This past weekend I configured my FiOS TV service to access my @smkeifer Twitter account. There are lots of cool aspects of the FiOS Twitter widget. Not only can you monitor the Tweets of people you are following, but you can also monitor all of the Tweets about the program you are watching. Imagine watching the season finale of LOST, while also monitoring a stream of insights and predictions from other devoted fans. With these types of widgets the nature of news reporting and analysis could change. Instead of waiting until after President Obama’s newscast to get expert opinions from CNN reporters, you can see viewer’s reactions to proposed health care reforms in real time.
The Twitter widget opens numerous opportunities for marketers. First, there is opportunity to feed ads into the stream of Tweets. Second, users are less likely to switch focus to their computer during commercial breaks if there is something interactive and engaging on the TV screen. Third, TV networks and brand owners can monitor the Tweets of fans watching a particular show to gain insights into the demographics, interests and opinions of viewers.
There are some limitations to the Twitter widget. As with any activity performed on a TV set-top box, the navigation process is slow. There is a noticeable latency between the time a command is entered and the set-top box updates the display. I also found the process of Tweeting to be frustrating as well. Without a real QWERTY keyboard connected to the set-top box, the only option for entering text is to selecting characters one-by-one via the remote control. Verizon does have a new user interface that emulates a mobile phone keypad. However, it will still take me some time to achieve a Blackberry-like pace on the Verizon remote.
Is FiOS Widget Bazaar – The next AppStore?
Of course, Twitter is just one of Verizon’s portfolio widgets. Other widgets provide real time information on weather, traffic, sports and breaking news. There is also a Facebook widget available on FiOS, which you can use to tag programs that you are watching. Instead of channel surfing to find interesting programming you could request FiOS to display the most popular content viewed by your network of friends this week. The possibilities become more interesting when widgets are extended to user-generated video. Verizon has also announced plans to offer YouTube video feeds in the near future.
This fall, Verizon will be offering a Software Development Kit (SDK), which third party developers can use to create new widgets for FiOS subscribers. Verizon has announced an open model in which they will not restrict the content of widgets made available on the network. The result could be a potential of explosion of available widgets, similar to the iPhone’s AppStore, which could revolutionize TV viewing.
Is WebTV for Real This Time?
Forrester Research has categorized these types of activities as Social TV. A report released last month (August 2009) by James McQuivey stated that
“Once Facebook, Twitter and other Social Computing platforms are properly ported to the TV screen, a new explosion of media and technology convergence will occur, affecting the product strategies of device makers, content providers and pay TV providers.”
Forrester predicts that social TV users will reach 1 million by the middle of 2010; 5 million by 2012 and 10 million by 2014. I recall when webTV was launched that there was an overly optimistic forecast of user adoption which never proved true. However, in the case of FiOS widgets, I think the disruptive technology that legitimizes interactive TV may finally be here.