Comcast is set to release their own social networking site for TV viewers. The service, named Tunerfish, will be launched in beta sometime in the next couple weeks, and aims to let users share with their friends and families what they are watching on television and online. Comcast is calling it a "social discovery engine for TV.” Tunerfish—built by Plaxo, which Comcast acquired two years ago—will have an appearance and function similar to Last.fm, and users can share actual content in their streams. Apparently Facebook isn't doing a good enough job of this.
If it sounds like I'm being sarcastic, it's because I am.
Because on the surface, this sounds like a completely unnecessary service. I have yet to have any problem knowing what my friends and family are watching. Facebook and Twitter are doing a fine job of disseminating that information. The last thing I want to do is sign up for yet another niche-based social community just so I can keep up with friends' habits I'm already caught up on. When a service like Ping.fm—which exists solely to help users post their updates on multiple social platforms from one central dashboard—is thriving, maybe it's a sign that maybe there are too many social platforms. And now there's one more to keep track of.
That being said, there is a layer of Tunerfish that intrigues me. A part of the service will have a Bitly.tv element to it, a sort of real-time list of the most-shared television and video content that Tunerfish users are talking about. That data will be searchable, with filters, and will help users discover content their friends are watching that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
Now, in some ways, this is data that already exists out there, albeit in multiple and varied streams. Facebook, for instance, makes it incredibly easy to share videos with friends, or talk about your favorite shows—but they're not turning that data into any kind of "trending shows" list. And Facebook is far from focused on television alone. Similarly, Bitly.tv will give me a great look at which online videos are the most-shared at a given moment, but doesn't really track television episodes like those found on Hulu.
What I can't help but wonder is how necessary Tunerfish is. If I'm a serious TV viewer—and I am—I already know how to find out what shows are the most popular—it's called the Neilsen ratings. And I already know what shows my friends like. Because we socialize, both online and in the real world. And frankly, I'm not really interested in what the crowd-sourced data suggests are the most popular shows. According To Jim was a top ten show for several seasons; have you ever seen that show?! I've never been interested in a television show just because most of America is. Generally, I'm interested in a show because of the writers, the actors, the concept, or the trusted word of a good friend.
And Tunerfish wants to let me know what my good friends are watching, to be sure. But the thing is... I already know. Pop quiz: how many of your friends are big Lost fans? I bet you know the answer right away. And I bet you know that answer, in part, because you've either talked about Lost with them in person, or they've been jabbering non-stop about the show's finale for the past two days on Twitter and Facebook.
The real power of Tunerfish seems to be not what your friends are saying—which most of us already know—but what the rest of the crowd is saying. And I'm just not sold that this is how TV works. Certainly it's how online video works. Online video does not grow in viewers without social networks… period. But TV? I think most American television viewers are fairly well set in their ways on how they find new series to watch, and I don't think it's happening online as much as Comcast wants to think it is. Now, as more and more viewers cut the cord with cable companies and go all-online for their TV viewing, perhaps we'll see something like Tunerfish play a much larger role in how people find new shows. But for now? I think it's a bit of a stretch.
Between Twitter's real-time updates, Facebook's status alerts and news feeds, and Bitly.tv's trending data based on shared links… it's almost like Comcast has cherry picked the best aspects of the top social networking services and rolled it into a ball… and called it Tunerfish.
Oooh, they're going to have data on what TV shows are being watched online the most?! That's… information already available. What's that? They're going to let me embed videos from Hulu and Vimeo inside their sharing service? Excellent. That's a totally new concept.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I try to watch as much television and film content online as possible. I'm this close to cutting the cord with cable completely. Nearly everything I watch regularly is available through nontraditional, online methods. Between Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon, and YouTube… there's not much I need a TV for anymore. I've got a laptop with a 17-inch screen that makes watching video quite enjoyable. I'm active on social networking sites.
I am the target market for a service like Tunerfish, and I couldn't be less interested.
Admittedly, I haven't seen the service. It's not open to the public yet. It's not even in Beta yet. So all I have to go on are the vague-ish summaries offered by Comcast and the various news outlets. And they don't make Tunerfish sound all that exciting to me. But it's quite possible there is something more to the service, something that will click with me after I've had a chance to use it.
Generally, though, I think people who want to broadcast to the world their every television viewing adventure are already broadcasting it through any of the countless social networking outlets online. I'm not sure why they would switch to a TV-specialized social site to send out alerts their friends and family will find to be old news. Comcast has enough clout and reach to get Tunerfish some attention. I might be all alone with my skepticism. Maybe there's a need being filled here that I'm just not seeing.
But it sounds like Last.fm meets Twitter meets Bitly.tv meets Hulu. Any of those could on their own do the job Tunerfish aims to do here, if push came to shove. But I'll at least give Comcast points for trying. As the definition of "TV" begins to change and merge with the online world, cable companies are going to have to find new ways of remaining players in the television and movie game. With Fancast, and now Tunerfish, sure, the cable giant may be behind the curve a bit, but at least they're out there swinging for the fences. At least they're trying to adapt to this ever-changing entertainment landscape.
What about you? Have I missed the mark entirely? Does Tunerfish sound like an awesome service you can't wait to try? If you feel I'm off my rocker on my assessment, I encourage you to change my mind in the comments below.
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