Marketing Technology for Growth

Social TV Apps are Changing How We Watch Television

social tv apps

Viacom released a study a few months ago on social television usage that I’ve been meaning to write about, because I think it represents a critical behavioral change in TV viewing that will impact many a brand’s marketing decision. In a nutshell, a Viacom survey found that 56% of respondents use social apps on mobile devices to interact with friends while watching their favorite TV programs. In other words, over half of those interviewed (the survey represented a reasonable distribution of the TV viewing audience) are engaging in some form of social interaction with a mobile device while watching their favorite TV shows.

The Viacom survey, “Social TV: Viewers C’s the Moment,” notes that viewers engage in an average of seven different types of social TV activities (online or offline) on at least a weekly basis.  The most common activities include watching TV with others (85%), searching for supplemental content (61%) and viewing TV show clips on social networks (58%).¹

What are people doing on mobile devices that makes their TV viewing experience “social?” Communicating, consuming content, and checking comments.


Above all, social TV viewers love to chat with friends, often using multiple platforms. For example, 56% prefer communicating through a social TV app/service, 53% through Facebook, 50% through individual or group texts, and 38% through Skype or Apple FaceTime.  For those that use check-in services, 71% check in to a show to let their friends know and 64% check in to let other fans of the show know.¹

The vast majority of social TV apps are accessed via smartphones (82%); social TV viewers are using tablets to communicate just 18% of the time. For social TV services delivered through mobile websites and apps, almost half of viewers (48%) are still using a desktop or laptop device, with only a slight majority opting for smartphones or tablets (this may have something to do with the fact that not all browsers have fully integrated popular web-app markup languages like HTML5).

When asked what content they are looking for in a social TV app experience, most survey respondents wanted deeper engagement with their favorite shows, such as episode teasers (75%), behind the scenes snapshots and extras (71%), and live interaction with the stars and creators. In short, they want to feel like they are part of the experience. "I love reading Daniel Tosh's tweets while watching Tosh.0. It gives the show a whole other dimension," said one survey respondent.¹

Many viewers want to hear comments from a show's cast and crew, followed by the people they know. Audiences are sensitive to the quality of comments from a show's cast and crew – they look for authenticity and prefer the star(s) to be in character.¹

The speedy pace of tablet adoption is likely to further alter the social TV viewing experience. According to eMarketer, by 2015 the majority of online users will access the Internet via mobile tablets. Assuming this ends up being even remotely accurate, many millions of users will be accessing TV shows through their tablets. This is partially true even now. A recent study by OPA found that 47% of tablet users are regularly watching full-length TV shows:

video types tablet users view regularly


The consumer shift to a more “social” TV experience has many implications. For one, as marketers continue to shift ad dollars from television to video, popular TV networks are going to have to react or watch ad revenues decrease. They would be wise to accept the new reality and focus their efforts on creating a deeper user experience that incorporates social and mobile technologies.

Marketers should keep a close eye on where viewers are consuming popular TV shows, and shift ad-spend accordingly. Many have already figured this out. In May, online video ads reached 52% of the total US population an average of 64 times. Of these ads, online streaming TV and video site Hulu generated the highest number of video ad impressions, at 1.6 billion.

In an increasingly complicated media landscape, marketers who are able to develop an organic and non-invasive means of tapping into the social TV user experience stand to gain; those who dismiss it as a passing fad stand to lose.


¹ PR Newswire, “Viacom Media Networks' "Social TV: Viewers C's the Moment" Study Reveals Three C's To the Social TV Experience: Communication, Content, Comments

Info-graphic courtesy of eMarketer

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Topics: Marketing Technology Trends, Social