Reading On TV? A Field Test

Being part of a lean startup team has its pros and cons. One pro in particular — the field testing of products in the early stages of development. From cranking away on the online authoring tool, configuring layouts in the Madefire app and reading many, many stories, being a part of the studio crew definitely keeps my hands dirty (and full) with what’s up and coming from both our creative studio and tech developers.

I began this week’s field test investigating a true passion of mine, my daughter, and an area where I see huge potential, children’s illustrated books on TV. Several months ago, our in-house production team created a sample for a publishers demo and I have to admit, it is a fun little read — Clarice Bean by Lauren Child. They added subtle animation and sound to the already compelling illustrations and remastered the book to fit a 16:9 layout in high-res for screen reading of any size.

My colleagues in the publishing industry are initially shocked when I mention our Android TV and XBOX platform offer. The first question is usually “does anyone read on TV?” My response, “we don’t really know, but do you want to find out with us? kidding…but seriously, do you?…”

I was struck with a “light bulb” moment when I happened to see my daughter walk over to her shelf and grab a picture book. Why not find out what SHE thinks about a book on TV. I have my theories, my bias, my personal experience; but what about a one year old, would she be into it?

With my old GoPro and lab partner/test subject, Isabella, we set out to investigate.

I opened the demo book within the Madefire app on my iPhone, selected Airplay -> Share Screen, turned my phone to landscape and the book immediately popped up. As I wrangled the test subject, I pondered a few questions:

  • What is the engagement difference between this and a cartoon/animation video? Does seeing the book on TV even register to her as something attractive to look at?
  • Does the short animation and pauses lose her attention?
  • How can it be a better/worse experience than sitting with her to watch a video? What about a physical book?

Check the video to see the experience unfold

It’s fair to say, Isabella was pretty stoked from the start.

The most noticeable reaction (aside from the “wow” factor) was the engagement — not just with Isabella and the book — but with myself and Isabella. This is not a ‘sit back and let the screen do the work’ experience, but it did create a bridge to connect and interact with my daughter directly, while also having something entertaining for us both.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released an official statement recommending parents read out loud to their children everyday, to stimulate vital brain development. Dr. Pamela High recommends parents should be “reading together as a daily fun activity.” This struck a chord with me — usually the time we read to our daughter is with either me or her mom, and in a generally intimate setting — not exactly a “family activity.” The experience I recorded could be an early look at a solution.

I couldn’t take this first experience for anything but a success. The TV just might be a future destination for reading. Isabella was responsive and continuously focused on me and the screen the whole time (until Mom came home), plus we got our daily ”Doctor-recommended” dose of out loud reading. We got to interact without distracting from the experience. Picture books are meant to be looked at, explored, imagined — a Motion Book allows the reader to maintain control over those elements as they unfold sequentially.

I see the landscape for digital reading evolving rapidly, almost exponentially given the advancement in visual screen technology: Double Retina, Ultra-HD, 4k, 8k, AR/VR… it’s already infiltrated games, TV, film. It’s only a matter of time before book publishing gets its upgrade.

With kids or not, would you read on your TV?

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