‘See It’ Button Should Be the Game-Changer Pay TV Desperately Needs

New Comcast feature can make live or VOD content available to watch and record via tweets

Comcast Twitter Collaboration
John Hersey

TV Everywhere may finally live up to its name, thanks to a new initiative from Comcast.

The nation’s largest cable operator chose Twitter to be the first partner for its new See It feature, which embeds buttons in tweets that can make live or VOD content available to watch and record. Beginning this week, See It will slowly roll out across select programming from Comcast-owned NBCUniversal beginning with two Syfy series, “Haven” and “Naked Vegas.”

With the proper execution, See It could prove a shot in the arm for TV Everywhere, the pay-TV initiative aimed at bringing programming once restricted to TV sets to digital platforms, where more and more video consumption is taking place. TV Everywhere has struggled to find traction with subscribers due to inconsistent deployment and marketing. (For a refresher on just how challenging TV Everywhere has been, read this account from last week’s Streaming Media conference.)

While the functionality of See It will be limited to Comcast subscribers using Twitter at launch, the long-term goal of the video distributor is to make the social-media upstart just the first of many partners for the feature.

If Comcast can convince a critical mass of fellow pay-TV services and major content publishers to implement See It, the ubiquity of that button could be harnessed to provide more visibility for content that’s fighting for attention in an ocean of apps.

With well over 20 million subscribers scattered across the U.S., and considerable TV and movie assets to call its own under the NBCU umbrella, Comcast can’t be matched in its ability to spread something like See It across the media and tech sectors.

See It has been in development at Comcast since 2010, shortly after Apple introduced the iPad. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts showcased a remote-control app at the Cable Show shortly after the market launch of the Apple tablet, which allows Comcast subs to change channels. He also hinted that social media could provide a navigation framework that would let subscribers make programming choices based on what their friends were watching, which is what See It essentially embodies.

Starting with Twitter is a no-brainer. While not as big in scale as Facebook, the service has been closely aligned with the TV industry in recent years to capitalize on the preponderance of TV-related conversation that takes place on the platform. Given such an orientation, Twitter may be the best place to trigger the maximum number of impulse opportunities to bring people to watch a show. What’s more, Twitter often enough serves up those opportunities in real time, giving TV networks a Nielsen boost.

Cable news nets like CNN and MSNBC may benefit most. At a time when those networks are facing increasing competition from social media and websites that break news, a cable newsie can effectively elbow its way into the conversation and reclaim audience by literally inserting its feed into the places where they find themselves crowded out.

In time, Twitter may be just one of many places to offer See It buttons, and not just in a social media context. A newspaper website that mentions “The Voice,” for instance, could embed a button from a participating publisher that allows a user to access a specific episode.

Smartly, Comcast isn’t keeping the proprietary technology to itself. The point is to license it to any programmer or distributor on the market, with the hope that it leads more consumers of digital content to watch TV programming rather than to be distracted from it: If users are too busy talking about a TV show on Twitter to actually watch it, See It can help close that gap.

It’s not often a cable operator creates mass-market technology worth getting excited about. Even better for Comcast and the pay-TV industry, See It can reinforce the value of their core product.

It was the 2012 Olympics that gave the pay-TV biz a great opportunity to showcase the promise of TV Everywhere, a promise that has gone largely unfulfilled. Comcast would be smart to have See It in action for this year’s Winter Games in Sochi, where new technology could find a perfect time to shine during a TV event tailor-made for social-driven tune-in.