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Where is Social TV Growing Fastest? Maybe Not Where You Think.

January 27, 2014 - 0 Comments

Jason KohnBy Jason Kohn, Contributing Columnist

You’re probably familiar with “social TV,” the catch-all term for social network activity related to TV shows. Usually, it refers to viewers talking about shows with each other on Twitter or Facebook while they watch, but it can also encompass social network activities that TV networks and creators engage in to promote their shows.

So that’s the background. Why is it important? Because it’s a huge potential market. According to a MarketsandMarkets report from late last year, the total social TV market is expected to grow to more than $256 billion by 2017.

You might have noticed Facebook and Twitter duking it out recently for their share of this market. Twitter, with its real-time focus, has long been viewed as the default app for social TV. As Janko Roettgers detailed at GigaOM recently, Twitter works closely with TV networks, advertisers, and now even Nielsen to provide metrics about real-time social network sentiment around broadcast TV shows.

Indeed, entire businesses have been built around measuring what people are tweeting about TV shows while they watch. And many analysts believe that Twitter’s position as the engine for social TV was the centerpiece of its initial public offering pitch last fall, and the biggest reason the company’s stock has done so well. Facebook launched its own major play to compete in the space last fall, and stake the claim that Twitter is not the only social TV game in town.

Now, Twitter is a US-based company. Facebook is a US-based company. Hollywood, where much of the world’s  TV is still made, is (sensing a theme here?) a US-based media powerhouse. So it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that social TV is dominated by US social networking users, right? Well, no. In fact, the US ranks behind Europe in social TV market size according to the MarketsandMarkets report. And in terms of social TV growth, the US ranks behind both Asia (projected 12.9 CAGR according to one study) and Latin America. So if we want to get a picture of the future of TV, we need to look to other parts of the world. 

International Social Growth

If we take a closer look at social media growth, the numbers for social TV shouldn’t be that surprising. After all, most Twitter users (78 percent according to Mashable and Statista, based on Twitter’s own data) are located outside the United States.

It makes sense that social TV is driven by growth in Internet usage, and the reality is that other parts of the world are growing much more quickly than the United States. As I discussed in my last blog, the trends for internet and social media adoption in Latin America are downright explosive.

Natan Edelsburg of LostRemote recently discussed the fastest-growing social TV market in the region, Brazil:

By all accounts, Brazil has one of the fastest growing global economies, and along with that, one of the fastest growing internet populations. comScore’s 2012 Brazil Digital Future in Focus ranked Brazil as the 7thlargest internet market globally, and with 50 million users on Facebook, it’s the second biggest country on the social network after the U.S. It is no surprise that Brazil’s social TV presence is tremendous, and will grow even further with the 2016 Summer Olympics set to take place in Rio de Janeiro.

Inside the Numbers

Swiss analyst firm The Wit put together a fascinating report on the state of social TV as of last fall. Among the trends the report highlighted:

  • Latin America has the most social TV talkers around TV premieres in the world today.
  • Brazil and Argentina rank ahead of the US, and Chile, Mexico and Venezuela not far behind. (Chile is the most active social TV market on a per capita basis.)
  • Spain is the number one social TV market in Europe.
  • While the US had a few big social TV events, average social activity around TV is lower in the United States than in Europe and Latin America.

The Wit report also delves into how media companies are embracing social networking to promote their shows—some more successfully than others. Scripted TV shows generate the most buzz in anticipation of new shows.

So what’s responsible for this difference? Why are viewers in other parts of the world embracing social TV faster than in the United States? It may have something to do with how TV networks are using social to communicate with their audiences. In the United States, for example, the biggest social TV nights were those around one-off events. (Think Sharknado or the Skywire Live event on the Discovery Channel, where daredevil Nik Wallenda crossed a high-wire over the Grand Canyon.) In Europe and Latin America, both show-runners and audiences seem quicker to embrace social networks as a place to discuss ongoing episodes of their favorite TV shows.

I have my own theory. In the US, media companies still regard TV with a traditional mindset, asking how they can use social media to bring more millions of eyeballs to the TV screen at the same time, the way TV used to do when there were far fewer networks and content options. In other parts of the world—especially Latin America—where massive growth in Internet and social media is happening more concurrently with growth in media content, the convergence of social media and TV feels more natural to users. Social media is not “displacing” traditional pay-TV models in these markets as much as growing alongside it. So there is less tension between the two media, and more willingness to embrace audiences across all screens.

What do you think? Share your own experiences with social TV in the comments below.

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