Since Big Brother was unleashed on the public a decade ago, television has edged slowly towards a more interactive experience. Reality as a genre has encouraged viewers to see TV as something they can be involved in rather than a purely passive experience. Through phone voting on talent shows, pressing that red button to see things from another angle to ultimately allowing a camera to track their every move. The opportunity to get involved is there and audiences have come to expect nothing less. One of the biggest challenges Television faces is how it will continue to fit into people’s lives as other technologies such as mobile usage and social media continue to grow distracting attention away from conventional TV viewing. The ability to watch content ‘on demand’, digitally record or surf sites such as YouTube has created an environment of increased choice and a desire for audiences to self-schedule their viewing. Taking into account changes in the way society now communicates, it is vital TV adapts accordingly.
Companies like Google and Yahoo are well on their way to addressing this with their respective TV services. Yahoo Connected TV delivers widgets which allow the viewer to browse photos on Flickr and buy items from Ebay whilst catching up with a favourite show all through the TV set. Google TV, operating through open source, will offer a range of services alongside traditional connection to the web, including voice recognition and video conferencing. With all this potential choice on offer is it still enough to keep the whole family happy simultaneously? Shopping online, playing a game and watching a tv show are all very different activities and how they are enjoyed will vary individually. Won’t people still return to their PCs and Laptops to enjoy their ‘own thing?’
With this in mind, perhaps there is more chance of success communicating socially with friends or family at a distance. It’s perfectly possible now to play a game online and watch a TV programme with someone miles away from you, linking up through a social networking site. The ubiquity of Facebook means it is possible to share your likes and dislikes on countless internet sites with the rest of your friends as well as exchanging views on TV shows you are watching simultaneously. The surge in popularity of sites like Facebook and, increasingly Twitter, have resulted in them becoming valuable new platforms ripe for exploitation. ITV has recently looked to social network gaming to push one of its biggest brands, Coronation Street.On 1st November it will release an online social gaming application on Facebook called “Corrie Nation”, allowing users to compete with friends building their own versions of Weatherfield and cast of characters. Much along the same lines as Facebook’s mega-popular game ‘Farmville’.
C4 too has ‘dipped its toe in the water’ with “Seven Days” its new weekly reality show. The accompanying website contains a page called ChatNav which is a collation of advice and comments made by viewers through sites like Twitter. That way the audience has an opportunity to share their viewing experience with others as well as have a say in the way the programme develops as characters choose whether or not to act on the comments. Whilst still in the experimental stage, it will be interesting to see how popular this attempt is with audiences. So far, one of the big reasons why Twitter has been so successful is the way it has developed and grown organically and this is largely due to its users. No-one had to ‘sell it’ as an idea. People took it and used it they way they wanted to and many of its most popular features, such as Follow Friday, were thought up by users themselves.
Television companies realise that teaming up with and utilising social networking sites, allows them to link directly to their core audience as well as engage and hopefully win over an entirely new one. Particularly the dwindling 16 – 24s who spend increasingly less time watching TV and more on the internet or their mobiles.