Will Social Networks invade Your TV?

Maybe a better question is when will TV set top boxes give people the ability to interact with others on their TV screens when watching? A patent filing published at the end of May shows one possibility that we might see in the future for making TV more social.

A screenshot from the patent showing a TV screen with an image from a movie as well as a chat interface, a request for an incoming video conference, an online status, and other social options.

In addition to enabling television and social networking to be available via a real time interface, the set top box might allow people to preconfigure access to different social networks based upon channels on the television or certain time ranges.

For instance, you might associate ESPN with a Twitter Red Sox Fan Group at @Rdsxfans, as seen in the user interface screen below, or chat access to a specific person on Facebook between the hours of 7-10pm:

A screenshot from the patent showing a User Interface listing chat permissions for contacts and other user preferences.

The patent is:

System and Method for Social Network Chat via a set top box
Invented by David Emerson, Kelsyn Rooks, and Gary W. LaFreniere
Assigned to Embarg Holdings Company, LLC
US Patent Application 20110126258
Published May 26, 2011
Filed November 25, 2009

The ability to associate a specific channel with specific social network walls, contacts, or chat interfaces is interesting. Imagine watching the game along with a dozen or so friends, each from the comfort of your own homes.

Or imagine watching that same game while having tweets available from ball players, sports casters, and other fans of the team, and being able to access additional news, film, images, videos, and other information about the game while watching.

An interface like this might enable you to catch a movie or TV show together with friends or family members remotely, watch news or public policy programming with an organization that you’re a member of or with a very informed audience who may have interesting and significant viewpoints to add.

Imagine watching, for instance, the State of the Union address along with members of your state or national political party, or with a public policy think tank you might belong to, or with analysts from a television network.

The patent application describes how different user settings might be added to your set top box, and how different family members might be able to associate social networks with different channels.

This system might also enable you to search for and switch over to televised content being viewed by a social contact

A picture-in-picture feature might allow for live-time video chatting while watching television broadcasts as well.

Will we see either Apple TV or Google TV start integrating social networking features into what they offer sometime in the future?

Apple has a past history of attempting to converge television with computers with the Apple Interactive Television Box in the mid-90s and the Macintosh TV in the early 90s. Maybe adding a social aspect to TV is a difference that would make a difference?

Google TV’s main innovation seems to be integrating search capabilities with television and bringing Web video to the TV box. Given Google CEO Larry Page’s recent mandate to Google employees to make Google more social, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Google sprout ideas on how to make watching a TV a more social activity as well.

Google has published a number of patent filings that involve seaching for or scheduling television broadcasts or performing analytics on viewership for advertising purposes, but none of those appear to include a social aspect. They’re still worth a look, especially since some of them describe possible revenue models that Google might use on television screens:


Author: Bill Slawski

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