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9 predictions for social TV in 2013

Before we get started with this year’s list, let’s look at how Lost Remote’s 2012 predictions fared over the last year. There were the obvious ones (“social TV startup activity will double”), a clear-cut winner (“Nielsen will acquire a social TV data company”) and a couple misses (“Google TV will make a comeback” and “social TV companies will launch a lot of connected TV apps.”)

Many of the rest still hold true today (“TVs will start up smart with social guides” and “Start saying good-bye to TV remote controls”), but these trends are taking their time. One thing is clear about the TV industry: the revolution doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s safe to proclaim that 2013 will be another big year for social TV.

1. Mobile becomes an all-consuming priority

It’s one thing to know that mobile (phones+tablets) is important, and it’s another thing to be astonished by its off-the-charts growth. Over the holiday week, Flurry reported that 50 million iOS and Android devices were activated and 1.76 billion apps were downloaded worldwide — 604 million downloads in the United States alone. Mobile will devour the desktop, and media companies are beginning to awaken to the vast implications of such a consumption shift.

While the second screen becomes synonymous with TV, increasingly the second screen will become the first screen as millions of people watch more video on their tablets and phones. This will be a year in which media companies double and triple down on their mobile investments and frantically beef up their mobile development teams. It will be a year in which forward-thinking news organizations pivot to a “mobile first” approach. The mobile tidal wave has arrived.

2. The new Nielsen Twitter TV rating will save at least one TV show

A few weeks ago, Nielsen and Twitter announced a new “industry standard” metric, a real-time gauge of Twitter activity around TV shows. Given the energy behind the social TV space, it’s likely the metric will catch on, attracting not only the attention of the networks but agencies and advertisers, too. That means it would carry some weight in programming decisions. How much is yet to be seen, but a TV show on the TV ratings bubble — with a high Twitter rating — will have a higher chance of surviving another season.

3. Dedicated second screen apps face a “crossing the chasm” moment

In his book “Crossing the Chasm,” Geoffrey Moore argues that there’s a difficult gap between early adopters and the early majority (below). Social interactions around television skyrocketed 800% this year, according to Trendrr. But dedicated second screen apps — excluding Twitter here — are still early in the curve. Over the last year, some have chosen to combine forces (Viggle and GetGlue) and others have partnered up (Zeebox and Comcast). While they continue to grow, the challenge remains to become an indispensable, mainstream activity.

And that boils down to the product, fed by available data and content. While most players are improving, they’re still not indispensable. Discovery remains the holy grail (“the mere act of finding the show you want to watch has become frustrating and loathsome,” writes Mat Honan in the latest Wired), and while we’ve seen great progress, there still isn’t an app that consistently “nails it” for the average viewer across multiple platforms.

Twitter, meanwhile, is increasingly becoming a mainstream activity around TV — as many as one-third of Twitter’s active users are tweeting about TV, making it the best companion experience out there. Yet there’s still plenty of room to go beyond real-time conversations and offer up engaging, synchronous content that amplifies the broadcast.

That leaves a tremendous opportunity in the second screen space, and the battle will tighten further in 2013. We’ll see big players get bigger, and smaller players fade away. But the hardest work remains: figuring out how “cross the chasm” with a simple, compelling product you can’t live without while watching TV. And that may not happen until 2014.

One thing to watch: the report that Yahoo may buy TVGuide.com and it’s large mobile installed base. Yahoo’s huge footprint would accelerate demand, and it would be interesting to think how IntoNow and TVGuide could work together.

4. “TV Everywhere” will drive new demand for social solutions

This will be a big year for TV Everywhere, the authentication system enabling paid subscribers to watch TV programming on tablets, phones, laptops and other devices. After NBC’s success with the Olympics and the ongoing popularity of HBO Go, we’re beginning to see an onslaught of content and viewing experiences enabled by TV Everywhere. This onslaught is timed with the overwhelming adoption of tablets in American TV households.

While the first iteration of these products will simply enable you to watch video, the opportunities are endless to integrate social features. You could imagine a “Twitter Connect” feature, for example, which could connect with TV Everywhere and socialize your authenticated experiences across the board. However, the jury is still out on TV Everywhere’s long-term prospects, but this will be a year of notable experiments.

