Truly Social TV isn't a second screen with a social media feed and algorithmically relevant content pushed to you from the Web.
Neither is it 'what your friends are watching.'
Truly Social TV is audience responsive content -- and I don't mean algorithmically.
It's content made on demand, based on audience response, that converses and proceeds in the direction that they want it to go. It's cultivated, curated, informative community.
I'm going to talk you through three excellent examples of TV on the Social Web done well. These examples are the kind of thing that will help broadcasters move into the era of digital TV, and help brands thinking about setting up channels on Web-based social TV platforms (i.e. YouTube) understand social dynamics.
UK broadcasters from BBC to C4 to iTV have repeatedly said that they will consider interactive projects only where interactive is an addition to broadcast programs: that is broadcast is still the primary media and interactivity is something additional, something other.
I've frequently criticised this agenda because they don't realise that they are keeping themselves from innovating, from producing anything really cool, and because of the size of the industry in the UK, holding the industry back generally. The counter argument usually goes, 'well, a significant portion of our audience is over the age of (old) and won't accept interactive/digital content.'
All of these examples show that practices can be updated for Web technology, produce innovative content, and still play to the significant part of the audience still primarily watching in linear, broadcast formats.
Finite-Films: shared authorship in a traditional film format
Finite-Films make and distribute one film a month. Films are co-authored with the audience in a way that isn't terrifying for film-makers: the audience submits constraints like 'a female character must walk into a male toilet during one scene'. The company chooses 21 of their favourite (more importantly most do-able) constraints, classifies them into 3 categories : characters, story, and wild-cards and re-submits them to the audience, who then vote and the top seven are written into a script and a film is produced. Films take three months to make and are distributed via the internet (posted on YouTube but also a DVD available to purchase).
The company has now moved on to begin making a regular (fiction) web-series which I am very excited about.
If broadcasters adopted this model they could make interactive content, still keep primary authorial control, and have something to broadcast.
Attn: BBC C4 and ITV, buy these guys!
AJE: The Stream
Another example of successful social, Web-based TV is perhaps the most innovative broadcaster in social media (not to mention journalism) Al Jazeera English: the company noticed that it had an incredibly active semi-regular community online (both comments in channels of digital social media and video responses). They started facilitating the interaction between their online community by having show hosts read live questions from Twitter and Facebook to interview guests. This was so successful that they've now completely flipped the model in their new (last year) show 'The Stream'.
AJE's 'The Stream' pulls the most popular topics (on current headlines) from the digital social media streams and airs a show about it. They invite interview guests and the anchor's questions and discussion facilitation is shaped by the online discussion from the social media stream prior to the air date whilst on the live show, an assisting host or two continue to pull questions and read out comments from the social media streams and ask the interview guests to reply to the best questions from the audience participating via social media.
What AJE has done is create a 'social product'.
British startup Nexi.tv thinks it can build an entire online TV network off of this concept: it's idea is to create hosted online 'tv' programs, each episode produced in reply to user interests. Each program is based around the host personality, who feeds back to and facilitates amongst viewership. What they've done is taken what's been successful in YouTube -- personality based channels -- and built an online TV company model around it.
YouTube's personality driven channels
My last example is actually a multiple example of where and how YouTube has been used incredibly well for social interactivity (in spite of its UI).
I've derided YouTube in the past for not really being an interactive medium-- whilst I find this lately to be the case, the technology itself has been used to smashing success by personalities to create channels and cultivate an audience-- interacting with the commenting structures, creating integrated playlists and so forth.
I'm very pleased that YouTube seems to be rejiggering its technology to support more of this kind of thing (and in future it will be interesting to see how Nexi.tv survives and innovates around YouTube), but I'd make several adjustments to YouTube's UI to facilitate this:
Bring the comments up top-- I care less about recommendations on what to watch next than community engagement because I'm watching this channel for the personality and the narrative ecology (yes, similar stories are important but I'd argue less so in this case).
Any good digital journalist knows that the comments are where the follow up stories are, the alternative perspectives that make for great follow up content.
Personality driven channels in order to be successful are by their very nature all about the responsiveness, the follow up.
To change the UI, they could toggle between suggested and comments, or in a twitter format, bring only the most popular comments up top.
Drive this further by letting people time annotate their comments.
And video company has yet nailed threading video replies (with the notable exception of my startup, of course).
Here I will return to my PhD case study of the original Seesmic video community.
For the un-initiated: Seesmic wasn't always a twitter client, its alpha version was like a video version of Twitter. It attracted alpha early adopters. The result was an emotionally tightly knit community. And it is one of the greatest lost stories of the social Web.
Two things (here, relevant*) that came up again and again in my interviews were that threading of video-based replies were not done well, and that the community found it rather nice that the company hired someone to highlight them (Giselle, weekly Seesmix videos which still exist as a channel on YouTube). The Seesmix host and one of the social Web's first curators, Giselle helped foster a sense of trust in Seesmic as a company and a sense of community amongst Seesmic users.
Seesmic users frequently had asynchronous conversions and created their own memes. They found it frustrating that it would be difficult to track the conversation moving forward.
Not only is the narrative a social object but individual stories can become social objects in their own right, video commenting structures need to support that, the separability of those related but individual social objects. No video company has yet done this well. (I have a design for a video platform to do exactly this, but I have so far failed to find funding as the UK startup investment scene doesn't seem to support ballsy emergent technologies.)
Any brand could easily duplicate these models -- and in the brand and digital space there is a yawning gap for both finance and health care to do exactly that.
* there are other super-important things, like changes in the UI that influenced trust and perception of Seesmic as a company -- the point at which the background switched to white and clutter levels of the UI, for example...