Why the $&#* Would I 'Watch With Twitter?'

Cablecos have been pining for interactive television since the 1990s, and over the past couple of years, many have channeled their iTV ambitions into social media platforms. Which explains the latest obsession with Twitter on TV.

Except, it really doesn't.

The most recent news from Twitter TV land comes from Metrological , which provides application frameworks for pay-TV platforms. In other words, Metrological helps operators power their on-screen program guides and introduce integrated Internet-based content. Its customers include Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY), among others.

Today, Metrological announced a new "Watch with Twitter" TV service. The service delivers Twitter content "side by side with TV shows," offering contextual and trending tweets as an overlay. Metrological confirms that multiple customers are already testing out the new service and are expected to deploy it in early 2017.

Sound familiar? Why, yes. Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) just introduced something similar with its integration of Twitter with live events like football games and political debates streamed through the Apple TV. (See New Apple TV App Looks a Lot Like... Comcast?)

Unfortunately for Apple, Twitter Inc. and the pay-TV world, nobody wants to see tweets on television. How do we know? Because it's all been tried before.

Fox brought Twitter to the TV in 2009. Image courtesy of Dave Zatz.
Fox brought Twitter to the TV in 2009. Image courtesy of Dave Zatz.

In 2009 (!), both Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) tried Twitter TV with Fios and Xbox Live respectively. Fox Broadcasting Co. also partnered with Twitter in the same year to deliver a pop-up-video* style experience during reruns of the TV series Fringe and Glee. They were all disasters.

As my great friend and digital media blogger Dave Zatz put it at the time, "The huge Twitter overlay made Fringe unwatchable last night." And, "In most cases, [Twitter's] just not suitable for the 10' lean-back, couch-based experience. Not only can it be hard to read (and type), somehow it also seems to be lacking intimacy."

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Pay-TV providers will do anything to try to boost engagement, sell more ads and collect more data about their customers. And viewed through that lens, integrating Twitter with TV is a brilliant solution. But those things aren't what viewers care about. Viewers care about the actual story happening on their TV screens, and if they want more commentary on the side, well that's what their phones and tablets are for -- a personal space for dipping in and out of online discussions at will.

You might think that the pay-TV industry would have learned its lesson by now. Yet the magnetic pull of potential new revenue is strong, as is the compulsive desire to tinker with the TV experience. Will the Twitter-on-TV dream finally fade away if and when the newest experiments fail? Maybe. But our collective memory is short. Even if the industry moves past Twitter, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a similar social media/interactive TV feature pop up again in a few years. It's a cycle we keep on repeating.

*Pop-up-video style refers to the ancient MTV practice of overlaying little bubbles of information on top of music videos.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

brooks7 11/2/2016 | 1:02:17 PM
We have interactive television  



They are called video games....



inkstainedwretch 11/2/2016 | 1:36:27 PM
Kids these days. Anyone remember MTV back when it showed music videos? It eventually set up a running crawl of comments from viewers. It got boring pretty quickly.

This is more of the same and the rationale for doing it seems even more shaky today. In order for real-time commentary to be interesting and to stay interesting, it has to be done in real time, yet more and more viewing is done on a time-shifted basis. 

There's value in novelty, so might as well try it, I suppose. But as demonstrated by pet rocks, Tamagotchi, and the Boston Red Sox, novelties get real old real fast.

-- Brian Santo
macemoneta 11/2/2016 | 2:54:33 PM
If only If only there were some sort of smart phone or tablet-like handheld device that could be used to interact with any social media, while watching unobscured and uninterrupted broadcast TV programs.

I swear, the executives at these companies still have their secretaries print out their emails, so they can dictate a response. Their use of technology must be almost nonexistant. It's the only way to explain the crazy stuff they come up with. 
Kelsey Ziser 11/2/2016 | 3:25:43 PM
Re: Kids these days. I might be the only one who loved Pop Up Video...I learned so much useless knowledge about The Cure and Dead or Alive that's stuck in my brain to this day. 

Pop Up Video is like Mystery Science Theater, you watch it for the running commentary, but that doesn't hold water on a regular TV show. I agree with Dave's point about it "lacking intimacy." If I want to know what people are saying on Twitter...I'll go on Twitter.
Mitch Wagner 11/2/2016 | 4:00:46 PM
Why? I understand why broadcasters like this idea. TV joined with Twitter gets people watching TV -- and being exposed to ads -- in realtime. 

But there's no value to consumers in this. 

People interested in watching TV with Twitter already do it, on their phones, tablets, and laptops. 

People without phones, tablets, and laptops aren't interested in Twitter. 

So this is a service with nobody interested in it. 
Carol Wilson 11/2/2016 | 6:57:56 PM
Re: Why? Watching TV with Twitter is like being forced to watch your favorite team play a critical game in a bus station lobby. There is a lot of noise, but none of it adds to the experience, and some of it is downright bothersome. 
Mitch Wagner 11/3/2016 | 3:21:39 PM
Re: Why? I am often interested in what people have to say about a particular TV show but I like to hear about it AFTER I've watched the show. When I watch the show, I'm watching the show.
danielcawrey 11/6/2016 | 4:43:48 PM
Re: We have interactive television Twitter and its relationship to television is in such a weird place. So many people spend their time during television ads looking at Twitter. Problem is, Twitter hasn't been able to figure out online ads the way Google and Facebook have been able to. I would expect ultimately a content provider will end up buying Twitter to try to figure out exactly what to do with it. 
kq4ym 11/14/2016 | 11:55:55 AM
Re: Why? Yes, it does seem when we watch a show we want to actually watch the show. When we don't want to watch (during the commercial break?) we don't watch. Adding more distraction to a screen like the Twitter feed just doesn't make sense other than for a novelty for a few minutes. I suppose there may be a small percentage of folks who actually might prefer the distraction, but not enought to make it pay off I'd guess.
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