Defining the Opportunity for Social TV

Much has been made about the potential of social TV applications – some opinions overly positive, many more overly negative – but few have a grip on just how fertile this market may be. This brief opinion piece argues that the market potential for social TV apps is quite real, assuming they are sufficiently compelling (no doubt a grand assumption, but a lot of bright minds are currently working on precisely this challenge).

Premise 1: Many consumers are already simulscreening.

According to Nielsen’s latest numbers, 40% of Americans use their tablets or smartphones at least once a day while watching TV (what we call “simulscreening”) and 85% do so at least once a month. That’s an amazing insight and testifies to the extent of simultaneous mobile-TV behavior. So, convinced of the potential of social TV apps, Nielsen this week acquired SocialGuide, a data service that seeks to measure these relationships.

Since a sufficient number of consumers are engaged in simulscreening behavior, in theory social TV apps have a substantial addressable market. That’s what we mean by legitimate potential. Again, it all depends on whether app developers can create the types of apps that consumers will want to use.

Premise 2: Social TV Users simulscreen quite frequently.

This premise is supported by research we released a couple of weeks ago, which found that 38% of adult broadband users simultaneously engage in social TV behavior. In other words, they use a smartphone or pad while watching TV for the express purpose of either (a) chatting with others about what’s on TV (using text, IM, or social networks), or (b) synching apps to the TV program.

Of course, it is worth asking how frequently this simulscreening activity takes place. If it is only an infrequent occurrence, then market potential for social TV apps will be limited. The research below — featured in TDG’s new report, Social TV User Dimensions, 2012 — offers insight into this question.

As noted above, 33% of pad-owning Social TV Users engage in social simulscreening at least once a day (19% several times a day), compared to only 19% who do so less than once week.

When it comes to the use of social TV apps among pad-based STUs:

  •  84% use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to interact with friends about the TV program they are watching at that time (34% do so daily).
  • 88% search the web for information about the program they are currently watching (22% do so daily).
  • 70% text or instant message others about the program they are currently viewing (20% do so daily).
  • 63% use apps that synch in real-time with the TV program being viewed (16% do so daily).

The same phenomenon is observed among smartphone owners, though the frequencies of social TV activity vary (a bit lower for all but texting/instant messaging, which is a task better suited for smartphones as opposed to pads).

Conclusion: Social TV engagement is a legitimate phenomenon with significant market potential.

Both TDG and other research firms have established that (a) simulscreening is rapidly becoming a widespread activity among mobile device owners, and (b) much of this activity is related to social TV activities. Again, assuming that developers can produce apps that engage the consumer without distracting them from the program being viewed, they will find a fertile market. And that, I’m afraid, is easier said than done.