Fulfilling its Social Potential: Why TV could very well be the comeback kid as media emerges from the recession

Watching tv - group
the established institutions of 'old' media were always going to take the hardest hits as the combined effects of a global advertising slowdown and a digitising media economy came to bear.  such seems to have been the case.  according to Warc's latest Consensus Forecast, 2009 TV revenues in the States will fall 10.9% yoy versus total global ad spend yoy decline of 10.5%.  more substantial 2009 decreases in TV are anticipated in the UK, France, Germany and Japan.

looking forward to 2010, TV could very well be the area of media that not only emerges most strongly from the recession, but charges out guns blazing leading the brigade of other media behind it.  the same Warc report suggests that marketers in two-thirds of the sample are intending to devote more revenues into TV next year, with Brazil, China and India up by more than 11%, the US by 1.8%, and France by 1.3%.

in fact whilst advertising revenues have declined throughout the recession, there seems to have been limited disruption on the quality of networks' output.  new offerings, such as the US's FlashForward or Australia's Celebrity Masterchef have emerged and more than held their own.  and whilst it could be argued that reality TV has more than shaped current TV output globally, it hasn't stopped the likes of Glee and Modern Family making their mark.

but despite strong content and a return of ad revenues in 2010, viewing will surely switch online right?  well no necessarily so.  this week also saw a report from the UK's Enders Analysis arguing that the scale of the VOD market has been overplayed, and that by 2020 the overall national UK average of VoD viewing will be 5%;

"and at these levels, and after taking into account the lower tolerance of interruptive advertising in on-demand programming, non-linear VOD services are unlikely to have a significant impact on commercial spot advertising revenues during the next 10 years … the traditional linear broadcast TV model continues to work well in terms of reliability, simplicity, ease of choice and ability to deliver popular programming with mass appeal"

but all this is without taking into account the phase shift that could and should happen with TV in the year ahead.  2010 could be the year that TV genuinely goes social… as the Guardian observed in a cracking data-fueled article on Jedward's storming of the Twittersphere;

"Every Saturday and Sunday night, Twitter is exploding with real-time boos, back-pats and reactions to the show's performances. It's a re-imagining of the old-media watercooler ("Did you see The X Factor last night?") in live, online space ("Omg jedward are through!") – and it could point the way to the future of TV…"

as Gary Hayes, a former development producer for the BBC who now lives in Sydney and blogs rather awesomely here, points out:

"we now know when our attention is required, especially those inciting moments when emotion or serendipity may be possible. So with these two things happening there are a growing number of services trying to glue the two – either bringing the TV to the back-channel or layering the back-channel ‘over’ the TV" (source)

hayes has aggregated a whole host of services, either existing or in development, that are bring TV to the social space and vice-versa.  here are three of my favourites (all sourced from Hayes' original post):

EpiX has high-profile backing from the likes of Viacom, Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Lionsgate.  it's a platform for viewing content online, but specifically you can invite your mates to private screening rooms and interact with them…  ITV if you're listening, X-Factor was made for this…

Social_tv-EpixHD

another favourite (and another example of the increasing warmth between and cooperation by the Gates and Murdoch organisations) in the shape of X-Box and Sky who have teamed up to make the latter's content available on the former's entertainment console.  but the basics of the streaming aside, the really interesting bits are when the TV screen pans back and your in a room with your and your mates' avatars.  representations that you can support, deride, encourage, laugh at or ask questions of.  real social interactivity in real time with real people…

Social_tv-SkySocial_on_X-Box
there's a full video of a presentation that Xbox product manager Jerry Johnson gave to paidContent:UK here – jump to 5 mins 40 secs to get the social bit:

finally, on the mobile front there's tvChatter, a iPhone application that allows you to connect TV content to the Twitterstream relating to that show in real time.  you can follow Tweets from everyone or just from people you follow.  and if you're not sure what to watch, you can see which shows are generating the most interest and check them out:

this is exciting stuff.  and I'm not pretending for a second that its anything new: we've been talking about, SMSing and debating TV for years.  but never have we been so connected to so many people we know in real time to do so.  never have the conversations about the TV we love been so prevalent and so accessible.  I hope then that 2010 isn't just the year that TV sees a resurgence in revenues, but also the year that TV finally gets social…  we will never look at our screens in the same way again.

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