Will Social Networks invade Your TV?

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Maybe a better question is when TV set-top boxes will allow people 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 7-10 pm:

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 ballplayers, sportscasters, and other team fans, and accessing 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 the 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 contract.

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 many patent filings that involve searching for or scheduling television broadcasts or performing analytics on viewership for advertising purposes. Still, 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:

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66 thoughts on “Will Social Networks invade Your TV?”

  1. Bill,

    This kinda happens already. I watch my alma mater play football online and tons of fellow fans log onto the most popular forum and boot up the chat script. What you are describing seems to be a natural parallel to that.

    This is definitely where we are heading. What you described is the increased interaction that we will all ultimately experience across all forms of media.

    The only problem is…if it gets to be too much fun, then we will all be wasting tons of time…;)


  2. Wow, thats a kinda great concept. If social networks are integrated in TV, most of the internet marketers would find it wonderful!

  3. How is this innovation? We all clearly see this coming.

    I’m very surprised something that simple can be “patentable”.

  4. Soon will be able to do on our TV what we do in front of the PC/laptop.So, every app will need to adapt to the bigger and wider format.

  5. It’s an interesting concept, but in reality I think traditional tv broadcasting will eventually phase out to make room for more ‘on-demand’ Internet ready tv’s. Simply being able to browse the web while watching tv (in a split screen mode) would allow for social networking and entertainment at the same time.

  6. This is sort of happening allready in the UK with the BBC and the red button. Almost all radio stations use FaceBook and Twitter to engage people in real time. I don’t think it is a very big jump to get this onto a TV platform. The biggest problem is trying to enable the user to interact eaisly and smoothly with out obstructing the view/experience of the program which still should stay the main focus IMO.

    It would be pretty annoying if you were trying to watch the sports and messages saying “Bob liked this” or “John thinks no11 should be sent off” kept flashing across the screen in massive letters to enable you to read it??

  7. I’m still waiting for one of Google’s attempts at “social” to *not* be downright embarrassing (to them)

  8. Hi Mark,

    The approach in the patent filing does pull together a number of things. The most interesting part to me is how you might associate different channels with different social networks. In the future, people might not only be fighting over the remote control, but also over who’s logged in at any one time.

    There is still an element of TV that’s educational in nature (love to see that grow), and maybe a social network could be used for educational purposes as well.

  9. Hi Nishant,

    Good point. There do seem like there might be some opportunities for advertising on a socially aware television platform that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

  10. Hi Jeremy,

    It’s still a pending patent application, so it might not necessarily be patentable.

    There are some interesting elements to the patent filing itself that might not have been so “obvious,” but many of the patents I see contain small amounts of innovation, rather than they kind that might reshape the world in otherwise unimaginable ways.

    Besides, I don’t know how much good it does us here to complain about whether or not a particular patent is innovative or not, when we could use the patent filing as a springboard for talking about the convergence of television, the Web, and social networks. Chances are pretty good that television is going to transform tremendously over the next few years. The questions behind those changes are how much, and in what direction.

  11. Hi Dan,

    It’s probably not a bad idea for website and application developers to start thinking about how well their sites and applications fit on a television screen.

  12. Hi Matt

    A split screen approach is a possibility, but it is interesting to see organizations like Google and Apple start developing set top boxes that provide more than just program guides. The Embarg patent filing I describe above shows some interesting possibilities when you do more than just make split screens possible. For example, the patent filing also describes people scheduling DVR’ed or pay for play broadcasts at a time in the future so that you can plan to watch something together with a group of others all at the same time.

  13. Hi Nick,

    I agree with you – I think the user interface is going to be important as to whether or not this will work well.

    There are some interesting approaches in the patent filing, like a picture-in-picture screen for video chats when you’re watching a broadcast that attempts to use the interface intelligently.

  14. Hi Mark,

    It’s possible that Google will succeed with social at some point in the future. I could see them attempting to make the television experience more social as well – we’ll see what they come up with.

  15. Isn’t just a matter of time, before TV as we know it is dead? As Nick mentioned above, the social medias aren’t unknown to the radio, so why not get some interaction with the TV-shows also?

    Popular shows could be a lot more fun, if there was a chance that your question was asked to that famous guest 🙂

  16. The advanced options are pretty interesting…there’s really a feature where you can specify that contacts can turn on your TV when a certain show is on?

  17. Hmmm. Not so sure. Here in Holland, a lot of people use digital boxes and more and more people are connecting computers to their flat screens. In 5 years a T.V will be nothing more than a monitor with an inbuilt computer. Why create a graphics interface for T.V’s only when it already exists for the P.C?

