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Can TV Be an Active Medium?

Television has always been based on two pillars:

  1. Destination. From "Must See TV" to your favorite sitcoms on Thursday night, you could always tell what the conversation around the water cooler was going to be based on the schedule set forth in TV Guide. We do things (like eat supper and get home from work) at a specific time to not miss our favorite shows and share in both the collective moment (that was shared with everyone else watching) and a moment of privacy (as we watch with our blinds closed from the comforts of our couches). TV was never everywhere. That is changing rapidly.
  2. Passivity. Media can be both passive and active. Clearly, the Internet is an active media. We create, collaborate, share, friend, like, follow and express ourselves. Even with all of the interactivity that has recently been introduced, the majority of our population still enjoys TV as a passive media. Most people come home after a long day of hard work and just want to forget about the day they had, and not think about the day that's coming tomorrow. TV lets them escape and it doesn't require much work. They're not interested in chatting on Facebook about something or tweeting about it... they just want to watch and get lost for a little while. TV was always passive. That is rapidly changing.

We're moving away from DVRs, specialty channels and cable as the great TV disruptors into newer, unchartered areas.

Much like human beings have become increasingly untethered, so too has television. With smartphones and iPads now promoting content where, when and how consumers want it, the trend is not lost on television. According to the MediaPost news item, "ABC Studies iPad: Redefines TV Viewing," "The iPad surely will play a role in accentuating that lesser connection to time and place going forward. ABC would have studied viewer usage of other tablets, but none had critical mass. That might change with the introduction of the new Kindle." The news item goes on to define three emerging TV viewing trends:

  1. Micro-mobility. Consumers would like TV content on-demand, but not just from the comforts of their home... they want it at the beach, on their commutes to work, in their backyards and across multiple platforms.
  2. Parallel Play. Your wife is watching American Pickers while you're sitting there next to her watching an episode of Pawn Stars on your iPad. Parallel play is all about people in the same room watching different shows on different platforms.
  3. Marathoning. If it weren't for marathoning, I would have never been able to see Mad Men or Battlestar Galactica. Marathoning is when a viewer watches multiple episodes of the same show, one after the other.

Think about how television makes it money.

The promise to advertisers was all about the captive audience at a set time on a set date. Yes, the branding power has now been extended because people do use a DVR or download their shows from iTunes, but this changes the advertising model. On top of that, the ability to skip and fast-forward commercials has been the bane of television since the first VCRs were introduced. There is no doubt that brands and their media reps are getting smarter and are better at capturing attention, but the format of TV advertising must adjust to this, much like it will have to adjust even more as these new trends in usage and consumption continue to evolve.

What about social media and those who do turn TV into a more active media?

While Twitter feeds light up with mentions of TV shows, it turns out that social media doesn't really affect TV all that much. MediaPost published another news item last week titled, "Social Media Has Negligible Effect on TV Ratings" that stated: "An analysis by NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey Company, found a 9% overall lift in social media 'volume' a month before a TV show's start can improve numbers 1% for 18-34 viewers, who are typically the busiest on social media site." It goes on to cite additional data points that lead to a conclusion that while social media does spread the word and keep the TV brands in the spotlight, it doesn't have much affect on overall ratings. In fact, this could well be the proof that it's challenging to truly make a passive media all that active and vice-versa. Regardless, TV as we've known it continues to evolve and it's fascinating to watch the media become so ubiquitous across so many different platforms.

The big question is this: will TV be able to maintain its dominance as a media platform or will it truly converge with the web?

Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image -- an award-winning digital marketing agency. HIs first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his highly-successful blog and podcast of the same name is a business and marketing bestseller.

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