TV and tech, learning to live together

Couple watching TV with smartphone Image copyright Thinkstock

Just as video killed the radio star, it was once thought that the web posed a mortal threat to the TV industry. Viewers would construct their own schedules, create their own programmes and refuse to watch any advertising, denying channels their lifeblood.

But, while some of this is happening - look at the habits of YouTube guzzling teenagers - there are signs that TV and new technology are finding a way to live together to their mutual benefit.

Three cases this week illustrate that trend. First, Twitter has just unveiled a new advertising strategy aimed at TV. It aims not to run off with the huge ad budgets spent in commercial breaks but to help make that spending more effective.

The idea is to plug into the huge volume of tweets that happen during live TV shows and offer that data to advertisers to make it more effective. So Twitter will detect when adverts run, and identify people who tweeted during the programmes around the ads. "We believe a user engaged enough with a TV show to tweet about it very likely saw the commercials as well," the company explained in a blog.

The aim is to "continue the conversation" started on television with a standard commercial and engage with the audience using social media. With millions now looking at smartphones or tablets as they watch TV, this multi-screen approach could prove lucrative for TV companies and Twitter.

Case two involves Shazam, the UK company behind one of the most successful smartphone apps, which listens to music and tells you what it is. For some time now it's been broadening its approach, working with TV companies to "listen" to adverts and then deliver added content to smartphones or tablets.

Image caption Viewers tweet running running commentaries

The problem so far has been that by the time you see the Shazam symbol on your screen, reach for your phone and activate the app, it is often too late.

Now an updated version of the Shazam iPad app could point the way forward. You can set the app to be "always on", listening out for aural signals. That means any music, TV programme or advert can be tagged so that the user can be invited to buy the soundtrack of a programme or maybe get a special offer from an advertiser.

In other words, both Twitter and Shazam are working to make TV a more powerful and more targeted medium for advertisers, making it more likely that they will spend their budgets there rather than online. How enthusiastic viewers will be about this new relationship with brands remains to be seen.

Case three - Microsoft's new games console Xbox One. The remarkable thing about this week's launch event - and something which caused a lot of anger amongst gamers - was how much stress Microsoft put on the TV functions of the device.

The idea is that Xbox owners - in the US at least - will be able to switch seamlessly between playing games and watching live TV, with an ultra-smart voice and gesture controlled interface. You might think that the console audience had chosen games over TV as their favoured medium - but Microsoft seems to be trying to help them to stop playing Halo and sit back and watch X Factor, The Apprentice or Premiership football.

Of course for years, firms like Microsoft, Apple and Google have been battling for a place in the living room - and that has been seen as a threat to the TV industry's traditional powerhouses.

Now it seems more likely that a business like BSkyB will see the Xbox or any new Apple TV product as simply another way to get more people watching, and paying for, their content.

The story of the internet revolution and its potentially disruptive impact on television still has a long way to run. But right now, the TV barons are feeling a little more comfortable. Instead of storming the battlements, the tech revolutionaries seem eager to work with them to secure a profitable future.