  18. I don’t watch much tv but this is something I’d definitely get in to. Especially this: “A picture-in-picture feature might allow for live-time video chatting while watching television broadcasts as well.”

    My mom and I used to chat on the phone while Big Brother was on…this would be a neat concept for us to use! 🙂

  19. Well let’s just wait and see guys. Technology can be good or bad but I am sure this one will have something to promise.

  20. It’s really just a matter of time before this becomes reality. In my opinion, social media has invaded every aspect of our lives, so why not the television. In some ways it could be a great to share a show or game with friends and family; on the other hand, the idea of marketers invading every show could be a nuisance.

  21. At the speed that technology is evolving these days, we will soon have everything from a PC built into a TV and vice versa..

    Instead of buying a tv and a computer we will buy a “media-cast-console” or something like that.. hehe 😉

  22. Its an intresting idea, whether it takes off or not is another matter as so many people now think of social networking as an extension of their android’s

  23. Do we really need this on our TV? As it stands right now, I can’t watch TV without turning off the phone due to the constant social media updates anyway. I don’t want to interact with others when I watch TV, I just want to have an hour or so without distractions. This seems like it will only make it worse, not better.

  24. Really nice idea. Might be neat to watch one big screen for TV and social interaction rather than a TV and your laptop today. I interact socially frequently while watching games and news.

  25. Although, social media / networks have incredible power to influence the world in this regard.
    It was a Facebook Group called “We are all Khaled Said” which sparked the recent political revolution in Egypt. This Group was formed in memory of an Egyptian man that had been killed by the Egyptian police. The result? Thousands of protestors mobilized & brought about huge change in Egypt.

    The difference with Social media, is that the man on the street can have his say. He words are uncensored & unedited by journalists, news channels or government.

  26. I think as smart TV’s become more the norm televisions will certainly be a window into the world, especially as far as social media and on demand services go.

  27. Hi Per,

    It’s possible that television may have some life left to it yet. I imagine that many people like that their TV comes on instantly when they hit the on button, that it doesn’t require them to constantly type something, or click a mouse, or do too much more than maybe flip through channels with a remote.

    Television will probably continue to grow more interactive, with layers on top of what’s available now, and I imagine that some shows will embrace that interactivity and make it part of the show itself, but I think there’s some life left to it yet as a pure broadcast medium.

    There are still many areas that don’t have broadband speed internet access, and that might be one of the things that may keep convergence between TV and internet from happening as quickly as might seem possible as well.

  28. Hi Kentaro,

    Another of those features might enable your contacts to change your channel on you as well. Not sure what to think about either of those features, but they are interesting.

  29. Hi Frank,

    I guess the adoption of set top boxes, and fast internet access varies in different places. The county I live in has some areas where broadband is available, but many people still connect to the Web via their phones, or through satellite access. There are likely others who are happy with their televisions just as a broadcast medium.

    Televisions also often have much larger screens than computers, and are often placed behind a desk rather than in front of a couch. I could possibly hook my computer up to one of my TVs, and have done that with my laptop in the past, but I’m not sure that I would feel comfortable working with such a large screen on a regular basis.

  30. Hi Andrew,

    This does seem like one of those wait and see type technologies. There are plenty of times that I sit and watch TV to be entertained without having any need or desire to interact with others. But it does sound interesting.

  31. Hi Paula,

    I’ve been seeing more “internet enabled” televisions in advertisements, and options regarding set top boxes for TV are growing. It does look like it’s just a matter of time till we see features like social networking available to us on our TVs.

  32. Hi Jeffrey,

    I remember seeing TVs for sale that had VHS tape players built into them, and thinking to myself that I wouldn’t buy something like that because it’s just so easy and inexpensive to buy a VHS tape player. Are there some types of convergence like that that people might avoid?

    Would you buy a 50″ TV that had a computer built into it, knowing that the monitor would probably outlast the technology of the computer by possibly many years?

  33. Hi Matt,

    It is interesting to see that technology converging with televisions has become, in some ways, competition with technology converging with phones.

    I would rather watch a movie on a big screen TV than on a very small phone screen, but I think you make a good point. Would people be much more comfortable interacting socially on their phones, which often tend to be much more personal devices then televisions?

  34. Hi jeff,

    I somewhat feel the same way as you. When I’m watching TV, I really don’t want status messages popping up, or requests for a video chat, or something like that. But I could imagine that there are people who would like something like this a lot.

