The race to organise television

(The following comment was posted as a response by Colin Donald, Director of Futurescape.TV, to an article in the recent Economist: Struggling for control: The humble channel-zapper is evolving in ways that will shape television’s future)

Internet-connected TVs lead to massively increased choice and require next-generation EPGs to help viewers navigate the wealth of content.

One solution backed by many in the industry, like Rovi, is to develop social EPGs that let friends recommend TV shows and videos to each other, via social networks or via systems which use data from social networks.

However, the implications are even more radical than your article suggests.

When Futurescape.TV recently researched this nascent social TV sector, we concluded that Facebook and Twitter are already battling for key roles in the TV industry as Internet-connected televisions transform TV into a social medium.

The two social networks have an actual or potential commercial role across the entire TV value chain.

For instance:

1. Global pay-TV, estimated at $250bn in 2014, NEEDS social recommendation and discovery services because these encourage viewers to subscribe to more expensive packages and buy more video-on-demand – Facebook and Twitter are both major providers of social data.

2. Facebook in particular has a highly developed social graph of people’s relationship with entertainment content, from the ubiquitous Like button, integrated into many broadcasters’ Web sites. Both it and Twitter own considerable, detailed data about people’s behaviour, such as discussing TV shows and sharing links to videos.

3. As your article described, set-top box middleware and EPG providers similarly need social network data for recommendation and discovery – the European EPG market alone will be worth $555m by 2014.

4. TV manufacturers’ strategy to provide video-on-demand direct to viewers also requires social recommendation, while their connected TV apps enable viewers to interact with Facebook and Twitter on home TV sets.

5. Facebook aims to tap the $180bn worldwide TV ad market, competing with broadcasters for brand advertising – Google TV and similar Web-on-TV systems will put Facebook and Twitter targeted ads on TV screens.

6. Facebook and Twitter buzz affects TV ratings, while broadcasters that use the social networks for viewer engagement are effectively sharing their audiences with them.

7. The social networks know in real time how people react to TV programming – this is an essential supplement to Nielsen-type viewing data.

8. Integrating social networks with EPGs is only one manifestation of a profound and permanent change in the television industry, a change through which Facebook and Twitter are positioning themselves as major industry players.

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