Image by ralphbijker via Flickr.

Image by ralphbijker via Flickr.

We’ve been hearing about the rise of “social TV” for years. But with Twitter’s acquisition of leading social TV analytics company Bluefin Labs in February, and the social media company’s more recent partnership with Nielsen, it seems clear that 2013 will be seen as the year that television truly became social.

Much of the buzz around social TV centres on a phenomenon known as the “second screen,” which is a fancy way to say that as smartphones and tablets become more prevalent, many viewers are pairing their TV watching with content on other devices. Meanwhile, TV networks and advertisers are searching for ways to tap into that experience.

Live events and real-time experiences

Second-screen experiences have been particularly successful for live event programming, such as sports and awards shows like the Oscars.

During this year’s Super Bowl, for example, Oreo famously took advantage of an unexpected power outage by tweeting out a clever little piece of content marketing that quickly went viral.

Given the success of hashtag usage during live events, TV networks and producers are hoping to tap into social media to encourage real-time viewing of scripted programs as well.

A prime example is The Walking Dead’s Story Sync, an online platform that enables viewers of AMC’s highly rated zombie show to participate in snap polls, learn show-specific trivia and access exclusive video while watching the premiere broadcast of the latest episode.

Another example of the power of second-screen experiences is Scandal, an ABC drama starring Kerry Washington as the leader of a crisis management firm in Washington. When Scandal premiered in the spring of 2012, it averaged just over seven million viewers and garnered very little buzz.

But by January of this year, the show’s audience grew to 8.4 million viewers (10.9 million counting DVR). Perhaps more tellingly, the show averages 220,000 tweets per episode.

One explanation for the show’s ratings growth is ABC’s use of hashtags to capitalize on Scandal’s burgeoning social-media following. During one major plot point this season about an assassination attempt on the fictional president, ABC launched a #WhoShotFitz campaign to encourage viewers to participate in live Twitter chats with the cast, creating a virtual water cooler atmosphere around the show.


From Shazam to Facebook

While Twitter is the most recognizable name in social TV, startups such as Shazam are also getting in the hashtagging game. Last year, the music-identification app launched its Shazam For TV second-screen experience.

Shazam had served as a viewing companion for live events such as the London Olympics and the Super Bowl, but the app now works with all shows on 160 networks in the U.S.

For example, viewers can “Shazam” an awards show (that is, run the application near the television or “first screen” while the program is on) to find out who designed a star’s dress and where to buy it. More than 300 million people have used the app worldwide (200 million in the last year).

So what’s the next frontier for social TV? My money’s on Facebook, which finally introduced clickable hashtags earlier this month.

Facebook’s expansive trove of user data has always been its strong suit, allowing advertisers to target users based on content shared on the site.

Now that it’s easier than ever to track who is watching what when, will we see TV ad dollars skipping right over the first screen and landing in your Facebook newsfeed?