I’ve been thinking about social television and how slow the networks are to adapt to it for months. Then this week a spate of excellent shows being cancelled across networks (in spite of online fan interest) inspired me to try and compose my thoughts.
As an author and avid reader, many of my friends are frequently surprised at how much television I watch. I read, yes – I used to read a book each day but now it’s about three a week. I love the escape of the printed page (and no, I don’t have a Kindle. I get enough screen time for my eyes, the printed page is a great break.) I watch films, yes – some of my clients are in the film industry. But television has always captivated my attention.
A child of the 70s and 80s, the TV was my first babysitter (my Nana used to plop me in front of it in my playpen for hours. I’d watch Sesame Street, Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact and Chico and the Man all the way until Young and the Restless and mom coming home). I used to sing my mom the commercials when she’d come to pick me up after work (an early career indicator? Perhaps). I knew I always wanted to write books, and loved reading books just as much – heck, I started reading when I was 3 – but TV has this way of connecting people, regardless of education or class, in a way even my favorite books simply don’t do. Anything that brings people closer together, that bridges the divides we place between “us” and “them”, captures my attention.
This means my thoughts have been focused on the sluggishness of the networks in catching up with the new “ratings” system of social media. To continue to depend solely on the old-style Nielsen ratings with no regard to the second and third screens (phone and tablet) is simply short sighted. I don’t watch anything without checking in with my friends (friends from real life and the people inside the box) on apps like Get Glue, TV Dinner, Miso and Twitter now. Friends of mine like Meleah have viewing “parties” on their Facebook walls and Twitter accounts with hundreds of people commenting and chatting about the show they watch together – every week.
Some networks, like NBC, are certainly trying to be social now with their shows like The Voice, but they are still falling short. Throwing a screetching, thinspo hostess and a hashtag at your audience is certainly a good start (and more than many networks are doing right now), but it isn’t the complete answer. It’s still trying to control the conversation instead of listening to the feedback your audience is giving you in real time.
Take a look at The Finder, a recently cancelled show (one of many not given adequate time to gain Nielsen traction). It had a good audience of happy fans watching – on DVR. Delayed viewers are captured via online media, social networks and mobile apps – not traditional ratings. Being part of Social TV and making sure your industry remains relevant means getting past pandering to old traditions in media and thinking of the future of interactive, participatory television.
I imagine the proprietary nature of the delivery mechanisms of television are a key stumbling block to the growth of Future TV. If delivery systems like Comcast, DISHNetwork, Time Warner, etc won’t share their analytics about viewers watching via DVR, On Demand, etc.; if NetFlix and Hulu hold the same data close to their vests; and the online viewing tools like Beyond TV find sharing a risk – how can television grow and prosper? Media can no longer thrive behind a wall of suits.
Television is finally facing the same dilemma music and film have faced for years – finding growth in a changing technological world. Television is best suited to adapt to the winds of change – it’s a medium that is inherently deeply personal, that reaches people in their homes, at their invitation. The interesting thing is that now this invitation is also on the viewer’s terms. I have lots of ideas about how television can adapt and thrive (hint, it’s going to take more than an updated design and user interface, though those are long overdue). It will be interesting to see how long they continue to fling old media tricks at a new media problem, however.
Stay tuned. I’ll be deep diving into some of the ways I think TV should grow up over the coming days in a series of posts.