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SXSW Report: Social TV Will Kill the Couch Potato
The next generation of engaging online experiences for TV viewers will go far beyond Twitter or second-screen apps.

Social TV is rapidly evolving, a South by Southwest panel revealed. While the term might call to mind viewers tweeting jokes and comments as they watch their favorite programs, the people creating the next generation of social TV experiences are looking to make them far more active and engaging.

Leading the way is the USA Network, which has launched a string of engaging online experiences that enhance programs by offering new story elements and videos, while delighting brands with integrated advertising and motivated viewers.

Speaking on the panel "Death of the Couch Potato: The Future of Social TV," Jesse Redniss, senior vice president of digital for USA, showed the audience some of his network's successes, including "Suits Recruits," an online experience for the show "Suits" that let fans sign on with the show's firm and help uncover a mystery. By doing so, they unlocked story videos they could watch online. Social is woven into USA's DNA, Redniss said.

In no rush to pin a label on social TV, Redniss said that it's all TV, and most people watching have no idea what social TV or second screen TV is.

"At the end of the day, we're here to tell great stories," Redniss said. Online elements are just another way to get people to experience those stories.

Online TV experiences involve the sponsoring brand from the beginning, Redniss said, and provide excellent data for brands, since all those human interactions - people touching the glass of their mobile devices - provides data points for marketers.

Couch Potato PanelAnother successful USA offering was the recent "Psych" slumber party, an all-night marathon that led into the new season of detective show "Psych." Social television isn't just about a network's primetime schedule, said Redniss; getting fans to stay up all night and interact about the show helped the show experience a 20 percent ratings boost (40 percent for the younger demographic) when the new season debuted. To support the slumber party, USA needed an in-house team to work all night, interacting with fans on multiple social platforms.

"It's so exciting to be a part of what's happening now," Redniss said.