We North Americans witnessed the birth of Social Television via Big Network Events such as the Oscars and MTV Music Video Awards Shows last year. Social TV’s birth happened in the form of live Twitter and Facebook feeds that crawled across the bottom of our TV screens, allowing viewers to chat, comment and react to what they were watching live.
The BBC has confirmed they are working on a new beta version of their popular on-demand television service, the iPlayer. As a public broadcaster, the BBC relies on tax dollars to an extent, to stay in business. They seem to be taking Social TV quite seriously – investing and setting new trends with social viewing. The Beeb has partnered with Microsoft to develop an iPlayer that allows users to communicate with each other using Windows Live Messenger while watching on-demand programmes. With over 450 million worldwide Windows Live Messenger users, it seems to make sll kinds of sense for the broadcaster to use the Messenger network. This partnership is interesting in that the BBC has chosen to not leverage social sites Facebook or Twitter – meaning BBC doesn’t want to “create” their own social network … rather they have left the door open to harness third party social sites in the future. I don’t know how well the Windows Live Messenger can be shared on all social sites, but one would think that down the road this avenue will pay off big time for the BBC. iPlayer is not just available on the web, but across all desktop operating systems, dozens of mobile phones and in download and streaming form – even across some 3G networks – and BBC’s on-demand service received 123 MILLION requests in April 2010. Those are massive numbers for an on-demand service in the broadcast industry.
An important note: Students are becoming a popular user of the iPlayer and similar services – because there is no need to have cable service to watch on-demand broadcasts. The student presumably, on a tight budget, will chose Internet service over cable. In the UK, the younger generation is being engaged on a far more substantial level and Social TV could be the next big step in the broadcast industry’s evolution.
So what of 3DTV? I thought it was the next BIG THING? Even at CBC, 3DTV is discussed as the latest trend worth embracing. But is it just a trend? Could the BBC charge into Social TV be more significant than 3DTV?
On-demand allows users to build our own television schedules. And with the inclination of social media to be a sharing media, there is a built-in, natural want to share with TV shows – sharing our likes and dislikes, plus there’s an infrastructure in the web already in place to allow this to happen.
Could on-demand television replace ordinary broadcasts? I don’t have a crystal ball … no one does. But one could easily see on-demand become more popular than ordinary broadcasts with the younger generations who are not be raised in a 50-channel universe.
3DTV still feels like a trend to me. Like HD. While HD is quietly becoming a broadcast standard, it’s more revolutionary as a technology, rather than a way the masses consume media. It’s a technology, much as 3D is a technology. It’s cool and fun … but audiences expect their networks to be in the game. It’s not something I really want to share … like television programming. And with 500 MILLION Facebook users according to Time Magazine, there are a lot of audiences out there with favourite shows they will want to share with all their friends.
I find the idea of Social TV a little odd … will it replace hanging out in your friend’s basement while you and the gang watch and debate the final episode of “Lost”? Likely not. But it could open another virtual avenue for the broadcast industry … and I’m going to be watching BBC’s iPlayer closely in the future.