If you watched any of NBC's The Voice this spring, you know it was almost impossible to simply watch the show. There was always something on your TV screen cuing you to Twitter — or vice versa. It was as if one didn't completely function without the other.
In case it was off your radar, The Voice was similar to American Idol, but with two distinct twists: 1) the four celebrity coaches who managed teams of singers they'd pit against each other in competition and 2) the major presence of social media.
From the get-go at the blind auditions, when a contestant joined a team, usually a tweet from the winning judge flashed across the screen. Something like “So psyched to have you, Javier! #TeamAdam #TheVoice.” Always #TheVoice. It was a major trending topic. Along with the judges, the contestants tweeted as well, as did fans, all of whom were brought together in the show's virtual coffee shop known as the “social media room.”
This merger of television and web is of course no accident. Considering, for instance, one study that says 60 percent of us surf the internet while watching TV, this is a conscious effort by top-level execs to redirect our collective ADD towards a place where what we're watching on television becomes harmonious with what we're surfing on the web, so they can make boatloads of money off it. How do we know this? Because we sat in the room while they were plotting.
Recently, an assembly of TV and social media head honchos met at the Bel Air Country Club for the Social TV Summit — a full day of panel discussions about the ways in which the two media are merging, and what it means for the future of both television and web development.
The Summit was made possible by Jack Myers, a media economist and investor, and Andy Batkin, a consultant for media clients and writer of the Social TV Summit blog. Batkin told us he essentially launched the forum for interactive TV development in 1998, holding eight different conferences between then and 2001, which focused on interactive television.
He explained that what's making social TV grow so rapidly today is that Silicon Valley has stepped up to make it happen. “If this had been left to the television industry itself to develop the technology, the fundamental economics would not have been in place to be able to monetize all the investments that are being made. But because we now have venture capitalists stepping up, we now have a warehouse full of technological advances.
“The TV studios, the TV networks, producers, the talent can literally walk into like a Costco, and the shelves are filled with technology applications that are fully developed and there for the choosing.”
What are some of the items on the cybershelf? Out of the many, many companies in attendance at the Summit, a few stood out. One such company was TVPlus, a web browser that syncs with your television to make what you're watching, as they say, “clickable.” TVPlus sounded like having IMDB, Shazam and Amazon scan your TV screen so that you can instantly answer questions like, “Who's singing this theme song? Where else did I see that actress? And where can I buy those hot shoes she's got on?”
Other companies are going the route of creating their own forum. Tunerfish is like a TV-centric Twitter, similar to GetGlue, in which users can chat about what shows their watching, get recommendations from friends, and earn rewards for tuning in regularly.
But of course advertisers don't want to be left out of this game, which is where companies like TVTak come into play. TVTak allows users to take a snapshot of what they're watching using a Smartphone, which leads them to a place where they can buy whatever product is being advertised, instantly. It's point-and-shoot shopping.
So is all of this leading us to a place in which everything we need is at our fingertips and we never leave our couches? Maybe. Or maybe it's taking us from said solitary couch and making TV watching more active, and giving us more opportunity to interact.
One thing seems certain: TV and web are slowly but surely merging into one massive two-headed monster, and the level at which television viewers are able to engage with what their watching is becoming an important factor for both networks and advertisers to consider. The smarter ones are keeping up with the young media-savvy generation, strategizing ways to keep that generation's multitasking brains focused on whatever's being sold, be it the show or the product sponsoring it. Clearly social media strategy takes more than just setting up a fan page on Facebook these days. As one Summit panelist, Christy Tanner of TV Guide Digital put it, in the near future, “social TV has to be more than just hashtags.”
Follow Ali Trachta on Twitter @MySo_CalLife.