Twitter Dominates Live TV Because Social TV Is Failing

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Editor’s note: Somrat Niyogi is the CEO of Miso.

Every time I turn on the TV, I see Twitter. Hashtags and Twitter handles are on TV shows. There are dedicated pages to world events like the Olympic Games. Even entertainment news reporting has been transformed because the general population can get in touch with what’s happening in the lives of celebrities instantaneously. (Russell Crowe is in fact safe thanks to the New York Coast Guard that was nearby).

But why is Twitter everywhere on TV?

First, it is as simple as it gets. There is a box. You type in it, and people can see what you typed on their phone or on the web instantly. Secondly, it has become ingrained in people’s everyday habits. Twitter takes advantage of the “micro-moments” that exist in our lives. You’re waiting in line, so you open Twitter. You’re sitting in the car at a stoplight and — yes, unfortunately — you open Twitter. You have moments of downtime while in front of the TV when commercials come on, so you open Twitter.

These reasons are also fundamentally why mass media and consumers have adopted Twitter as a platform for sharing and consuming in front of the TV. Any commercial or downtime is a cue and the perfect pocket of time to open that Twitter and share or see what else is happening.

So here is the undeniable fact: Twitter currently dominates live TV because it enables these “come-in come-out” experiences that are light, delightful and informative. But ultimately, Twitter is also dominating because of the mistakes we are making in the social TV industry.

The problem today with second screen apps is the assumptions around existing second screen behavior. It’s true that people are also on their laptops, smartphones or tablets while watching TV. But people are checking email, on Facebook, and doing other things. The other major problem is that second screen apps fail to answer the ultimate question: Why should a user open up YOUR app versus the other billion apps out there around TV?

What We Are Doing Wrong

We make it about the people in business, not a business for people.

As an industry, we’re trying to capitalize on a business proposition, not a consumer proposition. Yes, people have another screen up while they are watching TV. But the moment we stop trying to leverage the second screen real estate, that is the moment we are heading in the right direction.

We need to stop telling and start asking. Right now, second screen apps are saying, “Here are other ways you can use your smartphone while you watch TV!” But is anybody really asking, “What do people really want to do when they watch TV?” I can guarantee that from my experience, I’ve found that regular users don’t care about this whole two-screen, synchronous, social TV phenomenon.

We are keeping everything and the kitchen sink.

The companies that have a “checkbox” philosophy will lose. Here’s how most of the thought processes go:

“Users want four things on the second screen. They want to discover new shows. They want to buy products on TV. They want to chat with friends. They want more content. Wait, and they also want to share all this on Twitter. So that’s five things. Wait, and they also want to get trivia. So that’s six things. Oh and…”

When this line of thinking begins, I believe you might as well just go ahead and add porn because most users will end up wanting to (obviously, right?).

Checking off the boxes and adding every possible feature and declaring “we are the best because we have everything” is not valuable. Companies should pick a single value prop and deliver it really well. This is why Instagram has 100 million users and no second screen app has climbed to 1 million users organically.

This is a big fail on our entire nascent industry. We are using terminology that people do not understand.

What does “synchronous experience” mean to the average user? What about the concept of “flinging things from second screen to TV”? Or, let’s take another step back: do regular everyday users even understand the term “social TV”?

People understand value props that are clear and simple, like “answers questions,” “talk about TV” or “talk with friends.” But once you start to combine those things with 100 other things and introduce new concepts, it loses meaning.

I urge all of the second screen and social TV companies to strip out everything that is not core to their product. You should be able to answer the question “what do you do?” in one sentence. And if you tell anybody off the street what it is, they should immediately say, “that makes sense.”

We are not mindful of switching barriers.

If someone came out with something that had Facebook-like services first, what would it take to have you switch to Facebook? It’s already hard to get people to use any product, but in the war for attention on the second screen, the switching barriers are really high. It’s especially difficult when there are already existing means for accomplishing certain objectives.

There are a lot of discovery and guide apps out there. As a technologist, I’m always impressed with the innovation that I see, but what about the regular consumer? If you ask them how they decide and determine what to watch on TV, they probably do what they have always done in the past: They usually use the guide on TV. Or, in the case of Netflix and Hulu, they browse the guide already built in the service.

The switching costs for changing include: using apps in lieu of what is on TV, using an interface of a guide-like app and choosing a specific guide app among others. Altogether, it is a tough transition. It’s possible and it can happen over time but switching costs are tough unless you do something simple and magical and deliver on a true value prop that is differentiated.

We are not creating a habit.

Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of opportunities in the second screen space. There are a lot of ideas out there that need to be explored. And really, there has not been a single use case that captures the minds of every TV viewer. It’s hard to know which ONE thing has the strongest appeal to the largest audience when audiences want very different things. This is why the problem described earlier happens. Several second screen companies jam in as many features as possible to try to cover all the bases.

But instead of trying to grab everything, we each need to focus on one thing and hit it out of the park. One clear opportunity is to help people discover what to watch. Another is to help people answer the questions they have about TV.

Let me emphasize this again: the key is to do one thing and do it right. As Matt Cohler wrote recently, there are winners in the mobile space and patterns are emerging: “Great mobile apps act like push-button remote controls for real life.”

We live in a world of single-purpose apps. When a user has a thought, they use an app to address what they are thinking. “I want to take a great picture.” Open Instagram. “I want to find a place to eat.” Open Yelp. “I want to know what’s going on in the news.” Open Pulse. “I want to see what my friends are doing.” Open Facebook.

The goal is to “own a thought.” What do people think…and then why open your app? The thought has to be important enough so that every time it pops in the user’s head, they open your app and the habit is formed. It has to do something different and better than anything else out there, and most importantly has to be simple.

To Everybody In The TV Industry…

As I cautioned in my most recent post that appeared in TechCrunch about the ecosystem of TV, if we as an industry cannot come together then we all lose. Now, I encourage everyone to ask themselves: is there a habitual, single thought experience that people want to use everyday that I can deliver in a magical, simple way?

I believe there is. But, only time will tell and there is more work that needs to be done. Most of all, I believe that TV and the experiences around it will only continue to get better and better…as long as we get on the right track.