While TV programmers and third parties are scrambling around to craft second-screen experiences that capture TV viewers on smartphones and tablets, the viewers themselves may already have found their favorite second screens on existing social networks. “Users are ahead of service providers in this respect,” says Informa Principal Analyst Nick Thomas in a recent report on the future of TV worldwide. “Many [are] already using Facebook and Twitter and other tools to communicate via the handheld devices about the content they are simultaneously viewing on the TV,” he writes.
Facebook potentially has an enormous role in the evolution of social TV on a number of levels, Thomas argues. The social network can help broadcasters retain audiences with added value for live content experiences even as over-the-top video and time-shifting behaviors erode old viewing activities. At the same time, TV on-demand entities like Netflix could use Facebook to cultivate communities around on-demand content. But Facebook could itself become a social TV platform, with video and social interactions running in parallel.
In an Informa survey of TV, telecom and Internet executives, social networks were considered by 21.8% of respondents to be the types of companies that can persuade users to pay for digital content. Only 16.8% cited network operators like telcos as likely platforms for paid content, while 27.7% pointed to over-the-top services like Netflix and the largest share cited device manufacturers like Apple, Sony and Samsung.
The big content winners are likely to be entertainment, cited by almost 40% of executives as representing the greatest opportunity for increasing viewer engagement. Sports and news and weather were seen as the biggest opportunity by 27.5% and 14.8% of respondents, respectively. But movies (9%) generally were not regarded as a strong content type around which to generate social engagement.
Tablets emerged as the most important second screen among the executives surveyed, with 41.4% saying that tablets would be the dominant tool viewers would employ to access social TV features. 35% cited smartphones as most important; 15.3% said PCs and laptops. Significantly, only 8.6% of the executives surveyed felt that social TV interaction would occur on the TV screen itself. The results suggest just how far the industry has been moved by mobile and portable devices away from pre-existing “Interactive TV” models.
Informa recommends that all of the stakeholders in future TV not rely solely on their own social networks and apps to develop social TV strategies. “[They] need to create a portfolio of external partners, including Facebook, to ensure their social offering is relevant to viewers’ needs. “
Informa also recommends that programmers build viable social TV ad models that work off of the main TV display. The second screen is where advertisers can more precisely target and segment the TV audience. It is “vital to future TV revenues, as old advertising models based on a mass audience become increasingly devalued,” Thomas writes.