When I heard Verizon’s FiOS widgets for Facebook and Twitter had finally arrived, I did what any good consumer analyst would do: Ran to the living room and picked up my remote.
As I fumbled to install the social network applications on my TV, my wife asked what I was doing. When I told her I was putting Twitter and Facebook on our TV, she just shook her head and asked, “Now, why would someone need that?”
The computer and mobile phone — the two screens where social networks are already indispensable to most (including my wife) — are much different than the TV. Both are centered around communication and keyboards, while the TV experience is just between a couch potato and his remote, so trying to imagine a real-time stream of tweets and status updates on the big-screen mostly elicits looks of bewilderment and shouts of “what for?” today.
But while Facebook is a requirement today for most smartphone users, it wasn’t always so easy to see the appeal for mobile. Early reaction to mobile social networking was reminiscent of today’s raised eyebrows over social TV, as most questioned why would they need to access their social network on the go. This initial skepticism by consumers caused difficulty for early mobile-only social networks like Dodgeball and Bluepulse (now a “mobile butler” service, whatever that means), which meant they couldn’t garner the big-time user numbers they’d hoped for.
Where these early upstarts failed, Facebook and Loopt succeeded on mobile by integrating photo upload and location-aware capabilities, allowing consumers to share their lives, in real time, with their friend lists. One-screen social network consumers quickly became two-screen believers, and mobile use skyrocketed.
Just as tuning their services for location awareness, photo uploading and mobile real-time updates helped mobile social networks catch fire, social TV success will come from optimizing the experience for the TV. The following three aspects of social TV will be instrumental to this optimized experience:
- Real-Time Sharing and Discussion As Liz Gannes points out, TV watching is a communal experience, and over time the consumer will realize social TV means no longer waiting until Monday morning water cooler sessions to discuss the latest episode of “True Blood.”
- Recommendations: Given the choice of getting Sunday night viewing guidance from like-minded friends or canned programming guides, most consumers would trust a friend. Even Rovi, the grid-guide king, sees this and has integrated hooks to services such as Flixster into its new Liquid guide.
- Visual Communication and Sharing: Perhaps most importantly, social TV will be successful by emphasizing what makes watching video entertainment on the big-screen TV so special: visual communication. Anyone who has looked at digital photos on HDTV can attest to how stunning digital photos can look when liberated from a small screen. Facebook has become the new photo-sharing service for tens of millions of people on their computer screens, and the ability to easily access photos and home video of Facebook friends in the living room may be the biggest reason for users to connect a social network to the TV.
So, while many of us may cringe at the thought of TV tweets, as more service providers and CE manufacturers hook into social networks, consumers will take to social TV as it optimizes sharing, recommendation and visual communication for the big screen.