as such a killer app (some mentioned in previous posts).
  • IntoNow launched in January 2011 and was quickly acquired by Yahoo on 4/25/11, and Spot411 re-launched 7/18/11 as TVplus.  Both have gotten prominent press and both do fully automatic syncing to any program, without need for any involvement by the TV distributor. 
  • The Wikipedia article on Social Television was created in 5/07 with 3,244 bytes, grew to 5,528 by the end of 2009, then grew to 10,469 by the end of 2010, and to 16,851 by 8/23/11.  It now includes a list of 32 such systems (not all of which involve two-screens).
  • One of the most popular FIOS TV apps was the Twitter app.
Being a killer app does not mean it will ultimately dominate the use of the platform, but only that it drives early adoption.  I suggest there are other killer apps for coactive TV as well, and that the long term value will span a wide range of apps.
  • From a user viewpoint, EPGs (electronic program guides) are another important killer app, not least because it is one the MSOs (multi-system operators, TV distributors) are embracing along with users.  EPGs showcase the value of the companion device to allow interaction with a nice UI, and without interfering with current viewing.   The irresistible power of the iPad UI and relatively open ecosystem has finally convinced the MSOs that they must go outside the box (at least as to the set-top box and the TV screen).  Comcast and Time Warner Cable have moved quickly to offer tablet-based EPGs and DVR programming.  The coactive EPG will evolve into the full "Media Concierge" service that I have been blogging about since 2005). 
  • The real money to drive all of this is in advertising.  Obviously this will drive the service providers and advertisers, but I submit that users too will recognize and increasingly demand the value of well targeted ads that exploit the flexibility of coactive UIs to be unobtrusive.  Well targeted ads can be a valuable service, as long as they are no more intrusive than the viewer wants them to be (which may vary from time to time, and from ad to ad).  Coactive ads--driving from a short spot to a companion microsite (whether linked to live, or deferred using a bookmarking feature)--can be far less intrusive and far more useful than a longer TV ad with no coactive companion element. A good UI can give the user control over when and how such ads appear.
All of these promising killer apps have synergy with one another.  Coactive TV is at heart hypermedia, and thus "everything is deeply intertwingled." (Quoting Ted Nelson, who also coined the terms hypertext and hypermedia.)
  • Social TV apps can work both as program enhancements and to provide program guide/media concierge services.  
  • Social TV can also be about ads, such as during the Superbowl, or when any ad of interest to my social circle appears.
  • All of these will drive usage of enhancement content (such as IMDB pages), which will create further synergies.
But there is one more thing that is essential, and that is ubiquity. While full, ubiquitous coactivity is not central to all Social TV, I suggest it is essential to enabling it to reach scale.
  • Synchronizing Web browsing to TV can be done manually, and has for decades.  Viewers have created their own Social TV ever since the first two people sat with a laptop in front of a TV, and ever since the first online chat about a TV program.  It can also be automated with program specific apps.  ABC did it a decade ago with Enhanced TV for the Oscars and other shows, and now on the iPad for Grey's Anatomy, but program and network apps cannot create massive synergy.
  • What is essentially to enabling Social TV (and most other CoTV apps) to cross the chasm is ubiquity.  Siloing companion apps to a separate app for each network or program or advertiser is hugely self-defeating.  How many users will load more than a few apps, and how many will bother to open those apps more than once?  Just as the Web eliminated the need for separate apps for every content service, a ubiquitous CoTV service will require only a single context-linking app to reach services for every program, to every Web service. There will be all kinds of mashups driven by that context, but an effective context-linking service must be essentially universal.
A truly ubiquitous coactive TV service will be always on, and always aware of a viewer's TV context (except when disabled).  Such a ubiquitous service can activate any Web service and any application, in a rich ecology much like that on the Web.  That way a user can just set up the coactive companion context service just once, and get synchronized for any program or ad, to any social networking service, content service, or whatever -- whether directly, or via mashups.  (Just how such services can be structured to enable flexibility and user control was described in my published patent disclosures, and will be a subject of  future posts.)

It now appears that Social TV is the next big thing in TV, and will drive full coactivity -- but a whole lot of other functions will ride its coattails.