SOCIAL TV: Creating New Connected Media Experiences (Spring 2010)



In this course we will examine television distribution asking the question "how is digital technology changing they way television fits into society."  The course will take a systemic look at the various ways television is currently distributed with a particular emphasis on emerging technologies that place television in a social context.  The classwork for the course will be team and project focused, culminating in each team developing a prototype of a new social TV application. We will explore the multiple facets of the social TV experience from video technology fundamentals and challenges, to user interfaces, content consumption and business cases.


Television, Social Networking, Widgets, YouTube, Facebook, PVR, IPTV


Anyone who has argued over what television program to watch, wrestled with a sibling or spouse for the remote control, or gone to a pub to watch and support their local sports team knows that television viewing can be a highly social experience.  The original technological design, content programming, and business model of television relied on it being a social medium: TV's were too expensive to be personal, they were designed for thousands (if not millions) of people to be watching the same program at the same time, and the programing was funded through an advertising model that demanded shows be popular to the masses, hence becoming part of the cultural and social landscape.

For the most part, technological advances have served to drive a wedge between television and its function as a social center.  Decreased costs in receivers have made it possible for each family member to disappear into their own room; cable and satellite have provided so many choices of what to watch that commonality of experience is weakened; and the personal video recorder (PVR) has freed people who watch the same show from watching it at the same time.  "No spoilers, please!" used only to shut down movie-related conversation around the water cooler--if you missed an episode of a TV show, you wanted to be caught up by your mates--but now we often can't talk about our favorite TV shows either for fear of ruining an unexpected plot twist.  Chances are our friends are planning on catching up first hand.

The Internet brings to bear on TV a curious combination of social and anti-social forces.  It completes the trend toward individual screens and isolated viewing experiences.  On the other hand, it helps people form new social groups based on shared interests rather than proximity, democratizes media production and distribution giving many more people a voice, and is popular for building systems that electronically support social interactions.  Perhaps most importantly, the novelty and popularity of legitimate internet television systems, such as YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Unbox, Hulu, and others are forcing traditional television providers to consider new models for interaction and social services based on their platforms.   Up until recently, the television industry has proved remarkably resilient to change brought about by technology, but the scent of large-scale disruption is in the air.  Let's work on inventing its future.


The project is to implement a social TV application on a PC, smartphone or even STB with JavaScript. This is a good choice as most TV middleware support Javascript and most Social TV application involve connecting to some web application in "the cloud". Each team will propose 3 ideas: one (chosen by the instructors after discussion with the team) will lead to a quick mock-up and prototype. The 2 others can be used as fall back solutions if the first choice turn to be too complicated or fails. There will be no requirement to port the prototypes to a commercial platform but eventually this could happen with a limited set of promising ideas that could be presented to interested sponsors.