There’s been a lot of talk about social TV apps and how it will revolutionize the viewing experience of those watching TV, expand advertising opportunities, and generally be a good thing for content owners. It’ll essentially reinvent the TV experience.

That’s all BS.

Social TV will certainly have its followers. It’ll be the same passionate folks who are commenting on websites about TV shows or voting during reality TVs shows. Social TV apps also may have a niche use for scheduling and programming of TV and Internet TV. It however, will not reinvent the TV experience since the vast majority of viewers won’t engage with the social TV apps. 

Why wouldn’t they? Because the vast majority of TV viewers simply want to have a passive viewing experience where they are either entertained or can turn off their brain for the duration of their viewing experience. If it’s both, that’s a bonus.

There are other problems such as the pool of those actual users for social TV apps. You have to download the social TV app on a tablet or smart phone, then launch the app and make sure you’re watching the TV show at the broadcasted time. All of these factors must be “on” and then the user has to feel compelled to interact with the app while watching the TV show. That’s a lot of potential failure points before the viewer can be counted as a social TV app user in that scenario.

The hurdles to gain mass traction can be encapsulated from a digital agency (Maxus) saying

they had reserved enthusiasm for the social TV phenomenon, as none had yet managed to generate any great scale. 

From a content owner’s perspective, it’s unclear why it’s advantageous to have viewers taking their eyes off of the main screen (the TV), to a secondary screen like a tablet or smartphone. For content owners, they want to engage the viewers from a storytelling and entertainment perspective. This ensures that they gain a large following, which translates into higher selling prices since advertisers generally want to advertise to large  viewing audiences.

From an advertiser perspective, reaching audience scale is problematic for social TV apps as well as having audiences disengage themselves from the advertising experience on TV. Those TV ads are where advertisers spend most of their money. A cannibalistic problem arises if advertisers are advertising on both the TV and second screen: either the viewer will watch the TV or the second screen ad, not both. So one of the ads will go to waste.

Finally, content on TV and social TV apps inherently have contradictory goals. Content is supposed to be entertaining, enthralling, and captivating. It’s meant to keep the viewer’s attention on the TV since that’s where the story and money-making components are (i.e., ads). Social TV apps want to distract the viewer from the TV, basically circumventing all the goals of content on TV.  

If the content is good enough, the viewers will keep their attention on the TV. Don’t social TV apps by their nature say “the content isn’t worth your attention so pay attention to me”? Probably not the message that the content owners, TV networks, or advertisers want to send to viewers.


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