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Page last updated at 12:48 GMT, Thursday, 1 April 2010 13:48 UK

How TV viewing became a social experience


A look at how different devices are being used by TV viewers

Do you ever watch television and surf the net at the same time? If you do, you might already be sharing your thoughts about TV programmes on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Social TV, where people exchange opinions about the content they are watching, is a fast-growing trend.

After nearly 75 years of television sets being at the heart of the living room, the focus is shifting away from the box to take in other technology in the home.

Now anyone with a web connection, a computer and access to the same TV channels can share comments live during a broadcast.

This instant communication is adding an interactive element to the viewing experience, according to Andy Gower from BT.

"Social TV has the potential to radically change TV viewing from a passive experience to perhaps one that's more personal, and potentially as a way to meet people and share experiences," he said.

Mobile apps

TV Chatter app on iPhone
Mobile phone apps provide a platform for commenting on TV programmes

Newspapers, such as the Guardian and The Telegraph, have been running blogs dissecting live TV programmes as they happen for several years now.

But social networks have made it more mainstream for other net users to take part in a shared discussion online.

Bespoke applications geared around sharing thoughts and views on TV shows have started to appear on a variety of different devices.

TV Chatter is a free app for the iPhone which offers a real time stream of tweets (short blog posts) about a variety of shows.

While watching TV, users can launch the app to choose a show from the social programme guide, and add their own comments if they have a Twitter account.

Avatar parties

Video game consoles are playing their part in the UK's social TV scene - Xbox has a deal with broadcaster Sky for streaming TV.

Andy Gower from BT
Andy Gower from BT said social TV has the potential to change TV viewing

Viewers prepared to pay a subscription fee for this service have the option to watch entire programmes with online friends and interact via avatars and voice chat.

The console's Emote system allows these avatars to express particular emotions like happiness or anger as reaction to the onscreen action.

"Emoticons and text have pretty much been the preferred communications method for social TV," said Mr Gower.

"We are actually pushing that to provide a more comprehensive communication suite. We are pushing through to text messaging and comments," he added.

Tweet box

Boxee is a service that started out as a social media centre online for use with a PC or Apple TV, and it has now made the leap to become a set top box device

Free software for the service can be downloaded to a PC, and a set top box being released later in 2010, will make TV shows, movies, pictures and music available to users.

Deals have been struck with US content providers, and content available for legal download can also be shared and discussed with friends.

Boxee set top box
Content can be shared and discussed with friends with the Boxee set top box

Other firms, such as US Telecoms company Verizon, has already integrated social media - such as Facebook and Twitter - into its TV systems.

It plans to carry on enhancing the social experience through widgets and features including an onscreen keyboard to send tweets.

But a new generation of internet-connected widescreen HDTVs have bigger ambitions and aim to bring audio and images into the living room.

By the end of 2010 people will be able to talk and see others live on their television via Skype.

Kevin Baughan from Virgin Media believes this kind of development is the future of television viewing.

"Social TV needn't be limited to just text," he said.

"Audio is the most interesting, because if someone's about to score a goal or something's happening, you really want to scream out loud or enjoy that excitement with people," he added.

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