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TVNZ’s new social television, should we be excited? [Update With TVNZ U Video]

By January 20, 2011Opinion

Yeserday TVNZ announced the launch of a new commercial, free-to-air channel called ‘U’, which will try to integrate broadcast content with social media, targeted at Kiwis aged 15-24.

TVNZ’s Head of Digital Media and Channels Eric Kearley says that ‘TVNZ is delighted to bring New Zealand its first true ‘social television’ experience’.

“The backbone of the U schedule is U live, a hosted block from 4pm to 7pm daily, featuring chat and commentary driven by a U live Facebook application. Profile pictures, people’s comments and polling activity will be automatically pulled through into broadcast,” says Kearley.

According to a recent study conducted by AC Nielsen, 79% of 1.8 million New Zealand social networkers call Facebook their main social networking site, it makes sense then for TVNZ to form a partnership with Facebook.

20-year-old New Zealand YouTuber Jay Collins says ‘Facebook is already a substantial part of people’s lives so it’s interesting to see Facebook become even more pivotal and central.’

Perhaps the most interesting component of this announcement is the U live Facebook application. I’m certainly looking forward to getting my hands on it. Do you think U live will function like Ustream or BlogTV with built-in Facebook chat?

Either way, my concern is that bandwidth caps in New Zealand may prove difficult for viewers to engage with content that’s as bandwidth intensive as live-streaming. Are viewers going to be reluctant to watch U live on a daily basis?

17-year-old New Zealand YouTuber Ryan Lamont says ‘I’m worried about how this would suck up my bandwidth because in New Zealand we have capped internet that’s very expensive so live stuff costs a lot.’

TVNZ have already experimented with interactive content.

In 2009, they commissioned an interactive drama called Reservoir Hill allowing viewers to influence or even change it’s storyline by giving the protagonist advice via TXT message, Bebo and Facebook. Reservoir Hill won a digital Emmy and showed that our national broadcaster has the ability to produce interactive content at a world standard.

Whether TVNZ can bring the same level of engagement to television remains to be seen when the U channel launches on the 13th March 2011. According to Kearley, U is an innovative step for broadcast in New Zealand and fills a gap in the market.

“We had identified that there was an opportunity to extend the kind of content available for young New Zealanders. And that opportunity has grown recently in light of the changes to Mediaworks channels and the demise of MTV locally.”

TVNZ’s GM Digital Channels Juliet Jensen says that in addition to the Facebook integration in U live, other parts of the U schedule will feature audience interaction.

“In this way viewers can use the channel platform as well as the real life content to connect, interact and socialise with each other.”

And on Sunday nights, viewers get to be the programmers. They can enter a competition to be the U programmer for a month via the channel’s Facebook page and website. The lucky winner will effectively “own” the slot, choosing what viewers watch on Sunday nights.

Giving control to the viewers is a big step for TVNZ, they could learn from YouTube personalities such as Brittani Louise Taylor who incorporates user-submitted content on a regular basis. Brittani treats her audience like a best friend, involved and connected at all times. The likelihood of TVNZ’s audience interacting with U will be determined by how TVNZ removes the barrier between presenter and audience moving forward.

U will be broadcast on Freeview/Tivo channel 6 and Sky/Telstra Channel 16 from 13th March 2010.

Video Credit: TVNZ