TV and tech, learning to live together

Just as video killed the radio, it was once thought that the Web posed a mortal threat to the TV industry. Viewers would construct their own schedules, create their own programs and refuse to watch any advertising, denying networks their lifeblood.

But, while some of this is happening – look at the habits of YouTube-guzzling teenagers – there are signs that TV and new technology are finding a way to live together to their mutual benefit.

Three recent cases illustrate that trend. First, Twitter has just unveiled a new advertising strategy aimed at TV. It aims not to run off with the huge ad budgets spent in commercial breaks but to help make that spending more effective.

The idea is to plug into the huge volume of tweets that happen during live TV shows and offer that data to advertisers to make it more effective. So Twitter will detect when adverts run, and identify people who tweeted during the programmes around the ads. “We believe a user engaged enough with a TV show to tweet about it very likely saw the commercials as well,” the company explained in a blog.

The aim is to “continue the conversation” started on television with a standard commercial and engage with the audience using social media. With millions now looking at smartphones or tablets as they watch TV, this multiscreen approach could prove lucrative for TV companies and Twitter.

Case No. 2 involves Shazam, the UK company behind one of the most successful smartphone apps, which listens to music and tells users what it is. For some time now it’s been broadening its approach, working with TV companies to “listen” to ads and then deliver added content to smartphones or tablets.

The problem so far has been that by the time you see the Shazam symbol on your screen, reach for your phone and activate the app, it is often too late.

Now an updated version of the Shazam iPad app could point the way forward. You can set the app to be “always on,” listening out for aural signals. That means any music, TV program or ad can be tagged so that the user can be invited to buy the soundtrack of a program or maybe get a special offer from an advertiser.

In other words, both Twitter and Shazam are working to make TV a more powerful and more targeted medium for advertisers, making it more likely that they will spend their budgets there rather than online.

Case No. 3 – Microsoft’s new gaming console Xbox One. The remarkable thing about its recent launch was how much stress Microsoft put on the TV functions of the device.

The idea is that Xbox owners – in the US at least – will be able to switch seamlessly between playing games and watching live TV, with an ultrasmart voice- and gesture-controlled interface. You might think that the console audience had chosen games over TV as their favoured medium – but Microsoft seems to be trying to help them to stop playing Halo and sit back and watch “X Factor,” “The Apprentice” or Premiership soccer.

Of course for years, firms like Microsoft, Apple and Google have been battling for a place in the living room – and that has been seen as a threat to the TV industry’s traditional powerhouses.

Now it seems more likely that a business like BSkyB will see the Xbox or any new Apple TV product as simply another way to get more people watching, and paying for, their content.

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