I don't watch a ton of TV live anymore, not since I got my first Tivo a long time ago. My last post on a particularly annoying commercial gives you at least one clue as to why. Sure, I don't love watching commercials, but I've also found that I'm putting greater value on my own personal time.
So much stuff competes with television, that giving it 30 minutes to watch a show that should only take 22 seems ridiculous.
Many others are coming to the same conclusion and time-shifting their programs. However, when anyone writes about the trend, they always bring up the rare exceptions that have proven largely immune to the bewitching and seductive ways of the digital video recorder.
Live sports and live events.
These programs, which would include the recent Super Bowl and the recent Grammy telecast, are events that people feel the need to watch as they happen.
Why? Because everyone spends the time during and immediately after the event talking about it, and who wants to miss out/have the surprise ruined?
So people try to watch the event live. And when I'm one of those people, one of the things I'm most interested in isn't just what's happening on the screen, but also the reactions of people I know.
Enter the second screen.
A quick aside...we're very quickly entering the world where most TV viewers will have a second screen for their attention in addition to the television. What would have been an insane concept in the 60's is quickly becoming more common as smartphones and tablets penetrate US households.
For me, it started in college when you finally got a fast internet connection in the same room as your TV. It helped that your room was a 12x12 cube of concrete, and that's where I learned the value of watching TV while wasting time on AIM (you may have to look up AIM, it's what people did before Facebook and GChat)
Since then, I've almost always had a second screen accompanying me when I sit down to watch television. I'm usually looking up random stuff on the internet, reading random articles, marveling at the virulently racist comments on philly.com, or something else...but I digress.
Developing a compelling value proposition for the second screen is the best way TV content creators and distributors can win back time from their viewership. When I'm watching TV today (DVR or no) my second screen has created a disconnected feeling, putting a barrier between me and whatever I'm watching. Science tells us that successfully multi-tasking is a myth, and that you can't be as effective doing two things at once as you would doing each individually. Well that's absolutely true, having sat on enough conference calls while doing something else to confirm it.
And all the money the TV industry could reap with a more engaged audience will continue to flutter out the window like so many Angry Birds.
So to me, the two screens need to become integrated. A system like that would make me more engaged in what I'm watching and make it harder for me to stop.
So what would this integrated experience be like? To me it seems pretty simple, you have to integrate Twitter.
But what I don't mean is the way Twitter is integrated with TV today. A couple events and channels try to work it in by selecting a couple famous people and streaming the occasional tweet across the bottom of the screen.
The people behind this have obviously never used Twitter in any significant way.
Scrolling tweets along the bottom of the screen the way networks currently do it has a couple of issues.
- Quality: These networks have created a fixed pool to source their tweets from. For the NHL network it's current players and coaches, for E! it's a gaggle of Kardashians or vampire tweens or whomever. Unfortunately, these people just aren't that interesting. No one with a vested interest in the outcome of the program or the success of the network is going to say anything provoking. And most celebrities, aside from comedians, don't have anything funny to say either. So what you're left with is a bunch of athletes saying things like 'Great Win today boys!' and celebrities saying 'OMG that performance was so amazing!'
That's not going to buy you another second of incremental viewership. But to me, there's another issue...
- Speed: Scrolling tweets along the bottom of the screen is far too slow. Very early 1990's SportsCenter. When I've seen tweets that way, it usually takes a good 3-5 seconds to get the whole message on the screen. By then, I'm already bored. This society has wired us all up to be ADHD nutjobs when getting information, so why are you slowing things down? Open up the firehose! And put it in a vertical bar on the side of the screen. Ditch the scrolling for the way Twitter looks on our phones, tablets, computers, and everything else (not sure there is anything else, but you get what I'm saying)
Now I'm not saying we should have a stream of tweets flying by on the side of the screen like a slot machine that can't stop spinning. But I think the screen should be opened up to the broader Twitter community (properly curated of course, by people who actually know what's interesting commentary or a funny joke).
We've moved past the point of being purely interested in consuming the content. Now we want to consume the content and immediately consume the reaction to that content!
If you had a fully integrated Twitter stream on my main television screen, you know what I'd do? I'd watch the program and then look for reactions in the same place! Then maybe I'd try to come up with something clever on my second screen to try and get it on the air, but I'd quickly come back to see if it made it or what I may have missed!
You could add location-based filtering (NFL watching fans in Philadelphia get Eagles themed tweets), you could have promoted tweets included, and it would keep me and people like me with their eyeballs fixed to the TV.
And this doesn't apply to just major events. There are whole communities built around just about every TV show out there (even you NCIS: LA!). These people would want to do the same thing during their respective episodes! I love Mad Men and the Walking Dead (although WD is starting to worry me), and I would love to have my viewing experience augmented with live commentary from other fans (again, curated by people who know that 'DAMN THEY F*CKED UP DAT ZOMBIES!!!1!!' doesn't quite meet the bar)
AMC and Bravo already have whole shows around this concept. Talking Dead airs right after the Walking Dead, and Bravo has the whole Andy Cohen live show that my wife puts on when I'm trying to go to sleep.
These shows are already there to support these communities, whether it be for zombie brain eating or plastic housewives. Creating some form of Twitter integration during the actual show will get people to watch it when it airs, and allow for incremental revenue from just a tiny bit of marketing in the stream.
Not sure why this shouldn't happen. And sure, maybe this whole argument is just a plea to get some hilarious commentary on TV in time for next year's Grammy's when Nicki Minaj does a live crucifixion, but at least I'm asking well in advance.