The Breakdown: It’s the beginning of a new year, the perfect time for us to kick off our annual SXSW Q&A series. The first talk we wanted to highlight is one about a topic very near to our hearts: Social TV. Jenn Deering Davis (@jdeeringdavis) is the co-founder of Union Metrics, and co-creator of TweetReach, a tool that helps analyze the impact of tweets. She’ll be giving a presentation called “How Twitter Has Changed How We Watch TV” this year at SXSW.
S/G: There’s been a lot of concern about the durability of “old media” for years now. Do you think Social TV is a sign of TV’s metamorphosis, or just a pause on the way to extinction?
Jenn: Oh, I don’t think TV is going anywhere. If anything, advances in social technologies have made TV more interesting and relevant over the past couple years. Live television is on the rise and more people are watching shows when they air than they have in several years. We love TV, particularly in the United States. Yes, the media landscape has changed a lot over the past few decades, but I don’t think we need to be concerned about it dying out. But I’m not sure I would call social TV a metamorphosis. Maybe more an evolution.
S/G: We’ve been looking at Social TV apps for a while, and none of them seem to be compelling enough to compete with Twitter’s open platform. Why haven’t any of the pure play Social TV apps broken through yet?
Jenn: I don’t think audiences are particularly interested in single-serving experiences like what many of the current social TV apps provide. We don’t need a separate app to talk about TV shows – we want to socialize with our existing friends and networks via channels we use all the time. I think this is why Twitter has been so successful with television networks and audiences. It’s a great space to talk in real time about what’s happening on the television screen with people you know and like.
S/G: Do you think any of them are getting close? Which are your favorites?
Jenn: I actually think Twitter and Tumblr are the best social TV apps, even though they’re not explicitly “social TV apps”. Both allow for in-depth and highly engaged social experiences. Both host millions of interactions about TV every single day. Shows like Pretty Little Liars get tens of thousands of posts per minute during peak episodes on Twitter. That’s huge!
Twitter is great for watching live shows. Fans tweet when exciting moments happen on screen, commiserate when something bad happens, speculate about cliffhangers, and just generally share the TV experience. They can even tweet along with characters in the shows! It’s an incredibly rich and immersive way to watch TV.
Tumblr, on the other hand, gives fans a space to remix and create their own content related to their favorite shows. They can post GIFs and screencaps, share their reviews, even upload fan fiction. Where Twitter allows for real-time responses, Tumblr allows for post-viewing reactions. Together, they’re a powerful mix for TV viewers.
S/G: What do you look for in a Social TV experience?
Jenn: I look for an experience that is easy and engaging. I might not be typical, but I generally don’t want to install a separate app for each show I’m watching, and have to load it up to participate. I like to participate in social channels where I’m already comfortable, with people who like the same things as me. And I love anything that gives me “content exhaust” from my favorite shows – bonus content, behind-the-scenes photos and stories, previews for upcoming episodes, quotes from the cast. Anything that feels extra and special for the biggest fans.
S/G: According to your website, your project TweetReach was conceived over breakfast tacos in Austin. Was this at SXSW? What is it about SXSW that makes it such fertile ground for new solutions to problems?
Jenn: Actually no, our company wasn’t started at SXSW. My co-founder and I are from Austin, so that’s why the company started there. I was working on my PhD at UT, and Union Metrics developed from some ideas my co-founder and I had about social media. Later, we moved to San Francisco to build the company to the place it is now.
SXSW is a great place to get motivated to start or work harder on your startup, though, With so many smart, energized people talking about big, interesting ideas, it’s the perfect breeding ground for solving problems. That’s why it gets bigger every year – it’s a terrific event.
S/G: What are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?
Jenn: Mostly the people. SXSW is great for catching up with old friends, conecting with our customers face-to-face, and meeting new people. I also love a chance to go back to Austin in the spring, when the grass is green and the weather is warm. And the breakfast tacos! San Francisco does not get breakfast tacos at all.
Explore the rest of the SXSW 2013 Q&A Series.
Image credits, from left to right:
Austin – by Dice.com
Badge – by Jeremy Keith
Microphone – by Hidde de Vries
Robot – by Jason Yovanoff
Breakfast taco – by Aaron Parecki