Will storytelling take social TV’s center stage in 2013?

By Cory Bergman 

(Guest post by Jacob Shwirtz, Viacom Media Networks’ expert on social viewing and social media.)

As social TV continues to evolve, with more start-ups, more consolidation and broader impact on our industry, it seems appropriate to take stock of 2012 and try to foresee what 2013 has in store for the hottest buzzword in the media industry.

The easiest way to understand social TV in 2012 is as a technology and marketing vehicle. Digital marketing and digital product teams at media companies spent 2012 building apps, connecting to APIs and starting to understand metrics involving use of social by our audiences.

On the product side, as an industry, we tackled questions like “how do we let people vote via Twitter?” and “do we need ACR solutions or should we not encourage on-demand consumption?” Perhaps most related to the bottom-line, we started figuring out that TV Everywhere is a major demand that needs to be supported.

On the digital marketing side, Twitter remained the de facto horizontal second screen experience. No “killer app” for social TV came close. We figured out the role of GetGlue, Viggle, IntoNow and others, while waiting for Facebook to make a bolder move in TV (we’re still waiting!) More broadly, we saw Pinterest, Instragram and Viddy become extremely important. Finally, we were excited to see Tumblr launch an ad product and work on discovery, justifying increased resources dedicated to Tumblr engagement.

Regarding the above, 2013 will see us evaluate the impact of Zeebox’s major US partnerships (that include heavy on-air promotion, unlike any other player in the field). We’ll continue to anxiously await Facebook’s TV strategy, while keeping tabs on the new Viggle-GetGlue merger. The biggest highlight will be TV Everywhere.

But there’s something even bigger that 2013 has in store; a new understanding that has the potential to overshadow other trends. It may take until the second or even third quarter, but eventually industry executives will start to think of social TV as much more than a technology or a marketing/distribution platform.

The big win, the ultimate expression and promise of social TV, is the understanding of digital and social media as storytelling media. TV’s best expression isn’t as a marketing tool for radio and social media’s best expression isn’t as a marketing tool for TV.

When conversations of social TV originate within the departments of TV executives, we’ll know we have arrived. Just as they don’t rely on their “digital executive” counterparts to tell them which cameras to use, or which editing software to use (even though both the cameras and the software are digital), so too will they take a much stronger stance in social strategy.

A key project to keep tabs on is Syfy’s Defiance. A massive investment and over two years of work brings us this new show and simultaneous online role-playing game (created by Trion Worlds) that will launch in April, 2013. More so than any other announced project, Defiance holds the best hope for showing the true power of convergence.

“Watch the show. Play the game,” ends the promo above.

This switch in mind-set, namely the evolution from technology and marketing to storytelling, is a driving force behind my latest project, The St0ry. For 2.5 days before CES, in January, 2013, I’m assembling 30 innovative, fascinating people, behind closed doors, for an off-the-record discussion and brainstorm about the evolution of digital trends and the elevated stature of storytelling in what we all do. Although the event is a private one, I’m confident there will be several outcomes and conclusions that we’ll publicize.

Will social TV storytelling take center stage in 2013 as producers struggle to do more with less? Big bets like Defiance will be on everyone’s radar in 2013, so stay tuned…

(Guest post by Jacob Shwirtz, Viacom Media Networks. The views expressed are solely those of the author and in no way represent any official position, plan or strategy of his employer.)