black-and-white photo showing a family watching TV in 1958
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Someone wants to bring back the golden era of TV, when entire families watched the tube with microwave dinners balanced carefully on their laps. Motorola, Intel and UK-based BT envision a TV viewing experience that uses social networking to make you feel fuzzily connected to friends and family. According to Technology Review the goal is to “make TV social again.”

Both Motorola and BT could roll out integrated social TV systems later this year. Motorola researchers hope to make TV a social experience mainly for families and close friends, as opposed to random Internet strangers. They may have taken note of Fox’s dubious experiment with streaming cast and crew Twitter comments on-screen during the shows Fringe and Glee — an experience that viewers seemed to universally dislike.

Much of the challenge in creating a social TV experience comes from having a simple user interface that doesn’t require installation of clunky hardware or loads of extra software. Motorola researches apparently think that smart phones can serve as a natural interface between people and their TVs.

If this social TV buzz sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because people already watch many of their favorite TV programs with laptop or smart phone at hand to chat in online forums, if not on instant messaging programs. and Facebook experimented with real-time updates during live streaming of President Obama’s inauguration speech. This hardly points to a drought when it comes to social TV experiences.

It’s more likely that broadcast companies are looking for ways to stay relevant in the Internet age, rather than seeking to scratch a nagging collective itch for social TV viewers. Online video streaming threatens to swallow the usual audience for cable or satellite TV, especially if more consumers find a way to hook up their TV to the Internet. Heavy hangs the sword over the traditional business model for TV — but whether the Internet swallows TV or vice versa, consumers will likely win.

[via Technology Review]