Facebook and the Social TV Revolution

I’ve been saying for a while now that Facebook will soon become more of a content distributor much like Netflix and Amazon. Well, it seems Zuckerberg is hinting that it may happen even sooner than I’d thought.

Today at F8, Facebook rolled out an update to its social graph that allows “frictionless” sharing, enabling a new world of social TV. And Hulu and Netflix are two early companies planning to take advantage of it.

In a nutshell, once you authorize this new level of sharing within an app, everything you do within that context will appear in the real-time ticker on Facebook. So if you’re watching 30 Rock on the Hulu app — within Facebook — your friends will see that you’re watching in their real-time tickers. And here’s the kicker: if they click it, they can watch the same episode themselves, chatting along with you on Facebook while they watch. Same goes for music (Spotify, etc.) and news (Washington Post, etc.)

Netflix CEO Reid Hastings took the stage to say that he watched Breaking Bad after discovering it through a friend. “Watching content because my friend is [watching] trumps the algorithm,” he said. When Netflix says something trumps their treasured algorithm, that should get your attention.

Facebook has just kicked-started the social TV revolution. Just about everyone is on Facebook, and when people start consuming content through it, it enables a new world of friend-to-friend discovery that’s potentially worth more — at scale — than any promo campaign on the planet (especially when you’re selling a service or the content itself). As Hastings said on stage, Zuckerberg said that he would deem the new social graph successful if it doubled Netflix’s growth forecast.

The problem with Facebook and social TV is most people only “like” a handful of TV shows. And they don’t “unlike” them. So preferences are thin and enduring, which doesn’t match how people engage with television today. Now that Facebook has enabled a “lightweight” way to express an affinity with TV, the data become richer, and that means distributors can more accurately suggest TV shows to watch more than ever = more viewing.

Along with Hulu and Netflix, TiVo says it will be tapping the new social graph, releasing new mobile apps with improved social experiences later this year. TiVo explains in a press release:

TiVo users will be able to discover programs their Facebook friends endorse with the Like feature, or view what shows their friends are currently enjoying with the Watch feature and immediately schedule a recording or watch live based on those recommendations. And because the TiVo iPad and iPhone apps are linked to the TiVo DVR, TiVo users can feature the program they’re watching to their friends and subscribers on Facebook with a flick of their finger.

The other big question: what does this mean for TV check-in companies? Watch something on Facebook, and you automatically “check in” to your pre-existing base of friends. And beyond just a notification, your friends can watch it on the spot, chatting alongside. Content distributors like Hulu and Netflix now can build their own frictionless check-in capability around them. This underlines the importance for TV check-in startups to integrate at the set-top/connected TV level (which they’re doing). After all, there are a lot of shows (and a growing number of them) not available on Hulu and Netflix.

By the way, Netflix’s Hastings says they’re poised to debut their Facebook integration, but they’re waiting for Congress (which is taking it up today) to pass a bill to clear up a legal restriction.

The times, they are a’changin’

 

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