Thirty years ago, there was one screen in most people’s lives: TV. It meant that, if you were a brand wanting to reach large numbers of people, television was the only route to go. The number of people watching a very small number of channels meant that “the box” was the one surefire way to get an entire nation tuning in to a single event.
Things have changed. In 1986, more than 30 million people watched the Christmas Day episode of Eastenders. Last year, the most viewed programme was the Royal Wedding, attracting just 13.5 million viewers. The TV screen has lost its monopoly as people split their attention between ever more channels.
From one screen to many
Most people now carry around at least one small screen with them all the time in their pocket. Many people are attached to a second screen for the bulk of their working day. Tablets and Kindles have given people a third screen to use when they’re “leaning back”. And the screen in the corner of the living room no longer has three or four channels on it, but hundreds. Amid this fragmentation, TV as we knew it has clung on, embracing “time-shifted” television through technologies like iPlayer and Sky Plus. But it has still struggled to match the flexibility or social connectedness built into iTunes, YouTube, Hulu or Xbox.
This week, however, three things are happening that could breathe new life into the box.
The television revival starts here
Twitter’s first TV advert promotes new hashtag pages
The first event that appears likely to happen this week is a tie-up that has been a long time coming between Apple and Facebook. First touted two years ago when Apple launched Ping (remember that? No, neither do we), the idea was that you could share your iTunes listening and viewing activity on Facebook. In the event, it seems Apple and Facebook disagreed over the detail and Apple later created a social sharing partnership with Twitter, baking it into its mobile operating system.
So far, so historical. Well this week, at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, everyone’s expecting an agreement between Apple and Facebook to be announced. If the two companies can iron out a deal this time round, it is likely to include a way to share what you’re watching and listening both on iTunes and on Apple TV. This would be a big step forward not only for Apple in TV, or for Facebook in hardware, but for TV in social – one of the big trends we predicted in the trends white paper we published at the end of last year.
The second big announcement that Apple watchers such as John Gruber and Jonathan Geller are predicting is the launch of a developer kit for Apple TV. As if the idea of Facebook becoming integrated with your television set wasn’t enough, this line of thinking means your TV suddenly becomes a device through which you can connect with people as powerfully and flexibly as apps will allow. The only limitation to social TV becomes the imagination of the developers. This could mean a profusion of apps built around programmes, sporting events, politics and any other areas that TV connects us with major themes or events.
The third announcement we spotted this week was that Twitter has launched hashtag pages. The first of these, for Nascar, is a new type of Twitter page designed to pull together information around a single hashtag: twitter.com/hashtag/nascar. As you can see by the URL, it’s a new section on the Twitter domain, so we expect to see more of these for other brands.
But what was interesting was the focus on TV. Announced over the weekend by Omid Ashtari, Twitter’s head of sports, Twitter used its first ever TV spot in the US to advertise the new type of page. And in that moment, the whole thing fell into place: hashtags have become a standard element in the marketing of any TV programme, and this new page style is designed to enhance the experience for viewers, adding a live social dimension to television for the programme-makers.
— Omid Ashtari (@omid) June 10, 2012
A revival in television is long overdue. TV remains one of the most influential information channels in our lives but the technology behind the making and delivering of TV content to the home has changed little in decades. It seems that this week could help TV get up to speed with the social revolution that demands the media adopt a new relationship with its audience.