“Where Are We Now?”
Welcome to the first installation of “Where Are We Now?”, an ongoing series on the Social TV marketplace as it currently stands based on what it was, featuring the people who were there. This series is meant to examine the trends in social television and how they’ve developed into what we interact with today, as well as some forecasting as to where we’re going. Today’s initial installment is a conversation between myself and Chairman of the 2nd Screen Society, and BRaVe Expert In Residence, Alan Wolk. Alan and I discussed the history of the space, check-in apps, Twitter’s place in real-time Social TV, and the problems it currently faces.
To begin, we started by defining when Social TV became “a thing.” While 2010 was the first year observers started noticing the behavior and networks started to encourage it, the true start could be traced to September 13th, 2009. That was the night Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, ushering years worth of “Imma Let You Finish” memes. The event was unique in that it was live-tweeted by celebrities and users alike and it was generally acknowledged that those tweets drove viewership as people tuned in to see the drama unfold.
As the live-tweeting era began in earnest, a new series of apps emerged. GetGlue, Miso, Tunerfish and other new apps asked viewers to check-in to shows they were currently watching, both to let their friends know what they were watching and to win stickers or points. Networks incorporated these apps into their marketing plans, and “Make sure to check in” on-air messages became part of most show’s social strategies..
As check-in apps proliferated, it became clear that that they were not the smash hits the VCs had hoped they’d be. Even GetGlue, the “daddy” of all check-in apps, couldn’t crack 250,000 check-ins for marquee events like the Super Bowl.
Slowly but surely, the check-in apps shut down. Alan remarked that this behavior was, in retrospect, inevitable as, “the idea was it would let your friends know what you were watching. That relied on people watching TV in real time. And the sort of early adopters who downloaded those apps weren’t the sort of people who watched live TV outside of sports or award shows. They were all time shifters.”
Multipurpose Apps and the So-What Factor
The check-in apps were quickly followed by another genre of app, the multipurpose app. The Swiss Army knife of second screen apps, these apps could handle everything from check-ins to message boards to IMDB to Twitter feeds. Unfortunately these apps, some of which had actual marketing budgets behind them, got no more love than the check-in apps.
Worse still, many of them packed features on, trying to find something that would stick. As a result, they created user experiences that few could actually figure out
As Alan joked, “We worked in the industry and even we couldn’t figure out what we were supposed to do!” As people lost patience over confusing interfaces and unclear value adds, the question of “so what?” was raised with increasing frequency. As people stopped using them and networks grew frustrated with having to plan for them, the apps began to fade away.
Some apps tried to answer the “So What” question and prove their value. Viggle, for one, offered points that could be redeemed for physical rewards, such as gift cards for Starbucks and BestBuy. But with this reward based gamification came a new challenge: users actively exploiting the system for points. Websites sprung up to show viewers how to get the maximum number of points for an evening, giving detailed maps of when and where to tune in to maximize their haul.
The problem with gaming the app like this was that one of Viggle’s selling points was data: networks could use the check-in app to see which shows viewers liked and use that information to run more promotions and make programming and advertising decisions. Once viewers started gaming the system, the value of all that data went out the window.
Facebook and Twitter, Again
From the app chaos, Twitter and Facebook emerged as the primary real-time platforms for Social TV conversation. Twitter has gotten the lion’s share of press thanks to its real time and public nature, but as real time viewing is decreasing and paid posting is increasing, the industry is looking at Facebook in a whole new light.
Twitter still holds the reigns for real-time, public Social TV conversation, but this will change if it they cannot find ways to bring in new users. This has been Twitter’s biggest issue since 2009 and they still don’t seem to have a realistic plan in place; instead they keep creating confusing new features like Moments designed to appeal to a wider, but not necessarily registered, audience and redefining existing user behaviors, to the annoyance of many power users.
If Facebook ascends as expected and becomes the dominant platform for television, Twitter could find itself in a similar position to the apps it dethroned: the topic of a “whatever-happened-to” conversation.
Where Are We Now hopes to be an ongoing feature where the TVRev team interviews people who were there at the start of the space on their journey so far and where they see things moving in the next five years. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line at Alex@BRaVeVentures.com and we’ll set up some time to talk.