Is it possible the concept of truly commerce-enabled interactive television is nothing more than a myth? From my perspective -- specifically that of a consumer -- I’m starting to think that’s the case.
The most hyped fantasy involving interactive television is the promise of “hot-spotting,” or commerce-enabling TV shows. The idea is that a consumer will see an outfit that’s being worn by a celebrity on a show, pause the show, and buy the outfit through image-embedded tagging. Many companies have tried this, and almost as many have found a way to make it a reality, but consumers aren’t buying it. It’s not caught on online, and I’m not sure it’ll catch on through television anytime soon. The reason is deeper than just the commerce-enablement. The root of my point is that consumers don’t really want it -- they’re not in the habit.
Consumers like TV for a specific purpose: as a diversion and escape. When most of the people I know sit down to watch TV, they’re winding down from a hectic day, looking to pass the time and disengage until they go to sleep. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The idea of looking to interact, and even potentially looking to spend money? It’s starting to feel a bit far-fetched.
I’m not completely knocking the concept of interactive TV as a whole, though I do think it will be many years before a truly interactive TV experience catches on to the masses. I’m just saying that we as an industry need to adjust our expectations for what we think the future of television is going to look like.
Socially enabled and digitally enabled TV are also close, but still not quite there, due to the same reason: Most Americans watch TV as an escape, and they don’t want to be high-touch. They don’t want to be bothered.
There are some exceptions. Once in a while a show like “LOST” comes along where the viewer has to be highly engaged to understand what’s going on – but it’s definitely not the norm. Reality TV shows like “American Idol” do have viewer interaction through voting. Yet while audience votes do help drive who stays in the competition, they don’t have immediate impact. The result is delayed by 24 hours.
Sports programming has the most promise of any of the areas that have tested interactive and commerce-enabled television to date. Sports are aired in real time and rarely DVR’d, can be socially enabled, and might even lead to being commerce-enabled due to the immediacy of the content. And the sports audience is indeed looking to supplement the experience with stats, etc. They’re not passive. They’re highly engaged and very high touch. That interaction can be measured, and it can be utilized in a deeper fashion by the leagues, etc.
The element still to be addressed is the habit of the consumer/viewer. What are the habits that need to be changed? What environment has to be created for consumers to watch a show and spend money while they’re in a relaxed, passive mindset? That habit needs to be addressed before programmers will be able to create an environment ripe for the future of commerce-enabled interactive TV.
My bet: There needs to be a sea change in the TV landscape in order for this to happen. If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s still 15 years away.