Why the old-fashioned TV is the best social media channel known to mankind

Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dutch soccer player has scored against ItalyFans of the Dutch soccer team watching the game

Yesterday I spent the evening watching the Dutch soccer team play against Italy in the European Cup 2008 tournament. It was a great game for us. Holland beat Italy with 3-0 and that is a great score against the current world champion. I thought about it this morning and I realized that a sport event of this magnitude can have such impact on social behavior. I haven’t seen the official figures yet but I’m betting that more than 75% of the entire population in Holland watched that game (including baby’s and very old people). In Italy the same thing most likely. They watched it at home, with friends, at work with colleagues or at a local pub on a big screen. You don’t want to watch a soccer match on your own, there is no fun in it. You need to watch it with as many as possible.

What is even more interesting is that the clear winner of this media battle is a very old-fashioned, traditional channel. It’s TV of course. TV is by far the most social media channel known to man. Some of you social media junkies reading this might think “Is this guy an idiot?”. Well, maybe, but just think about it for a second. TV is an incredibly powerful social media channel. Not because it is interactive (it isn’t). Not because you can discuss the thing you are watching with a gazillion others in real-time (you can’t). Not because every user has a unique profile you can look up and engage with (not possible). Not because it is a 2-way medium (no way). TV is old-fashioned broadcasting. You don’t get to choose, it just serves you the images some TV director decides to show. But you can’t say it isn’t a social medium. Not after millions of people watched that game. It’s just that the social behavior isn’t taking place on the media channel, it takes place because of the media channel. The soccer match brought us all a reason to get together. It isn’t the match or the outcome, it’s that the match gave us a reason to get together and socialize.

I can’t think of a more powerful social media channel than the TV broadcasting a major event. TSure, there are millions of people on MySpace, Facebook. Even more that watch video’s on YouTube or comment on weblogs. But a major TV event can bring hundreds of millions of people to a screen the size of some 30 inches or so. In most cases it’s the major sports events, the Olympic games, some major athletic event, soccer, American football, whatever. And these people engage with the screen. They scream, cheer, curse, cry, hug, and probably show every emotion possible during a match.

It is something the web just isn’t capable of capturing. No matter what social network or service is launched. You just can’t get hundred of millions of people showing that much interaction or emotions together. You just can’t socialise like that in virtual space. Why? I don’t think it is the content or the services on the web.

I think that the real reason for it is that the technology we use to access the web, our social networks, our interaction services are A-social. That is, they do not allow us to use it in a social way. It is impossible to surf the web with two people at the same time sitting behind a computer. You can’t interact on a mobile with more than one person holding it. You can’t socialise on a social network while five of your friends are trying to join in while in the same room. The technology is aimed at a single person using it. That same technology doesn’t allow us to user more than 1 or two senses at the same time. It sucks you in, and shuts off your ability to interact with the environment you are in. Just try it out. Get a room full of people, sit behind you laptop, try to engage in some interaction on the web, and at the same time have a meaningful conversation with your friends. It just doesn’t work. Web technology may have brought us the ability to interact using any social media. But it also makes us all lone rangers, sitting behind our computer screens, desperately trying to interact digitally while the rest of the world has meaningful interactions in the physical world. The keyboard or mobile phone as input device. It just doens’t make us social. It makes us very isolated.

Social interaction on the web is a very poor surrogate for the real thing. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Social Interaction on the web brings us fun and pleasure too. But engaging in social interaction in the physical world, enjoying the conversations, being surrounded by real people, being able to feel and display the emotions sort of makes the ๐Ÿ™‚ a bit stale doesn’t it?

That is what social media should be about. It isn’t about the technical capabilities, about the 20 ways we can interact digitally with content or people. It is about stimulating social interaction in the both the digital AND physical world. Get your users to interact with their physical world through the content or service you provide digitally. Forget the traffic, the page views, the downloads. Get people to interact with each other over the stuff you provide them. That is what gets people excited. That is what makes hundred of millions of users sit in front of a screen and share their emotions. Maybe the good old TV isn’t that bad after all.

About vanelsas

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22 Responses to Why the old-fashioned TV is the best social media channel known to mankind

  1. rickmb says:

    Millions of people sitting in front of the TV isn’t social. Sharing the experience in a bar, living room or via the web is the social part.

    Television is the most powerful way of delivering a social object to a huge audience simultaneously. In fact, that is the only area in which good old broadcast TV still has a future.

    But as far as the actual social interaction is concerned, all of that happens outside of the medium television, tv has nothing to do with it.

    So what’s left is the argument that direct personal interaction is richer than interaction hampered by a technologically limited conduit like the web. Which is kind of obvious, but has nothing to do with the concept TV as a social media channel. It simply isn’t a social media channel, just a mass delivery service for social objects.

    And in the case of sports games (by far and away the biggest hit on TV), TV isn’t even specifically involved in creating the social object, the social object is the game itself.

  2. sonal says:

    How true!

    I think we tend to run behind the latest craze real fast.

    I find too many of us ignoring the might that is the TV, whether it is as social media or something else.

    Why does the adoption of the web mean giving up on traditional media?

    It’s an AND not an OR, no?

  3. @Rickmb, aren’t we saying the same thing here?? TV is broadcast only, but it surely triggers more interaction than anything on the web. What do you mean TV doesn’t have anything to do with it? The same sports games are broadcasted on the web, there are sites for it, there are communities for it. But you don’t get that level of interaction the TV is ultimately responsible for.
    And as a response to your “that’s kind of obvious” remark. I think I’m saying the web and related devices can never create such social media interaction because of their technological nature. That is a pretty bold statement I would say ๐Ÿ˜‰

    @Sonal, I,m not saying we should use TV more often or not. The question is, can we create something on the social web that has the same off-line experience the TV has? That is a million dollar question

  4. rickmb says:

    @Alexander: I think you’re mixing the network that delivers the object that triggers the social interaction with a medium that facilitates social interaction.

