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Social Engagement: Keys to Building for Smart TVs

Caroline Smeenk

Caroline Smeenk

April 5, 2016

Smart TV social app with an episode of Friends in queue with a posed question along with a small group of viewers

It’s no coincidence that the furniture in your living room all face your television. The TV is inherently social, a focal point that draws groups together to share in experiences. Whether it be humanity’s greatest triumphs or tragedies, documentation of events and the ability to share stories collectively has fuelled the TV’s continued presence in our lives.

With the growth in popularity of Smart TVs, we’ve reached a turning point. A large part of our private lives happening on our individual screens, so it’s important to consider what experiences are most appropriate for phones and which are most appropriate for TVs. Sustaining TV’s ability to unite audiences and sharing in that experience is imperative for the success of TV native apps.

This shared experience can be expressed in two ways:

  1. Apps that allow users in the same place to engage with the content together.
  2. Interactive media that many users can enjoy at once, from different locations.

Enter the shared screen

Our natural desire to engage with others can significantly impact our homes. Smart TVs shine when we ask ourselves: how can families or groups of people use TVs to share in experiences together?

When designing a TV UI for social groups we must remember that information on the primary screen is going to be shared. When designing for a shared screen, you have to deliver value for all the people who are involved in the experience.

As opposed to TV screens, mobile devices are currently much easier to perform specific fine detail selections and store private content. In a connected system made up of a shared TV screen and smaller devices operated by individuals, the design considerations around when and where to allow direct control greatly influence the end experience. Mobile UX patterns are designed with specific interaction in mind, so simply expanding it to a larger screen would greatly change the experience.

Share experiences despite physical distance

Even in situations where we are alone, our consumption of media on TV has been a collective experience. Everyone can remember where they were when they first saw the news footage of the World Trade Center buildings on September 11. Today, the November Paris Attacks highlighted how much our ability to share media and information across diverse groups, primarily over social media, has increased in the past 15 years. And it extends well beyond the news.

Second screens, or media that work in parallel with TVs has become a key player in changing media. Companion applications for shows like AMCs The Walking Dead, or the Nick App for Nickelodeon programs provide access to content that enriches beyond the viewing experience of avid fans.

Similarly, the popularity of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) such as World of Warcraft, Minecraft, or Call of Duty: Black Ops reflects the diversity and depth of players these games attract. These communities are built around screen-based media, but participate very differently than independent gaming. The ability to experience shared events with others dramatically changes the experience of these games.

How can these communities inform the experience of socially connected television? Unifying audiences around content and second screens could provide social opportunities for people from diverse places to connect over the things they love.

At Connected, we like to explore how the future of TV can be a more social experience. Here are some prototypes we’ve been exploring that illustrate our thinking…

An example of the app Connected built to interact with viewers of TV shows using their Smart TV

One of our ideas is “Book Clubs” for TV shows- or a Series Club. Here, small groups would watch a show in parallel and gather online weekly to discuss what transpired. At a time when complete seasons of shows are easily accessible to viewers, providing an organized way to discuss the progress of a show offers the opportunity to build deeper relationships with the show, its characters, and its fans.

Meetings would cover questions submitted by the group related to the “viewing list”- the set of episodes you would watch to prepare for the weeks discussion. Submitted questions would be organized and submitted to the group by the Moderator, who is a participant and creator of the group. Similar to reading passages of a novel for discussion, participants would review clips recorded by the members during viewing and discuss the related questions.

TVs will continue to provide shared experiences for diverse groups of people, and Smart TVs will only expand on the possibilities for how people can connect. We’re excited to see and create new ways to share experiences with each other through media.

Connected works with the world’s most ambitious companies to deliver the best connected experiences across multiple platforms, including mobile, web, smart TVs and VR/AR. Our clients come to us for our transformative approach to software development, rooted in Extreme Programming and Design Thinking, what we call the ‘Connected Method’.

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