Tricky to divine the impact of social TV

Rob Gallagher/Informa Telecoms & Media
29 Oct 2012

When a company reveals usage stats at a conference, it’s usually a sign that the strategy it’s promoting is paying off.

At TV Connect in Turkey two weeks ago a number of TV operators and content providers talked about take-up of their social TV activities. But it’s far from clear to me what the actual value of the new currency of “followers” and “likes” is.

In case you’re unfamiliar with social TV, this much-vaunted concept promises to improve TV by integrating social-media technologies and behaviors into the experience, in order to make viewing more engaging and advertising more relevant.

The numerous stats on show at TV Connect would seem to suggest that it has legs. One operator spoke of how 25% of its subscribers had used the social features of its TV service, with each sending about 26 messages per month via the platform. A content provider described how 19% of the audience of a game show played along via an online version of the quiz.

But what are we to make of these numbers? Does a 25% take-up rate bode well, given that about 90% of Internet users in Turkey use Facebook? Is a 26 messages per user monthly average a positive sign given that the average Facebook user sends some 30 per month?

I’m not saying that the operator’s results aren’t positive. TV is a more narrow medium than an all-purpose social network, in when, where and how it is used. I’m just not clear on how these figures can be translated into actual value for TV operators and content providers.

And neither are many in the industry, it seems. When asked about the impact on their viewing figures, subscriber retention or other conventional metrics, the speakers couldn’t point to any hard data. Social TV is not powerful enough, for example, to prevent a dip in viewing when a big sports event is on another channel, noted the content provider executive.

Arguably, new behavior requires new metrics. A queue of social media gurus is probably already forming to explain to me the value of social-TV activity. But can they convince the spreadsheet wizards in TV subscriber acquisition and retention or the curiously conservative world of TV ad sellers and buyers?

Clearly it’s early days for social TV. But these experiments are not always cheap, despite their use of third-party platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. One operator spoke of using actual human moderators to filter out comments that might offend its family audience, a burden which will only grow if social TV becomes more popular.

Our biggest concern, however, is that some social TV strategies aren’t good enough. Consumers are already using Twitter and Facebook to comment on and interact around programs. Unless operators and content providers improve upon this experience, consumers will just ignore their services – or worse, be annoyed by them. We’ve seen a number of services that just get in the way of the core TV experience.

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