What Facebook, Google video chat means for TV

By Cory Bergman 

As predicted by just about everyone, Facebook’s “awesome” new product is video calling, powered by Skype. Facebook rolled it out today — it’s a quick plugin download — and you simple click a “call” button next to a user’s profile and it rings them on the other end. If the user doesn’t answer, you can leave a video message.

Video calling is a natural addition for Facebook’s 750 million active users — the simplicity (no need to sign up for Skype) and seamless integration (well, the plugin isn’t downloading for me right now) will spark exponentially more usage than Skype proper. It’s also good timing: Google+, now testing with a few thousands people, includes a popular “hangout” feature that combines up to 10 people in a live video chat. And don’t forget about Apple’s Facetime video calling. It doesn’t take an expert to predict video calling/chat will become a staple of human communication.

So what does it all mean for TV, the original video communication system? Here are a few ideas and applications, some of which are already happening:

1. TV interviews, redefined

Why send a TV crew to interview someone when you can pop up a video call? We’ve yet to see how you can record a Facebook call — you have to imagine this will be solved very soon — but the folks at Phandroid have already figured out how to record a Google+ video hangout, powered by Camtasia. Here’s a video demo:

Sure, the quality isn’t beautiful, but as millions of people begin to use video calling, it will look and feel natural to the average viewer. Beyond the cost savings, the implications are amazing. Imagine redefining “POS” (person-on-the-street) interviews by conducting them through Facebook or Google+ instead of running down to the street corner. Then tie it to a Facebook page or Google+ account. “Like us on Facebook and tell us why _____. We’ll pick five people to include in our story…”

One limitation here: it doesn’t appear that you can call Facebook fans, just Facebook friends, which limits this to accounts. But you could “friend” selected people who have joined a page using a go-between account.

2. A video call-in show

Skype is already a popular way to conduct live or live-to-tape video interviews for both news and entertainment shows.

Al Jazeera’s new show, The Stream, features Skype interviews for a majority of each episode. Because guests don’t have to travel and Al Jazeera doesn’t have to hire a crew on location, booking is a snap. The addition of Facebook and Google video chat lowers this barrier even further, creating unique opportunities to allow viewers to call-in like a radio show. Call screening would be a little tricky — you’d have to line up people in advance and perhaps institute a delay — but you could use the same general approach as the POS interviews mentioned above.

3. Connect with people in new ways

We’re just scratching the surface, but here’s an interesting example from KOMU-TV. Anchors Sarah Hill and Nina Moini opened a Google+ hangout before a newscast and let random viewers drop by while they were on the air.

Screen grab courtesy of Ryan Osborn

“On one side of the set, we’re live chatting with our new ‘Google Hangout’ viewers and on the other side of the set, we’re chatting with the viewers on our Facebook/Twitter livestream webcam,” Hill wrote on Google+. “Who won the #’s? Google Hangouts by a landslide. So cool to actually be able to see the faces of our viewers.” KOMU is now using the Google Hangout feature on a daily basis.

4. It’s coming to TV, right?

It’s a no-brainer for Google to include some kind of hangouts implementation within its Google TV platform, although they haven’t dropped any hints. Facebook already has a variety of TV apps spanning Xbox Live and Samsung, so video calling would be a natural addition. And Apple could bring Facetime to Apple TV. Comcast, too, has teamed with Skype to bring video calling to TV. As TV manufacturers continue to build cameras in their TV sets (and as Xbox sells more Kinects), video calling will become just as common on a TV set as it will with laptops and tablets.

Any more implications of video chat for TV? Leave ’em in comments…