The Four Most Underhyped Trends In Social TV

Editor’s note: Jeremy Toeman is a founder of Dijit Media, a startup whose vision is to create the ultimate “hyperpersonalised social TV guide” mobile experience. Jeremy has over 11 years experience in the convergence of digital media, mobile entertainment, social entertainment, social TV and consumer technology working with companies like Sling Media, Mediabolic, Boxee, Clicker, VUDU, and more. Follow him on Twitter@jtoeman.

Last time I took a look at the most over-hyped topics of the Future of TV, and I thought a great follow-up would be to look at the reverse case. After all, it’s easy to sit there and critique, but what about the positive side, where’s the action happening but not being talked about as much as it could be?  Here are four things going on in the TV industry that definitely don’t get enough respect…

Open Platforms

Did you know that many cable/satellite/telephone providers have created APIs to communicate and/or control their set top boxes over either home networks and/or the Internet? That’s right, the dinosaurs who are sitting on old technology have opened access to their (formerly) closed systems. If that’s not sinking in clearly enough and I’m not saying this to pitch the company or anything, but by way of example, at Dijit we have the ability to interact with set top boxes that exist in approximately 30 million households today. Just think about it – a _insert cable company name here_ cable box is just as mashup-able as Craigslist.

AirPlay for the rest of us

First, let’s knock another topic off right here: the Apple TV isn’t about being a standalone product, it’s about being an awesome accessory to iPads (which is why it’s effectively the top selling ‘Internet streamer’ over the past 3 years). Works much better when you think of it that way, eh? The flagship feature of Apple TV? AirPlay. If you are “in” the iOS ecosystem, you know how well AirPlay works. If you don’t, you are truly missing out – and I don’t mean you need to rush out to buy one, I mean you need to see how this works: user picks up iPhone/iPad, user finds content, user hits Play, user hits AirPlay to AppleTV, user sees content playing on TV, user enjoys cool refreshing beverage while watching Internet content on TV. Win.

Compare that to any TV-based “10 foot user interface” experience, and you’ll understand the difference. But here’s where it gets interesting: there are a good half-dozen or so startups working on this, not to mention consumer electronics companies like Samsung and others who have already deployed solutions. Granted not one of them is as slick as Airplay, but the era of “fumble around terribly designed menus on your TV” is coming to end, and I for one couldn’t be happier about it. I guarantee a couple of years worth of fragmentation ahead, but either way, the future of interfaces is a bright one.

Death of the content genre

The other day I was trying to reclassify some of my music, and I realized terms like Pop, Alternative, and even Rock are poorly suited to today’s immense breadth of music offerings (and WTF is Adult Alternative anyway???). We are in the age of the micro-niche, driven much due to the growth of Indie music dating back to the 90s. I believe the same fragmentation of big, generic genres like Comedy and Drama will occur in fairly short order.

Considering the rise to 500 channels with the infusion of short and long form Internet videos, the cross-over between content formats is pretty much already here. When I look at the results of most TV recommendations engines, and by that I mean Netflix, I see an increasingly disparate view on content. Am I more interested in Witty TV Comedies (which blends King of the Hill, the Dick Van Dyke Show, Black Adder, 30 Rock, Cheers, and Archer) or Dysfunctional-Family TV Dramas (featuring Rescue Me, Weeds, and My-So-Called Life)?  And while I’m at it, why is Portlandia similar to Twin Peaks? Protip: it’s not.

Bottom line here is expect more and more filters, views, and correspondingly value placed on matching people with the micro-niche hipsteresque genres that describes them, uniquely. Second protip: stop trying to recommend shows because I like Arrested Development, it stand alone.

Who’s Going to Disrupt the TV Industry? The TV Industry

The Internet has disrupted a great many things, and we’ve seen startups emerge to tear down many sectors. Craigslist, started by one dude, disrupted newspapers. eBay owns Christie’s. Music was killed by, well, it seems like the Internet and poor business models, as opposed to startups per se. But when it comes to TV, it’s just not as simple as all that. I can name almost two dozen startups who thought they could just run on down to Hollywood, buy up some content, and start a business – all are now dead. I’ve seen almost as many think they could do the same thing by just trying to use some “trick” through the system to accomplish the same. Most are already dead.  Even Google has now twice failed in their attempt to court the content industry.

But we can see the signs that disruption could and should occur. I’d argue, however, that the real interesting thing happening is the intra-industry battles. At last year’s Cable Show, for example, multiple cable companies showed their services running as “apps” inside Smart TV ecosystems. Comcast, as another example, has OnDemand (broadcast video on demand), StreamPix (Internet video on demand), DVR, TVEverywhere, and other ways to deliver you content. What happens if they decide to bring their services outside their existing geographical boundaries? What happens when cable co’s actually leverage devices like Xboxes to deliver fully authenticated content offerings? What happens when NBC decides Hulu is a bad investment, and creates an openly accessible content feed using third party authentication? What happens when local affiliates continue to get squeezed out of the business?

We can and should expect to see cracks in the system. But I don’t think it’s about cord cutting and little startups. This is the Barzinis teaming up with the Tattaglias to take out Vito, and I hate to say it, but Silicon Valley’s no more than a Clemenza, at best. But there is war a-coming, and there will be great opportunities for startups to rise to great heights if they understand how the system works today, and what’s coming down the pipe. Pun intended, don’t forget to tip your waiter.