To paraphrase Wikipedia‟s definition: A social network is a set of individuals tied together through some form of interdependency. By this loose definition, I submit that the set of all cable TV subscribers does in fact form a social network. The connections between subscribers are implicit, as they simply share a connection to a cable service provider. But their interdependence is real in that the audience as a whole directs what content flourishes and what advertising is presented.
The introduction of programmable receivers, through ETV and tru2way®, the use of consumer-owned devices such as iPads to extend aspects of cable service, and the popularity of social networking applications on the Internet combine to suggest that the time is nigh for cable to consider strategies to create valuable applications based on its own implicit social networks.
Social networking apps on cable could help to extend the cable experience to more touch-points is a person‟s life, integrating entertainment into communications for instance. A key effect of such services would be to generate data about user activity, and this data in turn dives ever more innovative and valuable services.
There are two aspects to consider: what is the nature and expression of cable social networks, and how might applications based on these networks be developed? A natural instinct for each operator may be to develop these services individually, but the well known value of the “network effect” argues that these services should include the entire cable audience. These services are more useful to subscribers as more subscribers join in; i.e. a „Top Ten on Cable‟ is arguably of more utility to viewers than a top ten on a given cable system.
At CableLabs we always look for ways to streamline the adoption of new technologies in cable through development of interoperable interfaces, content formats, and other technical elements. While one theme of this paper is to suggest areas where common definitions might be valuable, the greater goal is to encourage thinking about new ways to enhance the cable experience with social networking applications.