Do you trust your friends? If you plan on watching television anytime soon, you better.
That's because yesterday TVGuide.com released an updated version of its iOS app, placing social recommendations from your friends front-and-center, aggregating different TV content providers into a single portal and blurring the lines between what's being broadcast and what's available as archived material.
It's the latest in a line of second screen apps we're beginning to use on our smartphones and tablets while we watch traditional television. And it's also a play at being an "everything in one place" app, dedicated to serving your next-gen TV needs. GetGlue tried something similar recently, because, naturally, there's money to be made from you diving into TV content via apps. That money comes from deals such as GetGlue's sponsorship deals with brands like Gap and Coke, and from selling detailed user analytics—a long-term goal for GetGlue. Advertising spots can also be threaded among the app, targeted based on user data.
TV Guide's free app puts the viewer directly in control, either linking you to content being broadcast right now over the legacy TV, or seamlessly sending you off to a provider like Hulu Plus or iTunes to watch an archived episode. It places your friends' recommendations (and perhaps celebrity recommenders, too) atop the hierarchy of discovering new content. It also lets you chat in real time about shows with your online friends—potentially letting groups of pals decide, like a viral YouTube video, to watch a particular show right now, whether it's archived or being broadcast at that moment. This chat channel could even result in mini revivals of old shows—imagine if a highly socially networked group of friends decided to get into M*A*S*H and watched all the shows they could find. Their chatter could spread, and suddenly 10,000 people are watching and talking about a decades-old classic.
TV Guide's Christy Tanner, EVP and GM of TV Guide digital, explained the move to Fast Company in an email:
In our user research, we're seeing increased social TV activity as a one of three major inter-related trends. First, there's a massive fragmentation of ways to watch: Linear TV is now augmented by on demand, streaming, downloads and DVDs. Second, there are more great shows than ever before, on broadcast networks, cable, premium channels and now, streaming services and web outlets. Third, all of these great options are leading to more social discussion, which is now happening in more places than ever before — within the social sphere, but also on networks' sites, personal blogs and of course within TV Guide's community.
Much of this new social activity happens outside of the purview of a cable provider, its ratings system, and ad partners. It happens in apps like TV Guide's new one, or in a new net-connected TV like the one Apple's been working on—and which recent patents show would be "flat," with little distinction between broadcast material, archived material, streamed material and even which provider it comes from. Even effort's like Peel's clever content-searching powers, and personalized TV recommendations point toward the same future.
And in that future, TV content makers, middle-men apps like TV Guide or GetGlue and, crucially, ad firms will love the new way. So will you. Cable companies, and possibly firms like Nielsen (whose entire business may become side-stepped), will hate it.
Because in the not-so-distant future the viewer is more in control than ever, listening to friends advice, info from recommendation apps or genius like-features like that in iTunes. Viewers will dial through old viewing histories, pick up on shows that people have dropped on their playlists (or "Watchlists" in the new TV Guide app) in a way that's analogous to how we already check our friends' Spotify playlists for new music. And we'll likely have similar access, whether watching on regular TV or on an iPad in bed or on the train.
TV Guide's Tanner thinks it'll even have bigger implications for content itself:
Out of all of this activity, I think the most exciting results will come from the Hollywood creative community's new, direct connection to the audience. Obviously, I expect to see some interesting new social TV formats, but over time, I think we'll also see funnier, more dramatic and generally more engaging entertainment. Social TV in many ways is the ultimate real-time focus group. It should be helpful to those who figure out how to make the best use of it without letting it paralyze their vision and creativity.
TV content makers and rights owners will love the next generation of TV as they can cut out the middlemen and sell to viewers directly, ad firms will love it because the rich data they can get from digital apps will let them target adverts very precisely, and you'll love it because it'll give you more freedom and possibly more control over your TV spending.
If all this works out, then these new second-screen apps will bring about a change to TV's future that looks rather bright.
[Image: Flickr user Andy Rennie]
Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.