What is Social TV?

…And where have YOU been?


The idea of socializing around a source of light and recreation has been around since the discovery of fire. After fire, there was the radio and – after that – we would gather around the television. It’s not an alien concept, but it is one we have seen greatly diminish over time.

People still want to watch their shows, but they want to do it on their own time and their own terms. Viewership for live broadcasts has been declining over the years as major carriers lose their ratings to streaming services like Hulu. Social TV is a way for carriers to revive the social aspect of good old-fashioned sit-and-watch…on a technological slant.

Cyber Socializing in Front of the TV

Lots of shows use various forms of Social TV to enhance viewing and increase viewership. Among the most interactive TV shows are:

  • BBC’s Free Speech – where viewers can tweet in real-time their approval or disapproval of various panelists.
  • American Idol – currently fielding a program that lets Facebook users vote for their favorite contestants for free.
  • Person of Interest – often displays the title of the episode or show with a hashtag to encourage mass proliferation across social media networks (more on that).
  • The Walking Dead – uses a service called Story Sync to provide supplemental materials relevant to an episode’s premier (more on that, as well).

All of these things – remarking on the validity of a panelist, voicing who you think is a better singer, telling your friends about a show – these were things people did in front of the television before social media and the internet were a reality. Social TV seeks a return to these but through leveraging sprawling social media networks and technology.


Back in the day, before crazy sci-fi stuff like Twitter and Facebook, you used to have to hear about a show from literal word-of-mouth. You would come into work and a colleague would tell you about how Wesley Crusher was the best thing to ever happen to Star Trek. Either you would be very interested depending on their pitch or you wouldn’t.

Your ears would certainly perk up the next time the name was mentioned and you might even pause your discman whenever a commercial came on. You might even take them up on their offer to watch an episode at their place. That was how things usually spread.

The hashtag – this thing (#) – is something that has been heavily employed by shows like Bones, Breaking Bad and Fringe, and it operates on the same principal. Major social media outlets like Twitter catalogue and organize posts with hashtags in common so instead of you telling a dozen friends about a show, literally millions of people could be talking about the same thing. Not only could you socialize with a bigger community about television, it also served as a form of free advertising.

Supplemental Viewing

Shows like Falling Skies and the aforementioned The Walking Dead all make use of supplemental viewing or “second screen” experiences. These second screen experiences sync up to a live broadcast of an episode and provide viewers with additional content including trivia, background information and other things viewers can’t get from Hulu.

They serve as the proverbial carrot on the stick and, as recent years have shown, many viewers have risen to the bait. The second screen experience transforms viewing experience from just sitting around to actively participating in one form or another. It draws you in.

Social TV on the Rise

Lots of newer televisions on the market ship with apps to social media outlets like Facebook and the like. As the years roll on, more carriers adopt forms of integration and interaction. Some people may still wish to watch TV on their own terms and, for that, there will always be a market for Hulu and Netflix. However, the temptation to sit-and-watch has never been greater.

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