  35. Hi Allen,

    I guess one of the features of the system described in this patent makes some sense, where you can have different connection settings for different channels. I wouldn’t mind interacting with other via social network when watching a baseball or football game, but I’d probably rather not when watching a movie.

  36. Hi Alex,

    Social media has probably surprised many with its role in enabling people communications that they hadn’t had before, and it has brought about some changes in the world in surprising ways.

  37. Hi Dave,

    I’m very surprised that my local cable company charges as much as they do for their on demand movies. There is some convenience in being able to access a movie from within my own home, but I’m much less likely to rent a movie at $5 a pop when I can go to a redbox or blockbuster kiosk and get the same movie for $1. There are other options online as well.

    We are going to see more smart TVs come out, and social networks and other internet-based services will be more closely bundled with them. It’s going to be interesting to see how our living room entertainment centers transform.

  38. This is on its way. Already in the UK numerous programs encourage audience participation via Twitter and these comments are sometimes read out on air. In addition we all watch our favourite shows (i.e The apprentice) and text our friends with comments and predictions. Social media in this context is expanding the reach of the show, in the same way that social media reach expands our own circle of friends and contacts. Are the days of passively wathing a show while your brain rots over? Good stuff,great site

  39. Hi Andrew,

    I have seen a few sites here in the US too, which ask for comments and feedback and questions via twitter on sports and news issues, and read some of those tweets back during their broadcasts, and I’ve seen people interact with each other via social networks while watching television. I follow a couple of baseball players in Twitter who sometimes provide some commentary on games after those are over as well. That does make those games much more interesting.

    The process described in the patent does try to make some of that possible all in one device – your television, but the most interesting aspect of it to me is that you can associate different social networks and groups and so on with specific channels. I’m actually surprised that we haven’t seen that kind of integration of television and social networking in Google TV or Apple TV

  40. Hmmm …. I don’t know … Watching tv and browsing in the internet are very different, if you ask me. I think that the majority of the people watching tv will not bother using social media or something like that. When you sit in front of the tv you kind of have the mindset that you will not do anything, just watch.
    On the other hand, the thing you say about watching tv with other people that are not in the room, is pretty interesting.
    I guess we wait and see if this kind of stuff will be successful.

  41. The steady convergence of all platforms for communication and entertainment continues. And as new ways are invented to combine the likes of Facebook, Twitter, video games, TV, PCs, iPads, smartphones, “cloudy” music, instant messaging, robotics, texting, streaming movies, cable, and who knows what else…we can only wonder what we’d find 50 years from now. One super 3D, holographic, voice-interfaced mode of covering all these bases in one merged form? And if so, who will own it?

  42. Hi Brad,

    It is an interesting scenerio. I think some people will really enjoy the kind of interaction that social network enabled televisions will allow, while others will avoid it at all costs.

  43. It will happen but if it will catch thats another matter. To watch TV while someone is requesting conference call or sending me messages is rather not very appealing prospect.

  44. Hi Steve,

    It’s possible that we might see even more than what this patent describes in the future. I’d love it if people involved in the crafting and creation of television shows would provide more opportunities to see behind the scenes, and maybe they will get more involved in the crossroads of social networking and broadcast television as well.

  45. Hi John,

    I guess one of the better features that seems to be associated with this patent filing is how configurable it is. If you want to associate a specific social network or group with a channel, or at a certain time, you can. If you don’t want to, you can set it up so that you don’t receive requests or messages.

  46. From my understanding the way in which TV advertising is traded in the U.S. is very different from the way in which it’s traded in the UK.

    The opportunity for a commercial station to sell advertising around an “appointment to view” is where they win & lose.

    As TV is traded on a CPT model with the advertiser buying an audience – ITV station price (the prices at which all stations are judged against) for House Wives + Kids is circa £20.

    If a show like X-Factor or Pop Idol is launched then the number of folks watching it rocket.

    A mechanism called Contract Rights Renewal (CRR) then kicks in which dictates the price based on the audience watching – so a higher number of viewers reduces the price but to reach a larger audience the overall cost increases (still with me?) and also the audience model can change – but i won’t come to that one!

    As the mechanism for pricing can’t be changed – the commodity price is a function of the forecasted audience which also can’t be changed – the opportunity to squeeze revenue comes from the advertised comes from cross-selling sponsorship, product placement and digital add-ons.

    If the TV networks can generate a trending topic on twitter which is then overlayed onto the same distribution channel then; theorectically a cross sold opportunity for a promoted tweet style activity could allow the TV stations to further their opportunities for revenue outside of the CRR mechanism.

