TV’s Dead. Long Live Television!

TV’s dead. That’s a plain and simple fact that everyone agrees on. Or do we?

Latest 2018 studies show that the French population still spends 197 minutes daily watching television[1], whereas the average American household watches 8 hours per day. So, TV certainly is far from dead. Nonetheless, over the last decade, it has been tempting to imagine that television had reached a dead end for three main reasons.

First, because of the new importance of other competing forms of media in our daily lives, video content went from being exclusively produced by a limited number of main studio players to a cast of new tech-driven studios (such as Netflix) and consumers in general (via YouTube). This new reality lead us to think that time spent watching other kinds of content had taken over television. But, that is simply not true. Studies show[2] that viewers have increased their “per day watching” time to make TV and Internet fit into their daily schedules. In 2011, the typical consumer spent 75 minutes on the Internet and more than 300 minutes watching TV per day. The forecast for 2019 is approximately 275 minutes daily for EACH form of media.

The second reason for prophecies of television’s demise is the common misunderstanding that is made between television as a symbolic medium and television as an actual form of media. The difference between both is not just semantic. Consider the symbolic medium as the good old TV that is in your living room somewhere between the bookshelf and the couch. On the other hand, consider the actual medium as being the content itself. One can watch CNN on his or her bed thanks to iPads. Another can enjoy ABC on their mobile devices as they travel. At Reminiz, we consider ourselves as being professional binge-watchers and spend a lot of time consuming television. We simply do not always do it in front of our main living room screens.

The third reason, and the main one, is that television has lost all its landmarks of origin. Obviously, times have changed, and the TV ecosystem has to adapt (duh). But to adapt, it is crucial that we understand how deeply our way to interact with content has evolved.


SAY GOODBYE TO CLASSICAL UNITIES

You know, these are the rules that are used to describe standards for any drama since Aristotle. Well, we won’t be discussing those here. But, we will discuss the extent to which the standard television unities have been undermined in our new multi-platform world.

Unity of Action. First, let’s discuss the Unity of Action — i.e., watching television with minimal additional tasks to maximize viewer attention. Apart from drink refills and bathroom breaks, one could sit in front of television for hours without blinking during the more “traditional” entertainment era. But, that is not even close to the new reality in 2018 for a family’s regular TV night, in which family members are surrounded by devices of all sorts, playing online games, searching for information online or interacting on social media. Television has stopped being the center of our attention and is now simply one medium amongst others that all compete for our attention.

Unity of Time. Second, there is Unity of Time. Who said you had to finish a television program right away in one sitting? Probably your parents. But, the new reality is that we have mastered broadcast temporality, and that has completely changed our approach to content. This means creating content in several pieces, watching whenever we want, stopping right in the middle, and binge watching. Live television seemingly is the only form of television that was immune to these new disruptions to unity of time. But, let’s not forget that we can now pause our football games, go fetch a beer and press play again without missing a minute of the action.

Unity of Place. Finally, there is Unity of Place — and, our new multi-platform reality that there is no such thing. As discussed earlier, we can now watch television everywhere — from our bedrooms to the subway, at work or in a café.

The bottom line is that so-called Television lost its familiar landmarks. Without stability with viewers and the times and places in which they watched, “Television” started to doubt its own model and we started to hear about “debating the future of television before its own death”.


STEPPING OUT OF THE FRAME… TO GO WHERE ?

As a result of the new fragmentation of the television ecosystem, studio executives and industry professionals started thinking about new ways to address their audience by either imposing television on other spaces (such as “online television”) or by trying to drive consumers back to the main screen.

The most effective way to accomplish these new goals has been to create cross-platform content that would both take consumers from and to their televisions. Cross-platform storytelling played a central role in these strategies. The benchmark case for it remains the TV show Lost. Lost has probably revolutionized the TV drama genre more than any other show, not only because of its intricate story-line but also because of the way those stories were told. Lost is a hybrid format that lives on every platform and goes way beyond a traditional television show: mobisodes, ARGs, websites, books, merchandizing of all sorts and more. Every medium has been used to increase the drama’s touchpoints and all of this for one reason — i.e., to gather ABC’s audience each week around its flagship program at a time when all networks began to face huge decreases in their audiences.

The result of Lost’s bold new moves were both impressive and disconcerting. In some way, Lost achieved its goal by becoming one of the most iconic television shows of the 21st century. This pre-Game of Thrones water cooler television show became THE weekly reference that everyone needed to watch to be part of pop culture and the water cooler talk that surrounded it. But Lost also got caught up in its own game. By courting the youngest generations on other mediums in order to drive television viewing, the show became widely popular… on the Internet. Its last episode on television gathered only 13 million viewers in the U.S., but became the most illegally downloaded television series of all time. Not quite the result ABC wanted.

In the meantime, ABC had programmed 107 commercial ads during this last episode, not realizing that they would draw even more people away from their television screens in the process. This paradox shows the complexity of the task when rethinking so-called “television” models and giving new meaning to the definition of “content.” People continue to voraciously watch TV content, of course. They just don’t do it passively and by the old rules.

Enter live interaction.


A NEW FRAMEWORK FOR TELEVISION : AUGMENTED CONTENT ENABLER ?

Despite prophecies of death and a continuing string of critics, television has not lost its power to captivate. To the contrary, television’s brightest days are ahead if it changes its paradigms. Fundamentally, television needs to stop separately broadcasting content on the one hand and providing additional layers on the other. Instead, it must start doing both at the same time by becoming an Augmented Content Enabler. Exit unities of space, action and time. Enter instantaneous consumption, contextualization and personalization.

Instantaneous Consumption means the ability to provide content and its derivatives right away on demand. No waiting in line to watch a replay. No “reminder” on the phone to remember to watch a movie later. No time lost to ask who’s on screen.

Contextualization means the ability to adapt interaction depending on the content, the ability to bookmark and buy a show’s related products, and (as examples) the ability to choose the best time to advertise or download a performing artist’s album or other works.

Personalization means the viewer’s singularly adapted content dashboards, varied thumbnails, push and titles depending on taste and navigation history.

Television must provide all of this to be reborn and realize its fully exciting potential. The next question is, how do we do that?

Well, Reminiz can help you a great deal, but that’s a story for another time …

[1] From lesinrocks.com : https://www.lesinrocks.com/2018/01/25/actualite/en-moyenne-les-francais-passent-3h42-par-jour-devant-la-television-111037820/

[2] From recode.net : https://www.recode.net/2018/6/8/17441288/internet-time-spent-tv-zenith-data-media