Just as social media has transformed how we use phones, it is about to have a major say in how we watch television as well. Despite the growth of TV viewing on mobile devices, the “big screen in the living room” is alive and doing quite well. Some of the largest players in the tech world know this and are engaging in some very interesting discussions with TV networks and cable providers to reshape the whole viewing experience.
A peek at how those conversations are going was provided yesterday at the annual NextTV conference, held in San Francisco. This year’s event included the usual presenters such as ABC/Disney, PBS, and Telemundo. But prominent on the speakers’ list were names like Facebook and Twitter, companies not generally associated with mainstream TV. “We don’t know the TV business,” said Facebook’s Nick Grudin. “But we want to create tools that will allow TV to innovate with us.”
What’s driving the dance between social media giants like Facebook and the TV industry is a common dependence on eyeballs. TV networks are sharing increasingly smaller, fragmented slices of the viewing pie and big social media firms are hungry for ways to attract more advertisers.
Facebook revealed part of their strategy earlier this week when they announced partner agreements with CNN, NBC, and BSkyB (among others) by offering them data trends and real time conversations for what is estimated to be 100 million users during prime TV viewing time. And the scale of this data for even a single TV broadcast can be eye-popping. According to Grudin, last week’s Thursday night NFL football kickoff game generated 20 million Facebook interactions over four hours.
The data Facebook holds represents a “holy grail” for advertisers. Who, among them, would not want to know their customers better? As Grudin told the conference audience yesterday, “We believe that the activity happening across Facebook should drive ratings.”
Not to be outdone, Twitter has formed an actual TV team headed by Fred Graver, former writer for the Letterman Show, Cheers, and Jon Stewart. According to Graver, his company “has regular meetings with the networks.” Their pitch: we’ve gathered your audience into this great town square, so let’s go get ‘em.
These have resulted in a new marriage of Twitter, TV content, and big-time advertisers branded as Twitter TV. During a particularly popular sporting event or TV show, Twitter followers might receive a tweet from ABC with a video clip of a play or scene, preceded by a three second ad from Nike. “Twitter was not built as a second screen device,” said Graver. “But every night, everyone uses it for that.”
By aggressively reaching out to a younger, social media-driven audience, the TV industry may also be setting the table for a seismic shift in how content is delivered to the home. This trend, which is sending chills down the spines of big TV providers like Comcast, is known as cord cutting.
“The real digital mantra is disrupt or be disrupted,” said Mark Greenberg, CEO of EPIX. His company, basically a website for new movies, is a prime example of how TV users can move away from the 150 plus channel packages that cable operators force you to buy and instead find the content you want for a fraction of the price. By cutting the cable cord, you are now free to get what you want instead of what someone thinks you want. As Greenberg told the conference audience, “Today the philosophy of meeting a customer halfway isn’t going to cut it.”
Cord cutting was very much a topic of discussion at this week’s NextTV conference. A younger, Internet savvy audience that multitasks while watching shows and gets their content from a lot of different sources, will quickly embrace a freer model. USA Today even recently published a four-part guide for living without TV cable. The drums are beating, sending cable executives to their desk drawers for more Maalox.
At the end of the day, this is like a game of musical chairs where there are more people than seats and someone gets left standing. In this case, networks, cable channels, and now social media giants are fighting for a seat on the living room couch where a vast majority of people still watch TV. “We are at the very beginning of figuring out how social platforms and television will work together,” said Facebook’s Grudin. And watching the struggle between the younger upstarts of the tech world and the more established TV industry may indeed turn out to be more entertaining than the shows themselves.