When we think about television we tend to focus on the cost of Super Bowl ads and upcoming seasons of Survivor or American Idol.
But social media is not just limited to Internet or mobile phone enabled technologies. It has in fact moved in on American’s television watching habits. Part of this is simple math – 300 million minds divided by 800 cable or satellite TV channels, 200 satellite radio stations, another several hundred broadcast AM and FM stations and countless video games, web sites, blogs, and recorded audio/visual options means that we now have almost one medium per mind at any given point in time. So television can move in on social, community and cultural niches that would never have been possible when mass audiences mattered most.
Social media may have originated with the rise of literacy rates and cheap printing presses in the 19th century. By the mid 1980s social media was defined by the masses watching to see who killed JR on Dallas, legions of trekkies gathered around Star Trek, or the cultural commons created by the last episode of M*A*S*H.
Now? Social TV is being created by things like Current TV and the soon to launch,
Fora.TV. Current TV – fronted by Al Gore – uses content produced by users, integrates communications technology into the viewing options, and relies on watchers being able to email favorite segments to their friends. Fora.TV takes these capabilities to new audiences – namely folks who would normally go to a local bookstore to hear an author reading, subscribe to an independent lecture series, and join nonprofit or college-based literary salons. Fora will allow these kinds of presenting organizations to get their program offerings to subscribers via televisions, cell phones, and laptops. Subscribers will be able to comment, recommend, and send materials to others.
I have no inside information but might there also be philanthropic investments behind this commercial enterprise? Fora.Tv is still raising operating capital - perhaps a foundation interested in media is looking to make a PRI?
So what for philanthropy? Think about where you get your news from. How do you know what is going on in your community? What is going on around the globe? Does TV fit into any of your answers? Now think about nonprofit activists or community organizations you support, volunteer with, or fund. How do they get their message out? How sophisticated are they about communications? How are they going to get heard in this increasingly multi-platform mix of content? How can philanthropy help with these challenges?
I've just arrived in Washington DC for a series of meetings and has a chance to read the Washington Post on the way into town. The version of the TV/ community story that plays in this town has to do with two of my other favorite issues - the public commons and intellectual property rights. Smithsonian Networks - an odd deal struck by the venerable Smithsonian Institution and the not-so-venerable Showtime Network just announced its first line up of shows. The issue here - the Smithsonian is owned by the American people. Most of those Americans don't subscribe to Showtime - so these shows, built around public goods are for sale on-demand to certain gold-plated cable or satellite TV customers. Here is what David Bollier had to say about this back in April 2006.