What happened to the “Living Room Revolution”?

At the end of 2015, Apple announced its fourth generation Apple TV, and promised us the “Future of Television”. The hype that had been building for months reached a fever pitch, and every digital company fought tooth and nail to claim a slice of the TV sofa.

Things seemed to be going off.

When Apple announced there was going to be an app store for TV, and that the pain of TV-typing would be vanquished by Siri, we thought the sky would be the limit.

A year later, we found ourselves asking: “so what happened”?
Well…not much.

Today, the industry’s attitude to TV could not be more tepid. Our relationship to big screens has changed little, if at all, since the end of 2015. What is the number one use of “Connected TV” in 2017? We’re guessing (surprise!) streaming.

We expected the TV app store to give birth to new social and collaborative experiences in the living room, but it never took off. Why? Maybe because there is nothing inherently better about collaborating around a TV than around a phone, tablet or laptop.

On paper something like the Airbnb tvOS app looks like a great idea, but how many people will actually reach for the remote to look at holiday homes instead of just using whatever they were using before the Apple TV came along?

New habits are hard to form, and near impossible when they’re not solving a pressing problem.

And the “Connected” TV hasn’t really catered to old habits either.

The one thing it’s not reproduced from its predecessor is passive enjoyment — to tune out, relax, and zap a little. A majority of the streaming apps on the market focus on having the user choose what they want to watch. But being faced with a wall of choice is not relaxing. You have to take decisions. You have to be engaged. You have to know ahead of time what you want.

Perhaps what “Connected TV” missed out on is perfecting and refining this experience. Why not give you channels that cater to your preferences? Why is there no “I just want to watch something” option? Why doesn’t the TV automatically start playing Westworld every Monday at eight, if you’ve watched it predictably for the past months? These all seem like missed opportunities for innovation.

But maybe the problem isn’t the approach to TV, but the concept of TV itself.

It’s been speculated that smartwatches haven’t really taken off because the idea is biased towards “old white men”. If you grew up without traditional wristwatches, smartwatches just don’t bear the same significance to you. In the same way, those who grew up with personal screens may be less attached to the big one.

No living room for old men

The living room TV might not be the heart of the home anymore, but just another screen among many. Increasing co-habitation among younger people might even mean fewer living rooms all together. Maybe there’s no living room revolution because the living room just doesn’t matter that much anymore.

But something must have changed, right? Could it be that we’ve been looking for the revolution in the wrong places?

Maybe the real revolution hasn’t been how we use the TV, but what we’re watching on it?

TV shows nowadays are not only high-budget, quality productions, but also perfecting the art of the binge-watch. The multitude of choices has created a “hunger game” arena, and shows use every trick in the box to attract and keep your attention. In 2015 and 2016, Netflix brought out the big guns in producing or commissioning TV shows and movies. Maybe the real “future of TV” is the new forms of content emerging from this evolutionary accelerator?

I’ll definitely go to bed after this one

However, the downside of this “engagement inflation” is the increasing level of commitment associated with choosing what to watch.

Perhaps we are on the verge of a counterrevolution, where instead of being more engaged with TV, we push it away all together?

In the years to come, maybe the TV won’t be able to take it’s place in the living room for granted.

The sudden popularity of podcasts and the sleeper success of voice-only devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home suggests that there is some trend away from screens and towards new forms of interaction. At the same time, we’re also seeing a lot of hope and hype around VR, which might claim the throne as the new king of the living room.

The only thing that we can say is it doesn’t appear that the future of TV is apps, or that the future of the living room is TV at all.

Instead, the trend seems to point to whole homes being connected through a network of various digital devices. The TV will probably still be around, but in a new form — one of many outputs and inputs that contribute to a richer day to day life at home.


I’m using the phrase “Connected TV” to include all types of online media streaming devices including “Smart” TVs and consoles


This article is adapted from episode 28 of our podcast RE:DESIGN. If you’d rather have it in it’s original (Swedish) podcast format, you can listen to it on Itunes or in your browser. The episode featured Ola Laurin, Marcus Johansson & Linnéa Strid.

I work as a UX Designer at Apegroup where I help companies create beautiful digital things. We are a design and technology studio in Stockholm. Want to know more about how we work with design? Read more at our website.


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