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Social TV

posted Nov 2, 2011, 2:24 AM by Pablo Cesar

    Extract of: P. Cesar and D. Geerts, "Understanding Social TV: a survey," in Proceedings of the Networked and    Electronic Media Summit (NEM Summit 2011), Torino, Italy, September 27-29, 2011. (

Social TV

In recent years social networking and social interactions have challenged old conceptions in the television landscape. Web applications that offer video content, networked television sets and set-top boxes, tablets and smart phones as ‘second screens’, and online TV widgets are – or, will be – radically transforming how people watch and interact around television content. Since the wealth of existing solutions and approaches might be daunting to newcomers, frameworks that categorize the most salient features of existing applications are needed.

Social Television constitutes a fundamental shift in how people interact and socialize around television content. Websites are starting to combine video streaming services with social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Media software like Boxee allows users to recommend and share favourite television programs, and YouTube Social enables friends to remotely watch television together. All these developments can be called social TV: allowing remote viewers to socially interact with each other via the television set, smart phones, tablets or the PC, where viewers might be separated in time and/or in space. Some examples of social TV services include the integration of micro-blogging updates during a live video stream and social networking applications that allow commenting while watching video content. Several similar applications are recently being created for smart phones and tablets, which act as a secondary screen, so the commenting and communication do not occupy valuable space on the television set. In parallel to the integration of social networking into the television environment, there have been successful efforts in enabling domestic high-quality videoconferencing; providing a direct communication link between separate households watching television together. SkypeTV, Umi, and Kinect are pioneers in this direction.


The main social TV categories can be defined as:

  • Content selection and sharing: information by other peers is used for making appropriate decisions on what to watch. The user might also want to send to his/her peers full programs or edited versions of the programs.

  • Communication: direct communication via chat, audio, or video with other peers while watching television content.

  •  Community building: commenting about a television program with a large community of viewers.

  • Status update: making available to others what you are currently watching

Content Selection and Sharing

Due to the wide range of alternatives, content selection has been considered as a cornerstone of interactive television systems. Since the first commercial interactive television solutions, the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) helps viewers decide what to watch, sometimes providing video recording capabilities. The EPG is a table-based application showing the schedule of different channels, mimicking traditional TV listings in magazines and newspapers. On the other hand, one can find on the Web a variety of playback video streaming services such as BBC’s iPlayer, Netflix, Apple TV, and Hulu. Such systems tend to provide more efficient and open mechanisms for content selection, since old broadcast thinking models do not need to be followed. In this direction, the recently launched Google TV is raising expectations as a convergence environment between the Web and the television world. While the previous examples mostly concentrate on time-shifted content, real-time broadcasting services (e.g., Facebook Live, are becoming an alternative.


A number of social TV applications support direct communication between its users. Early TV-based research systems like Alcatel-Lucent’s AmigoTV or Motorola’s Social TV allow users to talk with each other using voice. Similarly, the first commercial social webTV applications Joost and Lycos Cinema enabled users to text chat with each other while watching online TV or movies. While Instant Messaging solutions allowed users to share videos while chatting (e.g., Windows Messenger and Zync from Yahoo!), more recently, the web-based applications Watchitoo and YouTube Social also enable talking and videoconferencing while watching the same content.

Community building

Community building refers to the activity of sharing thoughts, comments, and impressions about television programs with a large community. Followers of a specific show normally comprise such community, who before the advent of social television mainly gathered on web based forums for sharing their passion.

In some cases, games (e.g., NBA Real Time Fantasy) and other immersive activities are provided by the television channel or by individual followers of the show. In the past, successful approaches included the use of telephone calls for deciding the outcome of a show – Big Brother or the Eurovision song contest are good examples – but lately many television channels are providing specific Web pages with Facebook and Twitter updates. TV Chatter and Starling TV are two recent examples of the community building category, where comments related to a television program are gathered and aggregated.  While TV Chatter renders the Twitter stream in an external device – mobile phone - GoogleTV and Verizon’s Fiber Optic Television offer the possibility of overlaying the comments alongside the television content. In most of the cases such aggregation is done via an external channel, with no effect on the program.


Status update

While early social TV systems usually offered status sharing (e.g. “I’m watching Breaking News on CNN”) as one of its social features, more recently many applications have been launched which offer status sharing as its core feature. Applications like Miso, Tunerfish, IntoNow and PhiloTV allow users to indicate the TV program they are watching by ‘checking in’ to that program. Users that frequently check into a specific TV program earn badges. Apart from indicating the TV program a user is watching, these applications also provide the option to write a short, twitter-like, status update. Similar to Twitter, users can follow other users, so they receive the status updates and other information from these users.


This blog post provides a structured framework for better understanding an emergent field, social TV. Where social networking and mass media seamless integrate, leveraging social interactions between viewers separated in time and/or space. In the future, we can expect convergent environments where TV, the Web, and social networks fluidly interoperate; domestic video conferencing that nurtures closed relationships; and novel social-aware TV formats.