Should Watching TV Be a Social Experience?

In a day and age where everything is becoming more social, one must ask, what else has the potential to enter this dimension? Television media and the consumption of content have drastically changed, and cable TV providers are trying to stay ahead of the curve to remain relevant as more consumer choice exists than ever before.

One change that online content providers can contemplate is the idea of sociality. We have seen this phenomenon in many aspects of our everyday life. Social media has changed the way we interact, communicate, share and make decisions. High adoption and consumer penetration rates have made companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Snapchat successful. 

Seamless or near-seamless customer experience has been the catalyst of success for these companies. The social revolution launched with the primary purpose of providing a platform to exchange information. It evolved over time to focus on integrating customer experience design into the platform. 

Recall MySpace, a revolution within the realm of socialization. After reigning as the No. 1 social network in the U.S. for three years (Lee 2011), in 2008 MySpace had to surrender to Facebook.  Facebook was able to “perfect” the social networking concept thanks to its agility and ability to evolve with the social web (Jacobs 2015). Facebook provided a better platform, interface, options and apps. It enabled users to use real identities rather than pseudonyms, and it made a shift from the “ego dimension” to the “friend dimension” (Lee 2011). 

It seems that the complex algorithm to success is not such a complex algorithm after all. Start with something that can be shared on a social platform, and then incorporate a robust customer experience design to enable the public to easily adopt the platform. 

Yet the question still remains, should media content providers aim to find a way to socialize the experience of watching television?

Online content providers are replacing the necessity for cable and satellite subscriptions. Consumers have options, be it streaming online directly or subscribing to services such as Netflix and Hulu. Moreover, these platforms lend themselves to the new phenomenon of binge watching, which involves consuming several episodes of the same series in a condensed period (Schweidel and Moe 2016). If any of the players within this industry want to dominate, they will need to focus on the user experience rather than just available content. 

One way to differentiate this experience is to socialize it. There is a strong preexisting social aspect to consuming media content. Viewers and fans of television share content, reactions and reviews online within their social media communities. Integrating social media directly into the TV experience seems like a natural progression. Now, how would a company accomplish this, and what benefits would it provide? 

A company would need to seamlessly integrate social media into its platform to enhance the social and the actual television watching experience. A couple integral aspects need to be considered to make this product a success and truly a social experience:

  1. To help bolster the success of this initiative, a platform must be developed that may integrate with current popular social media networks, such as Facebook and Instagram. This will allow users to quickly and easily adopt the new product.

  2. Once integrated, users must have the autonomy to enable and disable the social aspect of things and even customize the how/where/when aspect of social media integration. This is critical, since we are asking consumers to change, in some cases, a lifelong habit of watching uninterrupted TV, with the exclusive exception of commercials and/or advertisements; these interruptions can adversely impact the viewers’ experience (Schweidel and Moe 2016).

  3. Content availability is critical; this platform cannot launch with a content disadvantage. Ideally, if this platform were to be created by a preexisting media streaming service, such as Hulu or Netflix, this obstacle could be entirely avoided.

  4. Mobile-friendly focus. Nielsen’s Comparable Metrics Report has completed several studies that conclude conventional TV usage is declining to greater smartphone/mobile device usage (Ingram 2015). 

In taking this approach, there is added value to using social TV, and consumers would now be inclined to use this service above all others options. This amplifies the experience, makes it unique and provides a new basis for content providers to compete. Social TV focuses more on the experience of watching TV than the consumption of media. Ultimately, the battle within the realm of content providers will require something unique and designed to drive customer loyalty.

A focus on this approach will result in priceless data for the media content providers and will consolidate data that, until now, was split between various media content providers. This data can potentially translate to a richer advertising platform with a higher efficacy rate as eluded to by Schweidel and Moe (2016) in their research on viewing habits and the respective effectiveness of advertising. 

In particular, social TV enables viewers to be involved before, during, and after a show. This is a valuable opportunity for advertisers to tap into and to leverage the momentum of social conversations (Nielsen 2014). Traditional advertising is becoming less effective as viewers typically turn their attention away from the TV during commercial breaks and visit social media platforms, commonly referred to as the “dual-screen” phenomenon. In the U.S. this accounts for 71% of total viewers (Neuhauser 2016).

So, just as technology empowers consumers to share, it also enables advertisers to stay relevant among consumers as the combination of TV and social analytics allows advertisers to capture consumers’ emotions and to deliver timely, targeted and synchronized information (Neuhauser 2016). 


Ingram, Mathew (2015), “The Smartphone Is Eating the Television, Nielsen Admits,” Fortune. 

Jacobs, Harrison (2015), “Former MySpace CEO explains why Facebook was able to dominate social media despite coming second,” Business Insider. 

Lee, Amy (2011), “MySpace Collapse: How the Social Network Fell Apart,” The Huffington Post.  

Nielsen (2014), “Living Social: How Second Screens are Helping TV Make Fans.” 

Neuhauser, Lance (2016), “Television’s Power of Participation,” MediaVillage. 

Schweidel, David A. and Wendy W. Moe (2016), “Binge Watching and Advertising,” Journal of Marketing, 80(5), 1-19.

This post was originally published at Samith Bangera, Silvia Lacchini, Blair Laufman, Alexander MacLeod and Ashwin Ravi are students in Markus Giesler’s Customer Experience Design MBA elective course.

Markus Giesler

Markus Giesler draws on concepts from economics, technology studies, and sociology to inform his research in marketing. He determines how ideas and things (products, services, experiences, technological innovations, intellectual property, brands, etc.) are made valuable over time, with research focused on improving marketing strategy through an understanding of markets as evolving social systems. Giesler's research has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the European Research Council (ERC) and published in top-tier academic journals such as the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Marketing. Giesler has an extensive entertainment industry background. He founded his own record label at age 17 and has worked in various production and marketing responsibilities for over a decade. He lives in Toronto, Canada.