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The Future of Broadcast Media is Social

Six years ago I had the opportunity to work on an ambitious social project that set out to socialize the living room. Keep in mind, this was before the popularization of social networking as it exists today. In almost every way, this system predicted what would ultimately transform your experience on PCs as well as everything else. It was rooted in the realization that the Web was an isolated and lonely experience and that in order for online and terrestrial content to connect with audiences in the future, a new hybrid was required – one that fused social, consumption, and participation in the overall experience.

For many of those who’ve flown Virgin America and experienced Red, their inflight entertainment system, you can get a feel for what lies ahead. The relevance of Red is less about the on-demand aspects of content consumption and more about the ability to view content with others in flight and socialize on screen during the program.

We become part of the experience and as such, we define the experience for ourselves and everyone else who is viewing and contributing to the conversation.

Many technologists, media industrialists, and marketers refer to the current landscape of content consumption as “The Three Screens,” representing mobile, PC, and also televisions. The three screens are the windows of the world, your world, as you are increasingly empowered to take control of the experiences in which you wish to immerse.

The three screens are powered by an underlying technology platform that fuses the social, mobile, and real-time Web into a Golden Triangle and connected by the devices that deliver an immersive and participatory experience, on-demand, regardless of location.

The Golden Triangle will one day soon engender a shared experience across the three screens, but for the meantime, a resurgence of crowd-powered demand for relevance and personalization is leading a groundswell of change and evolution within each medium.

Today, when you view the trending topics on Twitter, we can see the clustering of conversations around particular programs and events as participants gather around a virtual water cooler to share their reactions and essentially socialize around a focal point. The coalescence of this activity is visible and as it increases in volume, the reach and effects resonate across social graphs attracting outsiders and converting them into real-time participants – motivated by a common sentiment of not wanting to miss out in something that potentially carries cultural significance, albeit finite.

The New York Times refers to this online social phenomena as the Water Cooler Effect. In fact, this social effect is credited with breathing new life into the dwindling audiences for television overall.

According to the New York Times article…

This year’s Super Bowl was the most-watched program in United States history, beating out the final episode of “M*A*S*H” in 1983. Awards shows like the Grammys are attracting their biggest audiences in years. Blogs and social Web sites like Facebook and Twitter enable an online water-cooler conversation, encouraging people to split their time between the computer screen and the big-screen TV.

The Web is becoming part of us and we’re bringing it to everything we experience in the real world and now, also on TV.

Nielsen observed that one in seven people who were watching the Super Bowl and the Olympics opening ceremony was online at the same time. And, that number will only continue to escalate. As such, networks are seeking to capitalize on the social effect. Jon Gibs, a vice president at Nielsen, told the NY Times that he is encouraged by recent Olympic data that shows simultaneous TV-and-Web viewing signaled the growing importance of interactivity to the television experience, “Increased usage of social media is definitely driving the ratings

NBC aired The Golden Globes live on both coasts for the first time this year, and because of the tremendous social boosts it experienced, the network is now planning to recreate the experience for the Emmy Awards this fall. Accordingly networks will also further experiment with methods to trigger viewing and online engagement simultaneously.

A connected and shared experience is defining a new and attractive digital lifestyle.

But as this water-cooler effect gains in influence, its true opportunity lies in its holistic integration in each of the three screens – especially as tablets earn a new role in the consumption and engagement behavior of the digerati.

Today, TVs offer networking capabilities, quite literally. For example, my Samsung TV is connected to my Apple network hub in the living room, which allows it to connect to several social networks including Twitter. While viewing a program, I can view my Twitter stream on screen and also tweet directly from the TV (wish it had a keyboard however.)

Imagine the possibilities if each program was socialized within the screen of my choice. Suddenly my viewing and associated online engagement is liberated from the living room and now enabled from the place and device of my choosing. In the meantime however, the mediums are forcing creativity and as a result traditional perspectives are now complemented with multiple sides in a peer-to-peer format.

For example, online networks are proving to be effective channels for content experimentation, often extending the audience of a traditional program. The 51st Grammy Awards created additional live programming and partnered with uStream, the leading live online video network, and Facebook to broadcast complementary coverage of the event as an exclusive for the social Web. As a result, the video hosted as many as 200,000 simultaneous online viewers and the ensuing conversations that spilled over into concentric social graphs and networks helped increase the overall TV audience by 35%.

The result of the social effect and the integrated social hooks inherent in today’s online networks will only inspire a genre of connectivity and interaction as programming will eventually feature creative triggers that engender desired responses and action. The same is true for any event, whether it’s on air, live, or on the big screen.

Chloe Sladden is Twitter’s director of media partnerships and her words perfectly capture the sociological impact of social media, “Twitter [and other networks] lets people feel plugged in to a real-time conversation. In the future, I can’t imagine a major event where the audience doesn’t become part of the story itself.”

The water cooler or social effect is only one part of defining a more meaningful experience over time. It is culturally significant as it connects people around common interests in real-time all over the web using events as our participation hub and as our magnet for convergence. The social effect, as a united audience, will also force broadcasters and media to produce more meaningful and engaging programming, content and ultimately experiences, as we are leading the democratization of all media and attention.

Our actions speak louder than our words and as such the change we wish to instill lies beyond taking part in online conversations. We seek a more participatory experience where viewers can also dictate outcomes. Our role will mature from viewer to contributor and this shift will ensure the relevance and livelihood of media while connecting us, as individuals and online denizens, to a more personal and fulfilling engagement and the community that it fundamentally cultivates.

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google Buzz, Facebook

Please consider reading my brand new book, Engage!

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