“Social TV” in use, and notes on this week’s video

Big video online this week… lots of discussion about how much, and whether congestion was at servers or on “last mile” delivery, and so on. But I’m particularly interested in how people used video in new ways, and the joint project from CNN and Facebook sparked a lot of novel conversation.

(I put “Social TV” in quotes above, because yesterday’s work was really on the “Social PC”… the big home wall screen differs from yesterday’s hunched-over-the-laptop solitary experience, and the focus this week was still on visiting a separate webpage instead of integrating the social layer into video feed. It will be awhile yet until we have the SoCS to make actual Social TV, but that day will come. Bottom line: It ain’t “Social TV” if there ain’t no TV.)

I’ve been reading lots of commentary, and pulled out some quotes where people responded particularly positively to the ability to watch and comment on a live event with remote friends. My own top takeaways:

  • There’s definitely interest in synchronous viewing of live events. And people definitely respond to social viewing too. Don’t bet against this trend.
  • Flash enabled friction-free viewing. Anyone could write to it, distribute it, read it, and costs for each participant were very, very low. If there was ever any question about live Flash streaming, yesterday answered it.
  • The desktop screen, the main home display screen, the personal pocket screen, the shared environmental screen, as well as those temporarily without a screen, or who cannot physically see a screen… all experiences must work together. Your friends should not be segregated into bins depending on what brand of device they prefer, or whether they’re members of a particular website.

There’s a selection of favorite testimonials up top, followed by discussions of some of the business drivers, and some additional interesting ideas towards the bottom.

Disclaimer: Internet-enabled TVs don’t really exist yet. Closest we have is connectivity via settop or console — close, and many of the same dynamics, but the device-dependence is not yet as open as it will become. Sitting alone at the PC is definitely a different experience than sitting back in front of the TV with other people, and the latter experience is not quite here yet. If you’re looking for financial compensation during 2009, look elsewhere. But if you’re looking to be an early mover in what promises to be a high-growth market, it can be worth your while to think through these possibilities now.

Copyright: I’m taking the liberty of republishing others’ words without their knowledge and consent. But unlike other cases, these words are already in the public domain, and I’ve provided links to source citations. Still, if you find your words here unexpectedly, please let me know and I’ll remove them, thanks.

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TESTIMONIALS

“I thought it was awesome ‘watching’ the inauguration with my twitter buddies – it was like having all my friends around to joke around and share comments. LOVED it! Way to go! So, what do we watchnext? Friends?”
http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/inaugurating-social-tv/

“[Facebook's] deal with CNN to broadcast the big day by having the status updates run alongside the live streaming video from Washington was a game-changer. The ability to see what your ‘friends’ were saying and being able to switch to see what everyone else was saying enabled us all to get beyond the fishbowl. It was an amazing blend of traditional mass media reporting and everyone’s individual point-of-view collected in one location. Opinions, emotions and even contrary perspectives were public, available and accessible. Plus, if you had something more to add (relevant, idiotic or different), all opinions were equal.”
http://www.twistimage.com/blog/archives/open/

“Twitter was huge and held together – was this not Twitter’s Performance Waterloo? – I found it a wonderful adjunct to my TV and my web watching. I limited my stream to those people that I knew and cared for and it was as if I was there side by side with them. This amplified the whole experience. Some were on the ground in Washington – their collective Tweets were like a composite eye – in aggregate they gave me a sense of being there.”
” . . . I was joined by millions who wanted to make their computer the centre of their experience. I wanted this because I could add more layers to what was going on. I cannot do this with TV where all I can do is shift channels. I could use Twitter – I could have several streams open at the same time – I could chat – the list goes on.”
” . . . So if you produce content for TV and you have not made up your mind that the web will be your primary arena you are no longer in the game. Adding conversation with friends and enabling filtering of this group is the icing on the web TV cake.”
http://www.fastforwardblog.com/2009/01/21/post-inaugeration-thoughts-about-social-media/

“For all the digital dollars spent by CNN, the network seemed to score more points with its CNN.com video/Facebook mashup. At least, most of my Facebook friends thought so, and not just the ones who still work at CNN. Clicking on a link gave you a double-window, with live video on one side and a scrolling stream of Facebook status updates on the other. No expensive special imagery and certainly no value-added journalistic insight, just real-time reactions from all over the world to the history being made in Washington. That stream included this piece of layman’s criticism: a person ‘wondering why the anchors on CNN on the TV are so much more interesting and articulate than what I’m seeing on the Facebook streaming’.”
” . . . For all the diversity of content found online, the growth of streaming video consumption and the rise of social networks as news sources, I still thought that this major event was best delivered and consumed via television — and high-definition TV in particular. The sight of all those people on the Mall was certainly awe-inspiring, but switching back and forth from 480p to 1080i on a large-screen TV was like making the jump from impulse power to warp speed.
http://www.technewsworld.com/story/65908.html

