Social Film Club project introduction

I’m working at British Telecom at their research centre at Adastral Park, on a project called ‘Social Film Club’. I’m working with a fantastic group there in the Future Applications team, who are all working on new ideas about the possibilities of creating new services and products with the merge of Television and telecommunications infrastructures.

‘Social Film Club’ refers to a whole set of ideas and technologies that BT have already been working with. It builds on work they’ve already been doing with ‘Social TV’, a catch-all term to describe Interactive TV (IPTV) systems that support and extend the sociable aspects of TV viewing {{1}} – both co-present and remotely.

Since both media and communications now use the same IP network infrastructure, television viewing itself is no longer a clearly distinct activity with a specific domestic device and context. When people say they are ‘Watching TV’ they may mean that they are using a specific piece of hardware (‘The TV’ may refer to largest screen in the house, although the same video content may be accessible on smartphones, PCs and tablets). They may be talking about engaging in a set of relationships defined by rights and contracts (for example, a TV
subscription to a specific company with rights to broadcast live sports events){{2}}, and the act itself may involve the interaction of a variety of communications devices and services beyond the time-honoured combination of TV, remote and sofa.

This lack of clarity as to the status and activity of television in a networked media environment coincides with an often-cited ‘fragmentation’ of the ‘traditional’ media environment {{3}}, in which the mass viewership used to be served by a tightly integrated media industry where infrastructure and content production, promotion, delivery and evaluation were all orchestrated by a limited number of organisations.

Cultural ‘reception studies’ of TV soap operas prior to this so-called fragmentation highlighted the social function of TV, such as soap operas being used as a touch point for interpersonal conversations {{4}}, or as a means of social group formation and identification (or counter-identification) {{5}}.

No longer having a constitutive binding ‘sameness’ to what people watch, providing a foil for collective conversation and identity may have contributed to the kinds of social/cultural isolation Putnam discusses in ‘Bowling Alone’, but one of the promises of Social TV is that IP Communications have created new ways for people interact with each other through and with television.

So the broad subject of my research is how the infrastructure IPTV can be mobilised for interpersonal and group interaction.

[[1]] For early examples of use of the term, see Coppens, T., Trappeniers, L., Godon, M.,: AmigoTV: towards a social TV experience. In: Proc. EuroITV 2004, U. of Brighton (2004), and Oehlberg, L., Ducheneaut, N., Thornton, J.D., Moore, R.J., Nickell, E.: Social TV: Designing for Distributed, Sociable Television Viewing. In: Proc. EuroITV 2006, Athens U. of Economics and Business (2006) 251–259 [[1]] [[2]] For example, using the BBC Iplayer to watch ‘catch-up’ TV does not require a ‘TV license’, whereas watching a simultaneous broadcast requires that viewers buy one or face a £1000 fine. (see http://iplayerhelp.external.bbc.co.uk/help/playing_tv_progs/tvlicence) [[2]] [[3]] See Putnam, Robert. 2000. Bowling Alone. New York: Simon and Schuster. [[3]] [[4]] For example, in Sonia Livinstone’s viewer surveys, something like 40% of participants reported that their soap watching was to provide a regular topic of conversation with friends: Livingstone S M (1988) Why People Watch Soap Operas: An Analysis of the Explanations of British Viewers European Journal of Communication Vol 3 #1London: Sage [[4]] [[5]] Ien Ang’s famous studies of Dutch watchers of the American soap ‘Dallas’ suggested that rather than identifying with the glamorous lifestyle of Texas oil billionaires deicted in the soap, Dutch viewers actually watched while engaging in form of a collective critical distancing. Ang I (1985) Watching Dallas: Soap opera and the melodramatic imagination. London: Methuen [[5]]