14.12.2011 2012: The year you won’t have to choose between socialising and a night in front of the TV

Social media has completely revolutionised way we communicate with our friends and total strangers, the way we make purchasing decisions and how we interact with our favourite brands.Now it’s set to revolutionise the way we watch television. Here we take a look at the big social media trend we think will be the one to watch (if you’ll excuse the pun) in 2012.

The recent Social TV Trends Report, a study into viewing habits in the UK, found that 76% of viewers surf the web using multiple devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops whilst concurrently watching their favourite TV shows.

Sound familiar?

This ‘two screen’ way of viewing television means broadcasters are investing in new ways of adding value and enhancing the viewing experience. We recently did some work with the Channel 5’s The Gadget Show where it became apparent that enabling viewers to enjoy and interact with TV shows via a second screen is increasingly important for production companies.

With more and more people viewing across multiple screens, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see why Social TV, the process of integrating television viewing with social networking, is set to explode in 2012.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m watching my favourite television show, it has become the norm for the show in question – everything from Masterchef to X Factor – to be accompanied by a frenzied Twitter session on my smartphone.

Reading the people I follow respond to the show takes the quite boring experience of watching TV alone to a whole new level of entertainment. And searching a show’s hashtag is a great way to discover amusing and interesting points of view from total strangers, many who then go on to become online connections.

It also makes previously unappealing television shows far more attractive (see Eurovision. The good funny people of Twitter have turned me from a Euro-sceptic into a fan. In fact, it’s become one of the comedy highlights of the year for me). I am not alone in this. The Social TV Trends Report, which questioned 2,025 internet users aged 18 and over found that 43% of British adults commented on or discussed television shows they were watching via social media sites. This figure rose to a massive 68% for 18-24 year olds.

Finally, 25% of over 55s were also getting in on the action. It isn’t surprising then that ‘social TV’ apps such as ‘Get Glue’ and ‘ZeeBox’ (dubbed as television’s answer to Facebook) are set for big things in 2012.

These apps take ‘TV Tweeting’ to another level. Acting as interactive TV guides linked seamlessly with Twitter, these apps are set to cement television’s move towards becoming a communal virtual experience.

ZeeBox is remarkably easy to navigate, even for new users. But what else would you expect from the brains behind Zeebox Anthony Rose, who was responsible for designing and delivering BBC’s iPlayer? Users can “check in” to a TV program and have live conversations with friends and other people who are watching. You can also invite friends to watch with you, which is a nice touch.

We also like the Zeetags on the right hand side of the page. Click on one of these live Zeetags, for instance one of the character names, and it links to further information about the character and a related Twitter feed. Clever huh?

It’s not just about the celebrities on the screen either. A recent update to Zeebox is the Starwatch feature, which taps into the hundreds of celebrities who are tweeting about their own TV viewing habits. To make this possible, the Zeebox team made a list of about 400 celebrities, from Alan Sugar and Stephen Fry to politicians and Radio 5 Live sports hosts.

When they tweet about a programme, its servers follow them and hashtag it, then assign them to that programme in Zeebox and show their icon in the interface. In other words, Zeebox users watching a show can see which celebrities are also watching and tweeting about it. Or even watching and tweeting about something on another channel.

“When Stephen Fry tweets about a programme, thousands of people might flip to that show,” says Rose.

“Celebrities can become the TV schedulers of the future by saying ‘I’m watching this’ and that going out to the Twitter audience.”

And there’s much more to come.

Currently only available for the iPad and online, iPhone and Android apps are on the way. Zeebox is also working on ways to help people buy the products they see in TV shows and adverts from within its app. Using video recognition to recognise ads on TV, it will allow users to buy the product being showcased from a second screen with a few clicks. When you think about it, it’s pretty powerful stuff, no?

One thing is for sure. The TV viewing landscape is changing radically and 2012 looks set to be the year when social TV really takes off. As Anthony Rose says, while some people over 35 might be a bit scared of it, people under 35 can’t get enough of it.

“This is really the TV of the future, and it’s not science fiction. It’s happening right now. Second screen is really going to move the tectonic plates around for television.”