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Social TV — Convergence is Coming
Tuesday, 15 September 2009 04:54
by Richard Kastelein
If we all thought the Facebook and Twitter social media growth phenomena were extraordinary, wait until Social TV hits your screens.

And it’s not as far away as you think — not only with the logical IPTV market, but also terrestrial TV. I recently attended the International Broadcast Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam, which bills itself as ’The content creation management delivery experience’. IBC2008 attracted 49,000+ visitors and 1,300+ exhibitors from more than 130 countries. This year is expected to be bigger. Last year, I was part of a team exhibiting at MIPTV in Cannes, and was expecting something a bit similar... but this was almost all about hardware and software and less about the actual formats and programs. However, this was not a disappointment. For embedded in the show there were some jewels... which have profoundly altered my view of Social Media, the future and the implication of reach that will touch billions not millions.

One diamond-in-the-rough was Israeli-based Orca Interactive (link), who was pitching their Social TV product, which was still in Proof of Concept (POC) and this was their first showing to the general public. Orca specializes in IPTV middleware and applications. But they are aggressively moving into social TV. I spoke to CTO Ofer Weintraub (Ph.D.) on their strategy and the nuts and bolts of the technology on offer.

“This is truly social TV — there is nobody on the market with similar offerings,” said Weintraub. He added there is an SDK (Software Development Kit) available now for select partners, but they certainly would not rule out an open API in the future.

And there is tight integration at the database level with website Trustedopinion.com. I discussed the integration with TO founder and CEO Shahar Smirin — whose site topped a million users recently.

“It’s a natural fit,”
said Smirin, who then went on to show his web product and how he’s built a viral invite and social ’consolidation’ framework focussed on opinion where one can pile everyone (all your friends, imported/invited) from most major social media sites and really focus on what your friends think about entertainment (mainly movies and theatre for now).

There is synergy between Orca and TO, but let’s now look at Orca. And why this marriage could take social media truly to the masses via IPTV.

One thing to note... Orca Interactive is owned by France Telecom and the 2008 M&A has positioned this duo to take Social TV to a mass global audience. The acquisition last year means that they are well positioned near the ear of one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators and proprietor of the multinational Orange brand. Orange has a base of almost 200 million customers in 30 countries.

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There’s nothing overly extraordinary in the makeup of the product — it’s nothing that Internet social media buffs have not seen before. But for TV users, this is going to revolutionize the way they watch TV... from being a passive, solitary, experience into an active, community one.

Here below, you can see recommendations from your friends on a particular movie or program. You can see related VOD products. You can rate it yourself, you can recommend it to a friend, you can see further information and you can send it as a gift to another person (purchased shows are good for 48 hours).


Here you can see your friends’ profiles, chat with them, send them a gift, see their recommends or send them a message.


Here you can send a gift to one or more friends.


And remember, this will all be integrated with your monthly billing. There will be no need for pulling out a credit card and security issues, there will be no need for digging deep to remember your Paypal password. No, the bill arrives like any other or is likely debited from your bank account automatically these days.

One can also set their mood — and then recommendations will be laid out according to complex algorithms and data mining based on your friends and your own data and viewing habits.
As Facebook revolutionized the way advertisers can niche-target their online demographics, Social TV will profoundly change the ad agencies and marketing departments will offer their wares in the television realm. Neilson ratings seem vague, less targetable and will likely become obsolete in TV 2.0.

Equally as interesting, but taking a different tack, is another gem called NDS (link), partially owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which has a reach to over 107 million pay-TV subscribers worldwide. Their latest product, Social TV was also in POC stage and looks a lot more like ’widgetized’ TV rather than a singular network.


Their model is quite different, but also appealing and unique for a number of reasons. One being it lends itself more to an iPhone app store scenario, with plans for an open API, which positions it well for social media developers and long tail monetization of the social TV landscape. But monetization or not will be decided by the operators not NDS. It also has impeccable design with a beautiful interface.


Obtaining details was a bit sketchy due to their PR person being in meetings and there was, understandably, some hesitancy in getting anyone to go on the record.

However, one of the demo managers did talk to me about some interesting API integration potential with Flickr for instance. If you see something interesting on TV you can be simply one click away from viewing images of that place, object or person. Conceivably the same could be done with the Youtube API in the video space or even Lastfm for music for that matter.

Social networking is also alive and well on Verizon's FiOS TV and new features are being added such as Facebook and Twitter Widgets.  The new Widget Bazaar applications marketplace is located within FiOS TV's Interactive Media Guide.

Verizon has worked with social media innovators Facebook Connect, Twitter, ESPN, Veoh, blip.tv, and Dailymotion to create a converged Internet-to-television experience that lets FiOS TV subscribers connect with others while watching TV, plus search and view a variety of online, personal PC-based videos on their television screens. Verizon also plans an open development platform (SDK) to permit developers to write interactive FiOS TV applications that will be available through the Widget Bazaar.

Customers are saying they love the new “social TV” Widgets, but they want more.  They want to send Tweets, not just look at them.  They want to create their own unique Facebook status messages. 

According to Shawn Strickland, vice president, marketing for Verizon  Telecom, Verizon is working with some popular companies on the Web to create the foundation for a high-quality, engaging Internet-to-TV experience.

A recent report by The Nielsen Company found that there are 87 percent more online social media users now than in 2003, with 883 percent more time devoted to social media sites. Also, the number of American users frequenting online video destinations has also increased by 339 percent since 2003.

Subscribers can Tweet about the TV show they are watching or search and follow their friends’ Tweets. Viewers can also update their Facebook status with their own messages. All of this is simply done via the FiOS TV remote control and an onscreen keyboard.

The Verizon At Home blog for the latest on the Widget Bazaar application marketplace.

A Belgian company called Zappware also launched social networking features for its "iView Core" services suite at IBC09. And they had a demo showing how the add-on allows the viewer to connect with friends and family to:

  • see what they are watching on their TVs
  • exchange favourite lists of TV programmes and VOD movies
  • recommend TV programmes or VOD movies to one another
  • send VOD movie gifts to their friends
  • lock their TV screens onto one another and watch the same content

Koen Swings, CTO & Managing Partner Zappware:

"Social networking has been a buzz word in the past few years, in particular on the internet. With these extensions to our EPG, VOD and PVR products, we now extend social networking from the PC domain to the TV domain, because we are convinced that there is no better environment for sharing TV experiences than the TV itself. In a world, in which people are continuously seeking to connect and in which consumers are willing to embrace new technologies that allow them to connect better and more often, these social networking features on TV will be highly appreciated by viewers. Operators that include these features in their iDTV offering, will be able to offer their subscribers a cross-platform social networking experience, hence adding value to their triple or quadruple play offer and resulting in increased subscriber loyalty."

So at the end of the day, this is a win, win, win for all — TV stations get better data on their viewers and offer convergence with web ideas and sites, viewers get interactive community-oriented, social television and can make interesting viewing choices based on mood and network of friends, web-based community and social media sites can make more headway into IPTV and broadcast TV, still the Tour de Force of media, and entrepreneurs and developers find a new medium to develop and monetize via new, open-source-philosophy-driven API and SDK environs.

Richard Kastelein, a social media strategist and publisher, is CEO of new startup, Agora Media Group LLC (link), a new creative and innovation agency based in London, UK. Kastelein has been building online communities for over a decade and is an Open Source evangelist. He’s an adept team player - a publisher, writer, photographer, marketing director, web developer and graphic designer with more than 20 years experience in the development and operation of newspapers, magazines, web media and marketing of multinational, companies in international settings.


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