I’ve been having a lot of conversations about TV audience in the last few days and how that has changed over time. TV has been one of the most static technologies of our time. Other than screen sizes and pixel quality (which doesn’t really make a difference to me after a certain size), TV has stayed relatively the same. Obviously, this may change with Apple’s upcoming TV announcement. Apple has a way of socializing the way we interact with technology and we may have been doing the whole TV thing wrong for decades.
With the rise of the internet, I noticed a decline in television viewing personally and in my circles of friends/colleagues. The internet was a lot more receptive to where we as users wanted it to go, in comparison to TV.
With TV, we surf channels until one barely captures our attention and then sit on the couch in a state of grudging acceptance. Meh, it’ll do. The internet is a different beast - we tell it where to go and when we get bored, we go somewhere else. As our attention spans grow shorter, the internet becomes a more effective medium for our generation (a group plagued with too many things to do at any given time); it is active and maneuverable. TV, though flooded with options, is slower and more set in its ways. It positions the user as passive.
The purported decline of TV made sense until the rise of social networks and accelerated information exchange with one’s peers. Social networks like Twitter (and to an extent Facebook) gave us the ability to make TV more active. The birth of second and third screens, within the scope of a single household, pulled viewers back to the “main” screen (the television.) Twitter has led and defined the trend of linking social networks to television through partnerships with hit television shows like the “Voice”, but the real driver has been organic growth —- we really WANT to talk about what we watch and why. The Bachelor and Mad Men flood my twitter stream on a regular basis and actually drive me to the show if I am not already watching. If I’m not part of the dialogue, I feel I am missing out on a large cultural event. That “fear of missing out” has driven our generation to watch more TV than we would have without the existence of social networks.
But is it really a solution?
The concept of “watching TV” may have changed altogether. When you have a second or third screen open, TV becomes a background option. It is something we have on to make sure we know what is going on - to make sure we are part of the conversation. But are we really engaged? Even though we are “watching” more TV - are we really “watching” it? Advertisements are often muted and though audience viewership goes up in pure number value - is the brand that pays for the ad really getting much value out of supposed background noise? If I mute the Dove ad, do I really want to buy Dove body soap the next time I walk into a Duane Reade?
These are questions that I have imperfect answers to but it goes to show that we are at an interesting crossroads in the TV ecosystem. Social networks must be seriously involved in viewership outside of one-off partnerships. Applications like GetGlue and Viggle are paving the way through the intersection of viewership and application engagement, but a lot more innovation is needed.
Who knows…maybe Steve Jobs figured it out already. We’ll have to see.