A lot of people have got pretty excited about the prospects around so-called 'Social TV'. Perhaps for good reason since a whole succession of studies have shown the increasing prevalence of 'media stacking' including the most recent YouGov survey which found that 76% of the UK viewers it spoke to surf the web on their laptops, mobiles or tablets whilst simultaneously 'watching' TV.
Unsurprising then, that we've also seen a bunch of apps emerging that attempt to capitalise on social backchannels to TV content including Peel and IntoNow, the (now) Yahoo-owned service that handily synchs with TV content so that it knows what you're watching (a concept that AKQA used for their brilliant Heineken StarPlayer app).
The idea of having a backchannel on a second screen seems to make a whole bunch more sense to me than integrating companion experiences into the same TV screen you happen to be watching your favourite show on. To paraphrase Fjord, doing this successfully separates the discovery and control of media (on the tablet) from the enjoyment (on the TV). And since one of the primary uses for tablets is 'sofa-surfing', and they are rapidly becoming the preferred device for web browsing in front of the TV, tablet apps are something of a no brainer.
Of all of them, I think the just-launched Zeebox looks like potentially the most interesting yet, not least because Anthony Rose, the CTO behind the BBC iplayer is behind it. The most compelling thing about Zeebox is that as well as offering up the usual social backchannel and remote control, it gives live viewing data (so you can see what's 'trending' on TV right now) and does all the hard work of finding relevant conversation and offering up relevant content via the live tags it brings up around subjects that are being talked about right now on telly.
It's nicely done, and I'm looking forward to seeing how iterations of this and other similar ideas develop into increasingly valuable services that augment TV content. There's a massive prize here of-course for the service that becomes the most ubiquitous in this area over time – a huge data play. The potential behind building consumption profiles, powering recommendation engines, video-commerce (or V-commerce) and targeted advertising. Similar, in many ways, to the data potential behind streaming video from cloud-based services. And what's clearly behind Facebook's efforts to become the social operating system for the TV industry. So it's going to be truly interesting to see how this increasingly competitive marketplace shapes up and how traditional broadcasters are going to handle having so many new, but very nimble entrants into the market, building data layers, and encroaching on what has always been solely their domain – making money from their content.