12 predictions for social TV in 2012

By Cory Bergman 

It’s great to watch Mashable, ReadWriteWeb and more proclaim that social TV has been one of 2011’s top trends. That’s why we focused Lost Remote exclusively on social TV nearly a year ago. Now that we’re heading into 2012, we believe that social TV is much greater than a trend: it’s nothing short of a revolution in the TV industry.

We’ve mapped out 12 of our predictions for next year based on emerging behavior we’re seeing in the social TV space. A couple, admittedly, are educated guesses, but that’s what makes it entertaining. To the list:

1. Social TV startup activity will double

From investment and acquisitions to full-on failures, the social TV startup space will kick up a gear for 2012. We saw a fair amount of activity in 2011 — Yahoo’s acquisition of IntoNow was the big headline — and we predict substantially more consolidation and VC activity in the new year. There was also a notable business failure — the second-screen startup BeeTV — which underlines the reality that the social TV revolution among well-entrenched TV stakeholders will take time and plenty of money.

2. Nielsen will buy a social TV data company

Here’s one of those educated guesses. While Nielsen is ramping up very quickly on the social TV front — it recently released a study that tied social activity to ratings — it could expedite its product development by acquiring a social data startup like Trendrr, BlueFin Labs or SocialGuide. Social TV data is no longer an experimental effort, but a core product that networks are increasingly willing to pay for. But engagement has yet to be quantified in an industry-standard metric: that’s something Nielsen is best-positioned to establish, and an acquisition would help it get there.

3. Get ready for a nasty battle over the second screen

Over the last year, TV networks, cable/satellite companies, sports leagues, a big-time Hollywood producer, a portal, a bunch of tech startups and even local TV stations have launched second-screen apps. (And don’t forget Twitter and Facebook — more on that in a moment.) They all want your eyeballs on their apps when you’re watching TV. The goal: buckets of new revenue from viewer data and second-screen interactive ads tied to the broadcast. But to get there, you need scale. And if everyone under the sun has an app — some for shows, others for networks, others for everything — it will be extremely challenging for anyone to achieve enough scale to make it a real business. In short, consolidation is inevitable. Standardization will follow on the advertising front, where several startups are already working on second-screen ad solutions.

4. Twitter will want to watch TV with you

Out of all those players grappling for the second screen, Twitter has one of the best chances to scale. It already dominates the real-time conversation around TV, and it’s bending over backwards to get its tweets on TV — and it’s working. At the same time, Twitter is moving to become more of a media destination. That’s why it’s safe to predict that Twitter will step up its second-screen efforts. How? It could add audio-identification software (which is becoming a staple of second-screen apps) that would enable a Twitter app to identify what show is on the air. Then Twitter could focus conversations by suggesting corresponding hashtags, curate content people are sharing in context of the show, serve promoted tweets in a co-viewing experience and gather precious data around it.

5. Facebook will increasingly power social TV recommendations

Despite the fact people have “liked” TV shows 1.65 billion times, Facebook has been unable to predict what I might want to watch based on the TV shows my friends have liked. That’s because most people “like” their all-time favorite TV shows (“The Simpsons”), not necessarily the ones they’re watching right now. But now with Facebook’s updates to Open Graph, the act of watching a show on Hulu, for example, becomes public if you’ve opted into “frictionless sharing.” By extension, this dramatically expands the data set that Facebook can access, making it easier to discover new shows. Facebook’s recommendations will be integrated in Comcast’s upcoming Xfinity experience — where viewers can also “like” shows from their TV sets — and social network hinted that more MSO deals are coming in 2012. And here’s a product prediction: imagine if each TV show from a network becomes an “event” on Facebook, tying into RSVPs. Just like shared stories drive referrals, TV RSVPs could drive ratings. Stay tuned…

6. TV check-ins will become passive activities

Just as Facebook has added “frictionless sharing,” the TV check-in companies will continue their quest to integrate with satellite and cable TV set-top boxes. “We see this as a new era around ‘connected social TV,’ where devices are truly communicating with each other to deliver a more seamless and integrated sharing experience,” explains Miso’s Somrat Niyogi. Miso’s new relationships with DirecTV and AT&T — the app connects via Wifi with the set-top box — allow people to synchronize content and conversations with the show simply by pushing a button. GetGlue has also partnered with DirecTV for seamless check-ins and the ability to see (and jump to) what your friends are watching on the TV screen. These kinds of increasingly seamless integrations will intensify in 2012 as social TV startups push to grow scale and the data that comes with it. At the same time, viewers will become (little by little) more comfortable with sharing what they’re watching.