5. Cross-platform (transmedia) storytelling starts to get serious

Coming in April, arguably one of the biggest experiments in cross-platform storytelling will launch: Syfy’s Defiance simultaneous debut as a TV show and a massively multiplayer online game. The game isn’t a marketing vehicle for the TV show, but a standalone experience that’s amplified by the show — and vice-versa.

“It may take until the second or even third quarter, but eventually industry executives will start to think of social TV as much more than a technology or a marketing/distribution platform,” explains Jacob Shwirtz, creator of TheSt0ry. “The big win, the ultimate expression and promise of social TV, is the understanding of digital and social media as storytelling media.”

Weaving a story thoughtfully across platforms is a new art form. When done well, it can engage viewers like never before. But it requires a shift in how stories are written and content is created. It can also be expensive. All eyes will be on big experiments, like Defiance, to define the next generation of TV storytelling.

6. TV sites and apps will begin to turn into second screens

Many TV brands have added second screen features to their sites and apps, but usually as secondary experiences. Home pages and apps are still dedicated to video and promotional material. But as the mobile explosion continues, I think we’ll start seeing second screen features showcased front and center by default.

When shows are on the air — especially first-run shows with active fan bases — TV websites will start transforming into real-time, synchronized screens in sync with the broadcast, surfacing compelling content and tying together viewer conversations. The same features should be built into the primary tablet and smart phone apps for broadcast and cable TV apps.

These experiences don’t have to compete with Twitter and the top tier dedicated social TV apps, but should convey a real-time energy and excitement around the show that’s on TV.

7. Netflix finally gets social, and video consumption rises accordingly

Congress has finally approved a change to an old law that prohibited sharing a customer’s video rental history. When the president signs it — as he’s expected to do — Netflix says it will go ahead with plans to launch social sharing features in the US. Facebook sharing features have been available for Netflix users in Canada and Latin America since 2011.

The big question here is whether Netflix will do something conservative and obvious — just the Facebook “frictionless sharing” app — or something bigger and bolder. If it’s the latter, video consumption will rise significantly enough to challenge Netflix’s $1 million algorithm prize, which was awarded to a group that boosted recommendation relevancy by 10%. Social recommendations, as Facebook has taught us, is a powerful driver.

8. While everyone watches Apple, this will be a big year for Amazon

It’s pointless joining all the speculation about whether Apple will finally release a TV set, but we will draw your attention to Amazon. While a distant second place in the tablet market, it’s slowly growing share against Apple while simultaneously beefing up its video library. It’s also in a great position to give Netflix a run for its money.

You could imagine, for example, Amazon offering a streaming-only version of Prime for a lower, more palatable cost (instead of that $79/year fee, which can be psychological hurdle). It will also likely invest in original content and cut more licensing deals, offering substantially more viewing options. And it’s already getting more aggressive distributing its Amazon Instant Video app, which just landed on iPhone and iPod Touch.

One area where Amazon has lagged is social integration. We’ll have to see if Amazon follows in Netflix’s footsteps now that Congress has passed a change to the video rental law. I’ve long thought that Amazon should buy Pinterest, but that’s likely just too pricey now, especially given Amazon’s big recent investments in new distribution centers and a massive three-tower headquarters planned for Seattle (above).

9. Viewer Relationship Management (VRM) gains traction

In a world of big data, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a big business. In television, social media has given rise to Viewer Relationship Management (VRM). Similar to the world of retail, for example, if you can engage and reward your most influential fans, they’ll spread the word, drive new sampling and shore up viewer loyalty.

We’ve seen some interesting experiments over the last year, such as a fan club for the premiere of Dallas on TNT and a Klout perk for a first-look of a new TBS show. We’ll see more concerted efforts in 2013 to create niche communities of superfans — think mini virtual Comi-Cons — by offering meaningful-enough rewards to spark excited social sharing and create anticipation.

As viewers become more comfortable with sharing more aspects of their viewing behavior, VRM will expand beyond cells of superfans to larger groups of engaged viewers. Privacy is always tricky, but the payoff can be enormous.

Have some of your own predictions to share? Leave ‘em in comments…

See also: 3 big moves for local TV in 2013

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