    In the former role, TV is quite effective for objects like a live sports game (although still a very poor substitute for actually being there!), but merely for technological reasons. Plug a webcast into a big screen and you get the same effect. People watching the game online shared the same experience. And if we had all done that (and the net would have been able to handle that and not go ‘twitter’…), the offline social interaction would still be the same.

    In the latter role, online is still in its infancy, there’s no way of predicting where it will go (so yes, predicting it will never match real life is bold, though neither of us will probably live long enough to find out if you’re wrong, so it’s a pretty safe bet ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), but TV plays virtually no role whatsoever.

    Attributing the social interaction around a sports game to TV is like attributing the quality of the wine and the effect of the alcohol to the glass it’s served in.

    It’s the game that created the off line experience, not any kind of medium.

  5. @Rick I did it on purpose, mixing these things up. I’m not interested in the TV as a network or medium. But it’s power to entertain and get people to socially interact is undeniable. An important advantage is that you can look at the scren with a lot of peole, and you don’t need keyboards, mouses, tablets, mobile phones etc. to interact. You can watch and interact simultaneously. It’s impossible to mimic on the web right now. Webcasting isn’t different from watching TV, it’s the same thing. Try getting this type of interaction on ANY of the social networks around. Not possible. Not just technology barriers but also the point that each of these social networks treats us as an individual (an important psychological barrier). It doesn’t and can’t take into account the possibility that we are engaging with a lot of people at the same time. TV won’t do that for us on the web, but wouldn’t it be great if we could mimic that situation and the social processes taking place on-line?

  6. adriana says:

    Very interesting indeed.
    Last night I was sitting in a terrace, watching everyone celebrating in Amsterdam, with lots of people socializing.
    However, after reading your blog I realized that this kind of events are possible because people share a same natural language (as well as a common interest of course). You may say “but wait, the same applies on the web”, but not really, since face2face you have to be spontaneous, fluid, natural.
    With a beer in my table, I realized I was not able to socialize there as others, since I do not speak Dutch. I could socialize a bit, yes, but at some point people start to speak in Dutch.

    So, I asked myself: why does people socialize massively? is that something that can be done with other means (channel) than t.v.?

    So, my own answer was that socialize massively certainly implies a common believe (a religion, the faith in your team is going to win, the believe that the new years eve is a celebration reason, etc), and common believes are somehow tied to a natural language.

    For my second question, I think there may be other channels than TV, but TV is certainly the more powerful -at the moment-, since a tv can be used by little babies and old people, as you mentioned in your blog. A TV can put a face -with high quality resolution- to your event, and somehow it becomes more personal. TV events can be translate, making it easier to have more people joining. TV is cheap world wide.

    So, my final note is … I do agree, “I canโ€™t (neither)/ think of a more powerful social media channel than the TV broadcasting a major event”, and I do believe this is going to be so for some more years.

  7. Frederic says:

    I wonder if this mostly works for ‘events’ though. TV is great at doing these kinds of live, must-see events; it gives us a feeling of togetherness, knowing that everybody else is seeing the same thing at the same time.

    During the keynote yesterday, we had a similar experience on the FF ‘channel,’ where we commented on whatever was announced in real-time. That, too, created this sense of immediacy and community. I guess – maybe the event here is more important than the medium.

  8. Aha Frederic, but you were cheating weren’t you. You had the game on another screen ๐Ÿ˜‰
    But seriously. I also experience this togetherness on-line (it’s rare but it happens, to me mostly on Twitter). But it doesn’t scale (yet) to millions, and it isn’t quite the same as the real thing. I find that half of my senses shut down when I sit behind a computer screen. I need my brains, my hands to type, and I’m sucked into the screen with my eyes. But that’s about it. When I’m with people, I’ll use everything else too and I can be much more of a multi tasker in terms of social interaction.

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  11. Point well taken. Television, but sporting events in particular, create what Hugh MacLeod coined as social objects; something people share that can be a launching pad for interaction. Having a common interest, preferably passion, leads to meaningful conversations and evoke greater empathy, me thinks. At least that’s what I am after…

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  13. gregory says:

    0-3 and you would have written a different article

    there will be phd’s having food fights over which group shows the biggest cognitive decline, tv watchers, or internet addicts

    it will be a tie

    with romania too?

    enjoy your sport

  14. @Gregory, I don’t think so. It wasn’t about anyone winning, it was about the social interaction that was taking place because of the V broadcasting a game

  15. Mattias says:

    True, great post. TV has the most reach and is the platform for starting a conversation, no doubt… being it online or wherever… It’s niche (specific interest) but still hugely mass market…

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  18. Matt Hames says:

    A thought though. On this side of the pond, we watched President Obama be inaugurated on CNN/Facebook. In other words, all my Facebook friends were ‘chatting’ while we watched the event.

    Now imagine that this could happen for a football match. Being an Arsenal fan in the US, I would love the chance to interact with other fans online while we ‘watched the game together’. The same would be true if England manages to actually qualify for the world cup. Watching with other fans in this manner would mean the social object (the game) would create a social network of people watching with me.

    I think that’s the future of TV. Especially for meaningful football games that one watches from a country that doesn’t care.

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