Last week, I wrote about how social platforms can play a critical role in the decision-making stage of the television experience. Today we’ll look at how social plays out while our eyes are on the set.

There’s little doubt social media and TV are colliding. The only question is how they will be weaved together. There’s no easy answer here, as social’s role morphs with the type of programming.

Watching TV is a “lean back” experience. And how much we want to lean back depends on our relationship to the content. Sports programming has lots of timeouts and other breaks in the action. These provide ample opportunity to lean in and start talking with our friends, both online and off. But take a new episode of a crime drama. For most people, this demands their full attention. They may want to discuss it at some point, but not while the plot is unfolding.

This creates the intriguing notion of using commercials as “social intermissions.” Since we typically watch TV at home, we have gotten in the habit of taking regular breaks during the growing commercial blocks during shows. But with DVRs and VOD, those breaks no longer exist, and so we turn to the pause button. Social Intermissions may be welcome by consumers, and rather than blaring jingles, brands could use this time to engage viewers around the content they’re watching or at the very least around some sort of social action they can take on the second screen (a poll, a game, a chance to buy some of the merchandise they just saw).

This may also ameliorate the effects of something I identified years ago: Social media is only “social” if you’re alone. If you’re sitting with friends watching a TV show, you’re going to be sharing your comments with them, not with random strangers on the interwebs. A planned break that encourages viewers to go online and engage in something social that the whole room is involved in goes a long way to make that behavior acceptable.

For advertisers this is going to mean shorter breaks overall: no more five-minute pods with multiple, unrelated commercials. It means that the advertiser can take over that show for that particular viewer, based on both demographics and the type of show.

This is another critical distinction that’s often glossed over: Different types of programming have different types of social interactions, both before, during and after the watching experience. That’s going to determine the type of social intermission they have.

Dramas and action shows are Low Social programming: We’re engrossed in the show and don’t want to talk to anyone while it’s on. The action is continuous, and there are no logical places to take a break and start talking. We will talk about them afterwards though: Traffic around dramas tends to peak about 10 minutes after the show is over. A great opportunity for advertisers would be sponsored conversation around a just-viewed show. There’s even an opportunity to let users go back and review key scenes, maybe even buy something they’d seen during the show.

Comedies are Mid Social. It’s fun to share the jokes and most comedies don’t demand your full attention. But there aren’t clearly delineated breaks either, just ebbs and flows in the plot line. Reruns of classic comedies tend to get more social activity, but they’re also rarely watched anywhere close to synchronously. (e.g., a week-old episode of “The Office” on NBC will have far more conversation around it than a rerun from season one.)

Reality dramas, shows like “Jersey Shore” are also Mid Social. The combination of slow-paced scenes and “I can’t believe this!” moments makes conversation easier, but we’re always watching for the unexpected left hook or vomit shot, so there’s a pull on our attention.

Because there are rarely any “don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” plot lines here, advertisers have greater leeway with their commercials and can focus on the brand rather than on the show. There may also be some great tie-ins with product placement here – marketers will need to get smarter about the connection between commercials and the shows they run on, creating a more logical bridge than currently exists.

Reality game shows (“Amazing Race,” “American Idol”) and sports are both High Social. There are plenty of clearly defined breaks and the winner/loser dynamic makes for easy conversation — both at home and online.

This is where advertisers can become part of the conversation, with sponsored polls, chat, exclusive behind-the-scenes content, etc., all happening on the “second screen.” Since these types of programs are often watched in groups, advertisers can create experiences that involve everyone in the room (voting on a multiple-choice question and seeing how you stacked up is an easy example.)

The move to social TV doesn’t have to be a threat to the TV business model. We’ve seen with other “threats” like DVRs that those fears are exaggerated. With social TV, in fact, TV’s already strong economic foundation may end up strengthened.

Alan Wolk is managing director of social strategy at KIT Digital. Follow him on Twitter @awolk.

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