I've never understood the appeal of social TV watching -- meaning, logging into a social site to talk about TV while you're watching TV -- but someone out there must, because media companies keep on pushing the idea. The latest to do so is NBC: the network is launching a new online social platform, NBC Live, which will entice users with polls, trivia, insider commentary, photos, and -- most importantly -- a social stream which allows visitors to comment on what's currently playing and interact with other viewers.
This all sounded kind of neat until I learned the underlying rationale: NBC just wants to get people to stop using their DVRs and go back to watching shows live. This makes it seem quite a bit less cool. From one perspective sure, it makes perfect sense: many advertisers and TV execs feel that DVR time-shifting is undermining the value proposition behind TV advertising, mostly by allowing viewers to skip ads, and they'd love to reverse the trend. But from another perspective the whole thing is a quixotic, backward-looking waste of time.
First, while it might be possible to resurrect "appointment" TV viewing for live shows and build a whole social ecosystem around this live viewing, the fact is the TV shows would have to be pretty extraordinary to make this worthwhile for most viewers. The convenience of time-shifted viewing is so great I have to guess it outweighs the incentive of getting to talk to your friends about what's happening on screen. I can only see this really working for major sports events, like the Super Bowl and World Cup, or much-buzzed-about shows like the Sopranos; is anything on network prime time going to be as compelling?
Then there's the irony of designing a whole social media strategy whose ultimate goal is to... get people back in front of broadcast TV ads (which they will probably still ignore, especially if they are talking to each other about the show during the commercial breaks). On that note, I'm curious if NBC Live lets you chat during the ads? I'm sure they would be happy to have people talk about the ads, demonstrating engagement, but how can you make sure they don't stray off-topic?