Gen Y Says: “I Want My Social TV!”

New research from Parks Associates found that many Gen Y TV viewers are ready for a change when it comes to their television-watching experience. According to a recent report, over one-fourth of users ages 18-24 are interested in having more social media features integrated into their TV. This data should come as good news to companies like Verizon and Yahoo!, both of whom have been pushing their new social networking widgets. But it also has broader implications that go beyond kids just wanting Facebook on their TV. The study found that there’s a desire to use social networking as a platform to actually enhance the TV-watching experience through interactive chats with other viewers and to have the ability to recommend shows to friends.

The report, Social Media & User-Generated Content, found that the most desired social experience those in this age group were interested in was multiplayer games. Although you might not think of gaming as “social media,” it does fit the criteria – creating profiles (avatars), adding friends (online gaming buddies), and chatting during gameplay make gaming a very social activity. Recently, news about an upcoming service called OnLive was announced and this would fit right into this trend. OnLive aims to stream high-end video games to any PC, Mac, or TV with a broadband connection. Based on the Park Associates data, that service has a lot of potential to become a hit among this young demographic… assuming it actually works.

Also on the list of desired experiences were things like chatting with other people who are watching the same TV show, accessing “Most Watched” lists, recommending shows to family and friends, and receiving recommendations in return. These items point towards a desire for TV to become less of an isolated, solitary experience and make it function more like the social networks we see online. (Perhaps instead of just having “online friends,” we’ll one day be “friending” people on our TV, too?)

If this happens, it will be an entirely new frontier for television. Watching TV has always been more of a passive activity – you switch it on, sit back, and allow yourself to be entertained. Adding a social element to TV will be a dramatic shift – and one that has to be done carefully in order not to mar what people have come to expect as the TV “experience.” Time and again we’ve seen “Web TV”-like initiatives crash and burn, mostly because what people want from a TV is not the same as what they want from a computer.

But then again, maybe we shouldn’t speak for the next generation of TV viewers users.

Gen Y, or “digital natives” as they’re often called, has grown up plugged in. And those that follow them may be even more plugged in, if that’s even possible. These are demographics that have been socializing online since they learned to type, often at very, very young ages… even as young as elementary school.

Is it possible that this generation of TV viewers will shift and shape what it means to watch TV? It’s very possible. Gen Y is already not watching TV as much as they are going online. And when they do get around to viewing TV shows, it’s usually time-shifted content courtesy of DVRs or it’s content viewed online, where TV is now becoming more social. NBC Universal’s Hulu.com has just introduced a friends feature, for example, which lets online TV viewers create profiles and “friend” other users. Soon that same experience may find its way to the living room, too. Time will tell.

The Parks Associates report focuses on trends in the U.S. and Europe, but we imagine it’s possible that digitally connected youth worldwide have the same interests. We wouldn’t be surprised if they all want their “social TV.”

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