7. Social TV producers will become an industry-standard position

We’ve already seen “social media directors” pop up at broadcast and cable networks — mostly in marketing departments — but a new role is emerging in the TV production process itself. We’re seeing it first with live broadcasts: social TV producers who pick-and-choose tweets and other social media items to include in the show (see our profile on NBC’s The Voice). And we’ll soon start seeing it in episodic shows with social-savvy writers working hand-in-hand with social TV producers who carry social integration through to post-production. This will include creating synchronized content for the second-screen, which will become just as important as a show’s social strategy. MTV Networks’ Jacob Shwirtz also predicts the arrival of multi-platform VPs. “Responsibilities for online, offline, on-air, web, mobile, tablet, smart tv, social and more no longer fall within separate teams but are rather uniting into new core business pillars of content creation, distribution and marketing,” he predicts. Sorry, old guard.

8. Social TV companies will launch (lots) of connected TV apps

The reason why we’re not seeing a rush of connected TV apps these days is the software itself has been terribly limiting. If you’re a social TV company, you want to be integrated into the viewing experience. But many connected TV platforms run apps as standalone, hard-to-navigate, low-tech experiences. (How much have you used Twitter and Facebook apps on your connected TV, for example? There’s no reason to.) This is changing, however, which will enable developers to create apps made for TV that run in the background once you’ve activated the app. At the same time, connected TV audiences are growing fast, which means social TV players will start churning out apps for the top TV platforms.

9. Netflix will get social, but it won’t dazzle

We’ve been tracking Netflix’s long-overdue social initiatives, and 2012 will finally be the year that the company integrates Facebook in a meaningful way (legislation willing). But despite the tremendous promise of a truly social Netflix — imagine the Netflix algorithm+Facebook recommendations+frictionless sharing+social viewing — I’m afraid the company will take a more conservative approach out of fear it will upset its stirred-up customer base. Then there’s the distinct possibility that Netflix could sell in 2012, and that’s another reason to take it slow on the privacy front. But then again, Netflix CEO Reid Hastings is on Facebook’s board, so perhaps Netflix’s integration will go beyond simple frictionless sharing to the first socially-infused discovery and viewing experience. I would LOVE it, but I’m not holding my breath.

10. Google TV will make a comeback

Ok, everyone loves to hate Google TV, but I think it’s a safe bet to predict we’ll see a resurgence after its first failed attempt. First, Android is exploding, creating a huge developer community who can extend those same mobile and tablet apps to Google TV’s Android platform. Second, YouTube is starting to get decent TV-worthy content. Third, as we’ve learned from Google+ — over 600K new users daily! — don’t underestimate Google’s ability to drive huge audiences. And finally, Google will be motivated to cut deals. Now, by resurgence, we don’t mean anything like Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s prediction of 50% of TVs by summer of next year (that’s crazy.) But Google TV will start to gain traction, and G+ Hangouts could add a unique dimension.

11. Start saying good-bye to TV remote controls (finally!)

There are few things more frustrating in life than trying to type in your email address or WiFi password using a TV remote. But fortunately, it looks like an alternative is about to arrive. Xbox led the way with Kinect, which brought hand and voice control to the Xbox experience (personally, I use it exclusively for voice control, and I love it). While that works now for Netflix, Hulu and NBC apps, it doesn’t extend to the full TV experience just yet. Meanwhile, Apple is the subject of increasingly-solid rumors it will roll out Siri-voice-controlled TV sets toward the end of 2012. Along with clean hooks into the iPad, these sets have the potential to revolutionize TV viewing by making interaction easy. And interaction is at the core of social TV.

12. Forget the last channel, TVs will start up smart with social guides

One of the great inefficiencies of television happens when you turn it on: whatever channel you were watching last appears on the screen. In the case of your DVR, it’s the shows you’ve recorded. On Xbox, Roku and Apple TV, it’s a dashboard of available content. But imagine if TVs and set-top boxes started with a smart social guide with 1) a list of available new episodes of shows you customarily watch 2) current shows your friends enjoy 3) trending shows across the larger population and 4) what your friends are watching now. And not just linear TV, but your DVR’d content, on-demand shows and video from your subscription services like Netflix and Hulu. Imagine how much TV you’d discover, and imagine how much more you would watch. While we’re starting to see promising social guide apps and websites, will be start seeing it on our TV sets in 2012? Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch goal — so far, MSO deals with social startups are slow in coming — but a well-done start screen would be one the most valuable additions in television’s history.

That’s it. Agree/disagree? Want to add a prediction? Weigh in below in comments. Make sure you’re subscribed to our daily social TV email to keep up with it all, and thanks to Lost Remote’s Natan Edelsburg for adding some of his predictions to the mix, as well!