Technology industry veterans will be familiar with the concept of the backchannel: an unofficial online discussion channel that opens up spontaneously around social gatherings, such as conferences, where the delegates turn to the social web for commentary on the goings on. Those not at the event ultimately feed from the backchannel to see the opinion from the crowd.
Backchannels have been common for years now. And with the mainstreaming of Twitter, we're seeing the backchannel increase the socialisation of something else, a bit more mainstream than the tech conference, that brings other groups of likeminded people together - the telly.
It's now very common to see TV programmes promote their social channels on Facebook, the chat room on their site and their Facebook page, because they can create huge engagement and attract more viewers in return. As I hear a peer of mine puts it, there's nothing new in social TV. Heavy promotion of a brand's Twitter profile through advertising or on air real estate is a very current promotional activity. But it's not really rocket science. I'm actually surprised there's not more innovation in the social media backchannel (innovation like Football 3s). Not that I don't like 'me too'. It's just that it's so, bleedin' obvious.
All of a sudden, a lot of discussion is creeping about on how PR blogs and tweets about how brands and broadcasters alike are promoting their content through the official and unofficial (back)-channel. Check Mark Pinsent, Dirk Singer and the people they link to for a bit on this. But I think the killer punch is still to come. Or at least I hope it is...
I'm seeing the coming of real social TV. Your set top box smartly wired to your social graph, so that the mixture of PVR and on-demand creates the mother of all social media - TV that find you stuff you didn't even know you'd like, or that you didn't even know was on, because your social network told you so. For years, I've listened to focus groups explaining how their media consumption habits have been evolving, and I'm thinking some technology won't be far away that does the same to our TV.
Think about it. What are our options right now? Watch it when the broadcaster tells us to. Record and watch it later. Or watch something from the past on-demand (if they let us). None of the above is very '2.0'. How about this: we're on the way home and we look through our Twitter stream on our mobile and see that five of our pals are commenting on this amazing documentary, football match, or film we'd never have considered watching. We then either fume at having missed it (me and Sky Sports match) or we make a ntoe then search for it another time. It happens a lot I know. But imagine if that programme was then top of your viewing list when you witch on the tellybox / laptop / whatever when you got home. And what about if your system remembered, and found stuff like that all the time. Imagine then that your entire channel selection is shaped by your social graph (a bit like my Feedly RSS subscription list looks, or my Twitter stream). Now that would be roughly what the current or future media consumer would like I think.
So I'm hoping to see something like this soon. And I'm thinking it might do some really interesting things to how brands try to engage audiences. Everything would have to be so much more, well, engaging! That our TV channel app store or something similar would give us a heap of options on what to consume in more social ways and to be able to chat about it like how we like to right now too. That would be kind of logical but pretty cutting edge too.
So here's to the coming age of social TV.
Oh, and I'm reading about Anna Hardman having done some thinking and inspiring on this recently too. Anna / anyone, point me in the direction of where I can see it pls... I'm keen to see more bloggage on this topic.