“I walked into the Green Wagon just as Barack Obama began his speech. Proprietor Jen Casales smiled and said, “I’m glad I’m not watching this alone.” She was watching the speech on her Mac via CNN Online with Facebook, and her friends’ comments scrolled up the screen, like Twitter. That could actually inspire me to someday do a Facebook page.”
http://blogs.nashvillescene.com/bites/2009/01/inaugural_visit_to_the_green_w.php

“I am so impressed with the CNN Live & Facebook Integration that I had to fire up the video camera and share my thoughts with the world. This changes things. The fact that I don’t HAVE to turn on my television if I don’t want to. The fact that I can share the experience with friends around the globe in real time. The fact that this is another step towards social viewing. I’m impressed and believe this changes the game quite a bit. Where does it go from here?”
http://www.cc-chapman.com/2009/01/20/cnn-facebook-change-the-game/

“I thought the CNN/Facebook integration was great, but I kept wishing it was CNN/Twitter integration. To me that stream of conversation would have made more sense than constantly updating your Facebook status. Now I’m wishing for Twitter integration for every site I can imagine!”
http://www.cc-chapman.com/2009/01/20/cnn-facebook-change-the-game/#comment-47483

“The living room area, where the family congregates to watch tv, is set up around the television. The computer, on the other hand, is usually in a separate room; an office, a den, etc. since our social habits in the living are set up around a tv, it will be difficult getting the cultural consciousness to move from tv to internet. That said, i agree w/you that if there is an integrated functionality on my tv for my computer, it would open more avenues for me to sit on my rump and get fatter.”
http://www.cc-chapman.com/2009/01/20/cnn-facebook-change-the-game/#comment-47519

“I had the same epiphany yesterday. I assumed I’d want to leave my office to go to be with some co-workers in front of a big TV, but once I got onto the CNN.com Live w/ FB integration feed, I was hooked & didn’t leave. I loved watching live TV with my friends all over the country, and saw this ‘non-Twitter crowd’ turn into a Twitter-like experience. I actually shut down TweetDeck and solely followed the FB feed of my friends. It was an awesome experience — game changing is right!”
http://www.cc-chapman.com/2009/01/20/cnn-facebook-change-the-game/#comment-47527

“Great post! I think it’s a very very early evolution of the TV. I suspect the next step will be enabling live chat and Social Networking tools (non-Web) inside the Cable TV system. The current DVR box will be more and more ‘interactive’ as it’s currently passive, but will become active…which makes me wonder if that means yet another “closed” network? I watched on my 53″ TV with surround sound on..I really wanted to absorb the whole thing in a big way..was gonna Tweet but just got swept up!”
http://www.cc-chapman.com/2009/01/20/cnn-facebook-change-the-game/#comment-47529

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BUSINESS ISSUES

  • Many stories in the press emphasized that interactive viewing was a big hit, and that non-interactive viewing satisfies only part of the demand:

    “Online TV Sites Battle for Viewers: Sites like TV.com, Hulu, and Joost that feature much of the same content are hoping that social-networking features will put them ahead of the crowd… On TV, content is king. But on the Web, community may reign supreme.”
    http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jan2009/tc20090119_442155.htm

  • Some focused on broadcast-style advertising… I suspect that there’s greater value in recommendations from friends:

    “Eventually, video socializing might also benefit advertisers. “As the prevalence of quality on these sites becomes broader, advertisers will be looking to drill down and target individual users,” says Mark Trefgarne, chief executive of LiveRail, a San Francisco-based startup that develops platforms for monetizing online videos. “If you put one commercial across the entire site, you might see an average click-through rate of 1%. If you’re targeting it down to those particular users on the site, you can very easily double that performance,” Trefgarne says.”
    http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jan2009/tc20090119_442155_page_2.htm

  • Some raised the valid point of wondering how social networks will be acquired. There’s definite sense in outsourcing this to an existing social site, but as comments prove, there’s also a desire to be independent of a particular social network host.

    “As CNN’s implementation of Facebook Connect proved, it’s much more effective to implement integration with an existing community than to build your own community when offering a platform for real-time conversation. I’m sure that open identity evangelists would say that users should be able to login no matter what platform they have a preference for.”
    http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/01/facebook-twitter-competition/

    In comments: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have online conversations without boundaries? Some applications allow us to post simultaneously to Twitter, Facebook, and more, but there must be a way to make online conversation even more seamless….”

