The rise of participative TV (hint: that’s better than social TV)


The opportunity for television is to become a truly participative media.

Over the last year or so my views on the future of TV have significantly shifted, to be far more optimistic for the media. Last year I gave the opening keynote at the Regional TV Marketing conference, and subsequently wrote how The Future of TV is community. In my keynote I reflected on how the power of big screen will remain truly compelling. However TV must transcend the classic broadcast mentality that implies a passive audience. It needs to create participative experiences, from which comes real community. Which, incidentally, will lead to the most powerful business models for the future of television, as I mentioned in some thoughts on TV in 10 years from now.

After a very slow start, TV channels appear to be getting the message and getting on board. The latest is What’s Trending, a “new kind of news show” from CBS News. Here is the trailer.

What’s Trending is, as the name implies, all about the latest Internet trends, from cute animals through to democracy movements in the Middle East. The live program will tap its viewers voice in a range of ways, including using the new Tweetriver platform from MassRelevance to curate tweets into the program. GigaOM quotes host Shira Lazar:

“Unlike some other shows that include social media as an added tool to the content, our content itself is social, and the show is powered by that conversation and our community,” Lazar said via email. “Everything we do involves digitally connected tools — from how we discover and source stories to how we curate them on the blog and on-air.”

Other recent social TV initiatives include Al Jazeera’s The Stream, which launched recently and builds live social media into the program. This certainly outdoes the other global news channels in terms of building user participation and community.

It is important here is a distinction between social and participative TV. Social is about enabling the conversations, and there is plenty happening on that front.

The use of Twitter hashtags is obviously very basic. One of the next layers is the use of phone apps that allow people to share what they are watching and build a conversation around it, notably IntoNow (recently acquired by Yahoo!), Miso, and GetGlue.

The next phase of participative TV is where the audience truly participates in and shapes the program. These are early days, but the promise of the audience being able to participate in TV is exciting. It will depend on real imagination from TV channels and producers, which fortunately we are beginning to see.