The Future of Facebook is Television

As the countdown to Facebook’s IPO continues, the media is all a’flutter over the expected valuation, whether or not Facebook ads really work, the public’s overall perception of the site and the future of the social network in general.

We’ve seen Facebook evolve over the years from a college community site to a source for brand connections and failed attempts to transform into a Craig’s List-style marketplace.

We’ve seen monetization goals through advertising and hopes that the Instagram acquisition will help the site monetize mobile. And, still, there is talk about whether the company really has a future.

Although, I recognize the last thing anyone needs is yet another voice pontificating on what that future should be, I’ve never let that stop me from putting in my two cents. So, here it is:

If Facebook really wants a monetized future, they need to truly turn toward Social TV.

The simple fact is film and television fans are already on Facebook talking about our favorite shows while we watch them, live.

Case and point, I drove so much Facebook conversation about The Walking Dead this past season that Klout decided I was influential about “social media, marketing, branding, public relations and zombies.”

If Facebook really wants to make good on their expected $100 billion valuation this Friday, I think they should become full-fledged digital content distributors and give NetFlix, Hulu, and Amazon On Demand a run for their money.

We see so many networks work to create social media conversations, trying to pull viewers – and their friends –  away from Facebook onto the AMC or TNT or HBO web site, why not distribute the programming where viewers already are?

It just makes sense.

We’ve already seen indicators that Facebook is heading in this direction.

Hulu and Netflix are leveraging FB’s social graph for seamless or “frictionless” viewing. 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 (like they see your Spotify playlists.) And if they click it, they can watch the same episode themselves and chat along with you on Facebook while they watch.

But, I foresee this growing even more with exclusive digital releases of programming available only through Facebook.

Rumor is, MTV will soon take their award show broadcast to Facebook so that fans can not only watch the show, but also interact with the presenters through the social site.

And, that’s the key – through the social site. To-date much of Facebook’s engagement with social TV has been collaborative partnerships through apps and share-it features that take viewers away from Facebook. I think the more FB can leverage the fact that we are already there, the stronger their position as content distributor becomes.

A recent industry survey from Informa Telecoms & Media on the “Future of TV” indicates over 20% of respondents felt that social networking sites like Facebook are best-placed to build an audience for paid digital content, compared with only 16% for network operators.

Despite Facebook’s minimal investment in TV compared with Apple or Netflix to date, the growth of tablets and the new trend for simultaneous multiscreen consumption means that the social site is in an ideal position to lead Social TV.

Meanwhile, Twitter is claiming to be the ideal partner for TV companies. Yet they are battling for $196bn in worldwide TV ad spend and will impact the $236bn global pay-TV market, so really, how far do their interests coincide with television’s?

Broadcasters are developing sophisticated Social TV integration as they aim to drive viewer tune-in, engagement and loyalty to boost ratings, live viewing and ad revenue. However, they are also discovering Social TV’s challenges, mainly going where the viewers are. And, Major brands want Social TV shows and engaging ad formats for innovative advertising opportunities, which you know I’m a big proponent of this in the form of plinking.

Pay-TV operators seem to envisage a Social TV future where subscribers recommend content to each other. Yet they face serious challenges from rival companies and strategies. And, producers are developing new formats that incorporate viewer participation and paid transactions.

Interestingly, we are seeing new players in the social TV space as major media and tech companies such as BSkyB, Hearst, Time Warner and Google are pumping tens of millions of dollars into Social TV startups, which indicates to me that the next big dot-com bubble will indeed be Social TV.

NOTE: Thanks to my pals for letting my publish our Walking Dead conversations. 

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