Where Social TV Is Going Wrong -- and How to Get It Right

Strong Content and the First Screen Still Rule, Says iBubblr Co-Founder Jeff Schroer

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It's easy to see why social-media activity around TV is soaring. Shared experiences make our lives more meaningful. Consumers are always looking for simpler, richer, more meaningful ways to have these shared experiences, especially when it comes to TV, the most ubiquitous content distributor in history. And tablets and other connected devices are rapidly giving more consumers new ways to interact.

But why is Twitter so far ahead when it comes to bolstering the experience of watching, talking and sharing about TV?

As All Things D's Peter Kafka put it when Zeebox came to the U.S., too many social-TV apps are "designed around a business problem -- how can we get people to stay with our shows longer or hang out on our service? -- instead of consumer problems." Most social-TV aps are more interested in telling people what they should want than creating compelling experiences. People want meaningful engagements around TV content, not gimmicks meant to coax them into a desired behavior. And it had better be simple.

The biggest reason Twitter has the most of the social-TV market among consumers is that it's the easiest way to have meaningful shared experiences around TV. Networks, brands and agencies, meanwhile, need data that are relevant to consumers' core interests, not their threshold for incentive-driven, Pavlovian behavior -- such as piling up awards points or stickers by checking on various social TV platforms.

While the market continues to flood with game-like social-TV products, however, real innovations that improve the consumer experience can go unnoticed. The ability to filter "People I Know" from Twitter's hashtag chaos, for example, greatly improved the co-viewing experience.

There are other interesting innovations in the sector, such as the recent partnership with Witstream around the Emmys, that are quietly developing approaches that augment first-screen content instead of distracting from it. Yet most of the social-media column inches on the Emmys centered around Tracey Morgan's sideshow, a stunt that felt designed specifically to game the tune-in and comment numbers.

When networks, agencies and entrepreneurs build experiences that enhance our basic human desire to share meaningful experiences, the social TV experience for consumers will improve. We need to find ways to put authentic social interactions in the experience instead of offering shameless promotions and gimmicks to influence viewer tune-in rates. The best way to keep viewers tuned in to TV programming will always be to make great TV. Strong content and the first-screen experience are still king. What consumers want are better ways to enjoy what they love. It really is that simple.

Jeff Schroer is co-founder of iBubblr, a startup being introduced at Ad Age 's Social Engagement/Social TV Conference in Los Angeles on Oct. 17.

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