From the April 2009 issue of Entrepreneur

Tune in to the Social Channel

The TV is no longer an isolated lump of electronics that feeds you a passive stream of shows and DVDs. Internet-connected add-ons like gaming devices and Blu-ray players are opening up a whole new social dimension for TV sets. Microsoft's premium, online interactive Xbox Live Gold service has more than 10 million subscribers. Sony recently launched a social network accessible by PlayStation users. Blu-ray discs with interactive web features are already on the market. This is just the beginning, and entrepreneurs have a chance to help form the young TV/social networking industry.

Social networking through TV has a lot in common with social networking through computers. "It won't be that different in terms of spirit, but in terms of the practical use and time of the day, it will be different," says Romi Mahajan, chief marketing officer with digital agency and technology consulting firm Ascentium. He sees an initial user base made up of gamers and niche groups of TV show fans, but the phenomenon is expected to grow considerably. "We're going to be in the heady stages for the next couple years, and after that you'll need a crystal ball to predict," Mahajan says.

"People are much more comfortable using an array of devices for communication than they ever were before."

Romi Mahajan, Ascentium

This is part of a larger movement of social networking extending from computers to media like radio and mobile devices, as well as TV sets. "People are much more comfortable using an array of devices for communication than they ever were before," Mahajan says. Interesting areas for entrepreneurs to consider include add-on hardware for facilitating communication, services that help users interact with each other and the creation of niche communities.

Web App of the Month
By Kim Orr

App: CultureGPS Professional
Compatible with: iPhone and iPod touch
Price: $19.99

While a number of celebrities and politicians could've saved themselves from highly embarrassing situations with this app, you may find that it'll save you from losing that international client your company is depending on. Through a "5-D model" devised by cultural expert and professor Geert Hofstede, you can learn about the social customs and business characteristics of more than 100 countries and regions, compare your cultural values and even get recommendations about how best to handle managers, employees, teams and customers abroad. And in the long run, $19.99 is nothing compared with the cost of losing that key client--or worse, your dignity.