  • A wildcard: The recent economic changes have split up old workgroups. Lots of people are starting projects now. They have a big advantage if they can over-step existing video brands. The timing of this technology shift with the timing of the economic shift points towards disruptive garage-band solutions, a Hewlett-Packard, a Google. Count on surprises.
  • A subthread: Suppose all our communications go through the Internet? Can we (or should we) discard cable/sat broadcast or mobile phone networks? I suspect that replacing one distribution channel with another is not as advisable as using them to supplement each other as appropriate. Our communication channels need such diversity to protect from failure during emergencies, and “Social TV” applications will need to accommodate people who play from local DVRs, from DVD or Blu-Ray, and from live sat/cable broadcast, not just Internet video.

    “When it comes to big live events with millions of people watching at the same time, traditional TV broadcasters have nothing to worry about. Right now, the Internet breaks at about one million simultaneous streams. That is nothing when it comes to the audience size for historic events, or even a big football game. The Internet simply does not shine when it is used as a broadcast medium. And yesterday proved it.”
    http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/01/21/the-day-live-web-video-streaming-failed-us/

  • I like this quote at NYT: “The Akamai Web tracker showed Internet traffic tapering off quickly as people pulled away from streaming news. On election night, the traffic was more sustained as people crisscrossed the Internet for hours.” Each type of “social video” event will have its own dynamics. It’s not just technology, but how people will spontaneously use the technology.
    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/news-sites-struggle-to-stream-obamas-innaguration-speech/?em&apage=2

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OTHER THOUGHTS

  • I don’t think many people have yet noticed the new XMP Library for ActionScript up on Adobe Labs. But when you combine it with the video-to-text generation, Flash and AIR developers will be able to access text alongside the video, do local textsearch to pull up video segments, more.

    “This starts to get really exciting when we take advantage of the speech to text capabilities of the Production Premium CS4. The CS4 apps capture a lot of metadata during the production process and make it available in the final output of the FLV or F4V file. This means that these ‘intelligent’ video files contain rich information that can now be mined/liberated/accessed in AIR and Flex applications with the XMP AS libraries. A great example of this is a demo app we created internally called the karaoke app. It is a simple AIR application that reads the speech to text metadata markers stored in XMP in the video file and displays it automatically in synch with the playback of the video. Here is a screen shot….”
    http://blogs.adobe.com/gunar/2009/01/xmp_library_for_actionscript_on_labs_1.html

    Walkthrough of video metadata generation in CS4 aps:
    http://www.adobe.com/designcenter/cs4/articles/lrvid4104_xp.html

  • There will be great pressure to commercially “own” your conversations. Sites will want to host, to be your hub. I think the next generation of social technology only makes sense when your conversations are yours, and can be with anyone outside of a particular walled-garden. The website model says “you come to our place”; the widget model says “we will deliver our service to you”.
  • We need to adequately advise in the UI when the connectivity is insufficient. This commenter at NewTeeVee blamed the websites. A good video UI, whether desktop or TV or mobile, will give good feedback to the viewer when the pipes are clogged.
    “THEY ALL SUCKED. I tried EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. starting at 10:00 AM and they were all bogged down and laggy.”
    http://newteevee.com/2009/01/20/a-quick-review-of-obamas-inauguration-streams/#comment-252922

  • If one of your friends was in a taxicab, listening to a speech or sporting event on the radio, then they want to join in the fun while texting. We can’t be restricted to a single media feed — good “Social TV” apps will keep the media separate from the convo.

    I stopped in the local Mars Bar Tuesday evening, and they had a flat wall screen showing house specials (looked like Flash), and a few big flat wall-monitors that showed CNN. If the event were live, you’d want to communicate with friends on the mobile, even though they’re watching their home screen or their work screen and you’re watching a shared screen.

  • Finally, one of my favorite quotes of the day, showing despite how far we’ve come in 108 years, there’s still the hazard of dealing with the unpredictable:

    “On March 4, 1901, a lone cameraman in the employ of Thomas A. Edison was dispatched to capture the swearing in of William McKinley. To posterity he delivered a total of 44 seconds of grainy footage showing a white-haired man on the Capitol steps solemnly, if indistinctly, raising his right hand. The snippet lives in the archives of the Library of Congress along with a note apologizing for the Edison Co.’s picayune contribution to American history: ‘The rain began falling in torrents with almost the first words of the President’s speech, which of course prohibited our taking a greater length of film.'”
    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/01/obama-inaugurat.html

Summary: Yesterday, many people proved how desirable it is to have a “social layer” working atop your PC’s web video. Over the next year we’ll start to see actual multi-screen “Social TV” start to appear, and it promises to be a game-changer.