    I like this a lot!

  47. Hi Tom,

    Good points. Thank you.

    I really haven’t looked into advertising on television in the UK, but there have been a few patent filings from Google that present some interesting business models for advertising during broadcasts.

    Advertising in conjunction with social network attention isn’t a bad idea, and could definitely be incorporated into something like the ideas in this patent.

  48. Is social networking really something that can be successfully incorporated into television? I guess thats the main question. Who knows? I bet in the beginning on facebook we were all just as skeptical.

  49. Hi Jamie,

    The description from the patent seems to make a good case for making a combination of TV viewing and social networking a possibility. As we get more internet enabled TVs, and a bigger choice of set top boxes for our TVs, we’re going to have more options like this available to us.

  50. Wow! Facebook on TV? That’s crazy but would be a breakthrough. Incorporating Social Media or Social Networks into television might be a bit complicated but is not far from reality. As always, great post. Thanks Bill.

  51. Hi Noel,

    Thanks. I’m not sure that technical issues need to be worked out as much as developing a user interface that people would be comfortable with, and would be willing to adopt.

  52. Very interesting thought of combining social medias with the TV. And no doubt that something like it is going to happen in the nearest future.

  53. Hi Bo,

    I believe that we move closer to it daily.

    Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility is kind of interesting because Motorola builds set top boxes for cable, and has been supplying some pretty big cable companies with their technology. Will Google replace them, and if it does, will we start seeing more interactivity between web applications and television. I think so.

  54. Hi Bill,

    How do you see Facebooks role in this? Semems like they get more and more power and are becoming some powerfull influence on entertainment. How will they cope with Google aquistions in the market?


  55. Hi Troels

    The patent application uses Facebook as an example, so I’m not sure that there’s anything more that that at least directly.

    I’ve seen some rumors about Facebook TV, but those really just seemed to be rumors.

    It seems like Facebook is working on some deals where it would deliver content from video sources that could be seen on Facebook directly, but I’m not sure that it would take the form described in this patent filing.

  56. This is one more thing I’ll have to explain to my Grandmother if it ever comes out. The other day she asked me what Twitter was. How do you explain that to an 85 year old woman who remembers riding around in a horse drawn carriage?

  57. Hi Jeremy

    I spent an hour or so trying to explain twitter to my mother recently. I’m not sure how good or bad of a job I did, but she missed out on the horse drawn carriage days, and still I could see she had some problems with it.

  58. Oh yes – I have been there as well – explaining Twitter and other new things to my mom. Not as easy as it seems. And it’s also extremely difficult to explain why it is so popoular. They don’t seem to understand 🙂 It’s not going to be easier as things are melting together.

  59. Hi John,

    I’m not sure that I talked my mom into using Twitter, but at least she has some idea what it is, and why people might use it now.

    Then again, she’s pretty much stayed away from other social networks like Facebook as well.

    I am reminded a little of some recent commercials on TV though where a 20 something is concerned that her parents have no friends, after she helpd them set up accounts on Facebook, and they only have a handful of friends there. In the meantime, the commercial shifts a few times to scenes of her parents having the time of their lives being active out in the world with other people.

  60. As soon as sufficiently high-speed wireless connections are ubiquitously available there will be no essential difference between TV, mobile phone, pad/tablet computer, etc. Social networking capability in a TV is only a novel concept because the TV has not yet made the leap from a specialized entertainment device to an all-purpose computing platform, such as laptop, and to a large extent mobile phone.

  61. Hi Mike,

    So many devices of different types are coming out with computers built into them, and with the ability to connect to other computing devices. While they all might share some of those capabilities, there are differences between them that give them value, and make how they are used significantly different in some ways.

    Social applications built for phones can take advantage of their ability to be mobile, for instance. A check-in application for your large screen TV doesn’t really make too much sense. While you can watch movies and television programming on a phone, chances are that more people would be interested in using that for their television.

    But getting these different kinds of computing devices to work together could be really interesting, too:


  62. well the worst thing that can happen to these kinds of innovation is being blocked by service providers because you don’t have an agreement with them :/ (look at Google TV 1)

  63. Hi Jeffrey,

    That is a very real risk, and we see it not just with Google, but with other services as well. For a recent example, the agreement between NetFlix and Starz, for Starz to provide online content to NetFlix customers, expired a few days ago. When it was inked about 4 years ago, Starz had no idea how popular streaming content might be online, and that it might somewhat threaten its cable offerings. But it’s likely helped them in many ways as well.

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