The future of television — interactive TV — has arrived. Recent research from Parks Associates found that interactive television offerings, which provide viewers with data services alongside traditional video content, were rolled out across all major global markets in 2014.

It’s abundantly clear that today’s consumers demand a very different type of viewing experience than even just a few years ago. Aside from live TV channels and VOD, nowadays viewers want personalized content recommendations and social interaction on multiple devices.

Let’s take a look at the top two interactive features that have the most impact on viewer’s engagement. Every pay-TV operator, looking to increase their subscribers’ engagement should pay attention to these.

Social Media Apps

For almost a decade, social networks like Twitter, Myspace, and Facebook havedominated the Web, mostly on devices such as smartphones, tablets and PCs.  But lately, social media has made its way onto the big screen TV. And it has proven to have a powerful effect on viewer interaction and TV ratings. A study by Nielsenfound that 84 percent of viewers are hopping onto second-screen devices, such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops, while watching the main screen TV in order to follow their favorite shows, share content, and connect with fans. According to the study, a quarter of TV viewers reported that they were more aware of TV programs due to their social media interactions in a year-over-year comparison from 2012 to 2013. In fact, in 2013, 15 percent of viewers said they enjoyed watching television more when social media was involved.

Leading pay-TV operators are taking notice of this phenomenon and starting tointegrate social media into their service offering. NBC Universal recently launched “Fan It,” which allows viewers to chat about shows with friends and visit related links. As viewers interact with “Fan It,” they accrue rewards such as sneak previews of shows, NBC merchandise, and enter into contests to win prizes. Social media apps appear to have positive effects on TV ratings and, potentially, advertising. Oxygen, an NBCUniversal cable network targeting young women, managed to increase the ratings of its biggest show, “Bad Girls Club” by more than 50 percent by offering a “social viewing party” enabled by Twitter and other social media.

By providing social media apps to TV viewers, operators strengthen brand affinity, and learn more about their viewers, who feel comfortable sharing personal information in this environment, which in turn create a more interactive user experience.

Recently, Laptop magazine identified the top 12 best TV apps. Among the finalists is TVTag, an interactive TV app that lets users check in to episodes of the TV shows they’re watching, create memes, and share thoughts on Facebook and Twitter. The popular website IMDb.com also offers an app to enhance the TV experience, providing users with cast and crew information, bios on actors and creative talent, TV listings, recaps of TV shows, and the latest entertainment news. On iOS, the IMDb app offers integration with Amazon’s Prime video service, enabling users with the Amazon Instant Video app to directly launch a video from within IMDb. These are just a couple of examples of how social media apps are transcending the TV experience, bringing interactivity to the big screen.

Context-Award Apps

In addition to social media, consumers are looking to explore content related to what they are watching on the TV on second-screen devices. According to Nielsen research, 40 percent of consumers said shopping or looking up actors, plots, and athletes were the top activities they did on tablets while watching TV.

Other popular activities while watching TV include looking up information about the weather, movies, TV shows, news, sports scores, etc. Such apps positively impact the quality of lifestyle of the viewer by providing them with detailed information and enriching their knowledge on a variety of topics including art, history, and culture. Naturally, for pay-TV operators, such viewer engagement is positive because it helps them in offering additional services and ultimately, gaining revenue.

Through a cloud-based back-end middleware solution such as WatchApps, operators can easily bring interactive applications (e.g., voting, polls, e-commerce, and additional programming information) front and center to viewers based on the content they are viewing, all in a non-intrusive way, to any screen. These types of context-aware apps are already trending, with the BBC providing original programming via its iPlayer app as well as its linear channels and Sky Germanydistributing content to subscribers via its proprietary set-top box as well as a new iPad application.

The Long-Term Impact of Adopting an Interactive TV Strategy

Pay-TV operators that offer social media and context-aware applications to their customers can effectively capture user insights, TV viewing habits, social behaviors, and preferences in real time, all of which can be turned around to provide even more personalized content to viewers. By increasing the amount of personalized content made available to viewers and improving viewer engagement with the TV service via interactive apps, operators can increase subscriber satisfaction and, importantly, open up new revenue opportunities.

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