Hearing the mere mention, “The future of…” usually elicits groans and eye rolls, but the future of television really might be right around the corner. If you’ve been on Twitter during prime time, you’ve most definitely noticed conversations unfolding about shows and events as they’re happening. By no means are these small numbers – 3,283 tweets per second came after Japan’s victory over Denmark in the 2010 World Cup, 3,085 tweets per second at the end of the NBA championship and 2.3 million tweets during the 2010 VMAs. So why hasn’t Twitter been integrated into our TV’s yet?
With all new technologies, there is sufficient lag time before it’s ready for mass consumption. Apple received mixed reviews when the iPod debuted, so Twitter will be fighting the same battle before its power is fully embraced. Sony’s Google TV is the only platform available with Twitter for purchase at the time of this article, but LG is hot on their trail with their recent Smart TV unveiling at CES 2011. Sadly the user experience isn’t quite there yet. You only need a moment playing with Google TV’s Twitter app to reveal its release is premature, largely because of the awkward picture-in-picture layout. Not to rain on Google’s parade, because I applaud them for being the first to embrace this platform, especially at a time when a decent chunk of the population still believes the majority of tweets are about what people are eating. If you’re one of the many not in the market to upgrade to one of these shiny new TVs, you still have options to enjoy interactive entertainment.
Roku, a streaming media player that just recently sold its 1 millionth unit, offers the same connectivity at a fraction of the price. Much like Google TV, Roku offers a similar operating system with entertainment available as channels and allows you to Tweet from the comfort of your TV. LG also offers a Smart TV Upgrader with a similar app platform. For those that want a little more than just a streaming box will like Sony’s Blu-ray player with Google TV, but may be turned off by the $399 price tag. As the technology integrates better, expect to see this technology on more Blu-ray players, Apple TV and video game consoles.
Most of this success places the heavy lifting on Twitter. For this platform to really take the industry by storm, it needs just as much support from the networks and shows. While some networks have begun embracing it, like CNN and MTV, there is still much room to grow. Much of Twitter’s popularity in this realm can be attributed to people’s desire to have conversations about a shared experience as it is happening. Now virtual studio audiences are being recreated around hashtags, so if you’re not watching the program and following the conversation on Twitter at the same time, you’re missing a big part of the experience.
When MTV was looking to boost it’s declining VMA audience, they turned to Twitter. By creating funny hashtags and trending topics they later incorporated into the actual broadcast, viewership spiked to 11.4 million views in 2010, which is nearly double the number of viewers in 2006, and jumped up 27% from 2009. MTV.com even saw its best day, 2.6 million unique visitors, because of this effort. Daniel Tosh follows the conversation and interacts with fans when his show Tosh.0 is airing. When Conan O’Brien wanted to direct fans to a webcast before his TBS debut, he tweeted and attracted 660,000 viewers in 24 hours. Just one year earlier he was openly mocking the service, which indicates that times are a-changing.
Live broadcasts will stand to benefit the most from this medium if they play their cards right. American Idol remains popular because viewers can vote and ultimately have a say in the show’s outcome, so why couldn’t David Letterman, although not technically live, employ a similar practice around segments? Imagine if viewers could rate segments as they’re airing, allowing the network to know which ideas to build on and which ideas to scrap, putting a whole new democratic spin on our favorite shows. It is clear the audience is there and eager to interact, but what is lacking is a bridge between the two mediums.
The possibilities for where the intersection of these mediums could go are endless. 21% of TVs sold in 2010 included Internet connectivity, and it’s predicted that as many as 50% will in 2014, so the ball is rolling in the right direction. The only thing with the potential to slow its roll is the lack of integration, but now that TV and Twitter are beginning to play nice together, we could be looking at the dawning of a new era of interactive entertainment.