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Could social TV save the network television industry?

by Jac Thurmond

All the buzz in the television industry lately has been on this new idea of social TV. Realistically, TV has been social ever since the first X-Files newsgroup showed up on Usenet. If you enjoyed watching suited law-people solving unfathomable mysteries, post a question then get yourself over to Twin Peaks or whatever else another fan might have to recommend. Not to mention forums, Geocities fanpages and the social blogging platforms of yesteryear such as Livejournal’s fan communities.

But word from the recent International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) is that the new wave of social TV looks to be cutting out the middleman, offering recommendations directly to the viewer, plus making it quicker and easier to connect to friends. For instance: you check the TV listings on your iphone on the way home from work; the app gives you recommendations on what your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are talking about. You tune into a favourite movie while a friend gets an invitation to watch the same film at the exact same time, chatting the entire way through via a chat window. As Facebook’s Joanna Shields said at the convention:

Facebook represents the biggest opportunity the television industry has ever faced – the potential to tap into a global audience that is waiting to discover, share and amplify your stories. For media companies and marketers, it’s the power of social discovery and the authentic conversations it enables that’s the key to unlocking a whole new way to produce, promote and advertise on television. Social TV represents a period of renaissance for the TV industry to define new ways of engaging audiences and telling great stories.

The move has been a long time in coming. As the long-term kerfuffle in the recording industry has proven, a format’s pretty much dead if it can’t figure out a painless way to integrate with and take advantage of the Internet.

Industry insiders have been predicting some upcoming hard times for broadcast television, especially with the teething problems Hulu has been having in the US – it’s all to do with licensing and ad revenue, of course. Basically, if the big networks can’t hash out a bit of synergy between their terrestrial broadcast programme and Internet presences as well as how to deal with international broadcast rights and ad revenue online, then it’s going to be tough to compete against straight-up piracy.

What’s really needed, therefore, is offering a real unique experience while also making access to legal copies of on-demand TV shows and films easier than firing up a torrent and making it accessible internationally (after all, following an international fan community connected to a favourite TV show is half the draw these days). And it looks like television execs are banking on integrated social networking being the way forward.

Sure, indie Internet shows are pushing boundaries and producing some brilliant and insightful entertainment that might not make it on your average network (if you haven’t seen a few episodes of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl yet, you need to rectify that), but I know I’d be sad to have to scale back on some of the awesome, big-production shows that have been coming out in the past few years. So here’s to traditional television finally figuring out the brave new world of cyberspace. Good luck, and better late than never.

Do you think this newfangled social TV has the power to save the television industry as we know it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our new Facebook page.

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