Social TV: Is the ‘Digital Watercooler’ the Next Big Thing?

Since Viggle, “the loyalty program for TV,” launched in January, it has attracted more than 1 million users. There has been tremendous hype surrounding the platform; and with such a large focus group, analysts are now beginning to understand the true benefits social TV can provide networks and advertisers alike.

If you’ve never used Viggle before, it works as a dual-screen experience – where users watch TV while simultaneously using a smartphone or tablet to share (to social media) their thoughts on what they’re watching, and to “check in” to shows, an action that earns them points which can be used to purchase rewards. But what can services like Viggle actually do for TV?


According to ratings magnate Nielsen, there is some correlation social TV and ratings. When it comes to key demos – especially 18-34 – social buzz surrounding shows can spike ratings: “a 9% to 14% increase in buzz volume (depending on where a particular show is in its season) correlates to a 1% increase in ratings in the 18-to-34 demo.” Obviously this bump isn’t remarkable, but it does make a difference.

As an ardent social media user, I can see why. I immediately think of Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO hit, Newsroom. Prior to the premier – and during, and after – Twitter was abuzz with anticipation, excitement, and criticism. Being a Sorkin fan (SportsNight, Studio 60, West Wing), I was already committed to watching; but seeing tangible excitement from so many online made me even more anxious to watch. I can certainly see how the ‘social buzz’ surrounding the show may have swayed many into tuning in.


I think this is by far the most important piece of what social TV can bring to the table. By creating an integrated user experience that keeps people coming back, networks can strengthen engagement and deepen the relationship viewers have with series.

USA has been particularly good at this. For several of their most popular original shows, including Royal Pains and Burn Notice, they have created ‘hooks,’ whether that’s extended sweepstakes, games integrated into the viewing experience, or in Burn Notice’s case, an interactive digital graphic novel, sponsored by Hyundai.

By creating this sort of experience, USA ensures a deeper relationship between its viewers and the narrative before, during, and after the show airs, and drives value for its corporate partners.


Social TV has been especially successful at improving the viewing experience for live events, most notably the Olympics and the Academy Awards. By “checking in” to live events, users can participate in fan polls, trivia and other games, and keep track of what other users are saying.

This is crucial. In today’s digital environment, one of the neatest things is to follow along on Twitter while you watch a live event. Seeing election results in real time, getting on-the-spot news updates on important national events, and following major sporting events are all, I would argue, improved by the social experience. For services like Viggle to integrate that social experience into a television setting is highly valuable.


Green as in money, of course.

Watchwith, a “time-based metadata” platform to power social TV apps, can help drive value for networks and advertisers down to the single frame. Simon Dumenco, Adweek’s “Media Guy” described his conversation with CEO and co-founder Zane Vella regarding the future of his brand and social TV:

“We’re creating a world where every frame of TV is rich in possibilities,” he said, sounding every bit the on-pitch evangelist. But the proof is in the pop-ups — the visual manifestation in Watchwith’s back end (not visible to viewers) that creates second-by-second data bubbles that display what the database “knows” about every given scene. In an episode of social-TV (and ratings) hit “The Big Bang Theory,” for instance, a character walks into a room and the Watchwith database serves up information (which in turn feeds into social-TV apps) about exactly which model of Jansport backpack he’s carrying.

With this sort of down-to-the-frame metadata – combined with the audience data already being compiled from services like Viggle – it’s not hard to see why marketers are chomping at the bit. Media engagement is already at an all-time high, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.


2 Comments on “Social TV: Is the ‘Digital Watercooler’ the Next Big Thing?”

  1. […] three of these serve the same purpose: to further integrate social with media, in all forms. Services like Viggle add a social component to TV viewing, but these represent a true marriage of the two. As consumers become more and more interconnected, […]

  2. […] Many purists might think all of this too much. But look at social tv and the success of platforms like Viggle. […]

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