Like many of my friends, I rarely watch live television anymore, aside from sporting events. I did, however, watch the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics alone on my sofa. Except it didn’t feel like I was alone, because I had my smartphone, and many of my Facebook and Twitter friends were also watching the same event and making witty comments about what they were seeing. Though separated by vast distances, we enjoyed the spectacle much more than if we hadn’t had the social networks to unite us.
My friends in the United States, however, could not participate, since their Olympics coverage was delayed in a ridiculous prime time ratings power play by NBC. A few of them expressed annoyance at my “spoiler” comments about the event. And sure enough, when it aired in the US, there was a wave of social media commentary as they were witnessing the event. That’s when the idea came to me…
There are a number of services already designed for live chatting while a television program airs, but they are useless for the ever-growing demographic that watches programs after they air, either via a DVR recording or Hulu or iTunes or Netflix.
The app I’m envisioning records social media chatter, either via Twitter hashtags or from one of the services mentioned above. Users watching live can leave comments directly in the app. Once the show is over, the app now has a social commentary stream the exact length of the show. Users that recorded the show on their DVR can then open the app and hit Sync! right when they press play on their DVR, and the app replays the recorded social stream in realtime for that user as they are watching the television show. Optionally, if something clever occurs to the user, they can add comments to the stream themselves, which will be displayed to all subsequent users.
Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of noise in the stream, so users can vote up particularly funny comments or vote down off-topic or uninteresting comments. Over time only the best comments are shown. Not only do your votes count to improve the stream for everyone, but also to personalize your own stream to favor comments from users you like. Existing karma algorithms can apply to weight votes. Of course you can whitelist friends that you always want to see comments from.
Perhaps there could be some sort of “verified account” system that could allow for the writer, director or actors of the show to participate as well, maybe even answering questions posed by the viewers.
The end result is sort of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 commentary for every episode of every television show, both personalized to your social group of friends, but also including particularly funny or interesting people from across the internet.
The Biggest Challenge
The biggest hurdle I foresee is what to do about commercial breaks. Many DVR viewers are going to prefer to fast forward through commercials, and iTunes customers or pirates are going to have video files with the commercials removed. Also, I often pause shows as I am watching them, and I would have to also pause the social feed. There needs to be some method of staying in sync for all of these cases. Easier said than done.
The ideal end product would also provide an API so that content streaming websites like Hulu or Netflix could put a widget on their page to show the social feed and comment box. That way they could handle pausing and post-advertisement synchronization themselves. It would also allow for the development of standalone players that could play a video file or DVD and handle pausing and syncing. A player app could even download the stream for offline viewing, like on a long airline flight.
All the methods with which current live apps are monetized will work. Product placement jumps out as an obvious example. When a character on the screen is drinking a Coke, an ad for Coca-Cola could appear in the stream. There are already some services that will let you buy clothes you see television characters wearing. Selling soundtrack songs is another obvious one.
Alternatively, it could be a Freemium service, where the first 25% or 50% of the show is free, and if you’re enjoying the feed enough, then you can choose to pay $0.99 for the rest of the show. Subscriptions to an entire season could be discounted to $0.69/episode.
There are many ways to make this app profitable. I, for one, would be a paying customer.