From Channel-Surfing To State-Of-Mind-Shifting
When we launched “TV Watch” eight years ago, the mission was to watch the people who watch TV: not consumers, per se, but the people in our industry – insiders, analysts and journalists – who shape the way we view the medium from a business perspective. On Tuesday, I received an interesting analysis from the folks at IHS Screen Digest that could, if true, change the way we look at TV forever.
The report projects that by 2016, the primary way most subscribers will receive TV won’t be from a set-top converter box, but from a variety of newer “multiscreen services,” including computers, phones, tablets, and other newfangled gadgets like “connected TV” devices. The tipping point is significant for all the obvious reasons, but today, I’d like to focus on the most fundamental – and if you ask me, most existential – of them all: What is television?
Is it a screen?
Is it a device?
Is it a form of content?
Is it a business model?
Is it an experience?
Needless to say, it is all of these things, but the exact nature of it is somewhat in the eyes and ears of the beholder.
I first learned this when I was covering television during the early 1980s. It was during the rise of cable TV, and our industry was spending a great deal of time, energy and research dollars focused on the differences between broadcast and cable.
Of course there were some real differences, including the means of transmission (though over time most of “broadcast” TV would come to be distributed by cable and satellite technology) and how many and what types of viewers each form reached. But if you asked people outside our business (you know, consumers) what television was, they would simply cite their favorite shows or channels. They didn’t care much how they received it (other than how much they might be paying for it). They cared about the content.
In fact, in its earliest days, cable was not defined as a distribution medium, but by its content. People didn’t “subscribe to cable,” they “got HBO” or they “wanted MTV.” The rest was just semantics, because fundamentally, they were experiencing television – more or less – the same way, regardless of whether it came from an antenna, a dish or a coaxial or fiber optic cable. Viewers watched it on screens that were in one or more rooms of their house, in the houses of their neighbors, or sometimes communally in a bar or student center, etc.
But the shift that’s taking place now is different, because it significant alters how, when, where and why people experience television across a multitude of screens that can dramatically alter the context of what the medium means. And it’s not just time-shifting and place-shifting, though those are significant factors being enabled by the shift toward what Screen Digest calls “multiscreen services.” The bigger shift is what I would call “mind-shifting.” Or maybe a better term would be “state-of-mind-shifting.”
Over the last couple of years, I’ve written a lot about some new research indicating that the screen on which people experience content, and the setting where the screen is watched, dramatically affect the way people experience content. Boston-based Innerscope Research even came up with a model for understanding it. Dubbed the “Brand Immersion Model,” the technique plots the relative experience a user has with a screen, with axis points representing how immersed a user is in the screen experience vs. how “flexible” the experience is.
Obviously, there are a lot of factors influencing how people experience content on a screen, including the nature and quality of the content, the individuals experiencing it, and the setting they are in, but Innerscope’s research found that a conventional television experience is generally more immersive than some of the kinds of “multiscreen services” (computers and hand-held devices) that Screen Digest says are becoming the dominant television platform.
Those devices tend to be more “flexible,” meaning users are apt to do other things while on their computer or hand-held device, like communicate via email, browse other content, take a call, tweet, etc. Innerscope recently presented updated findings of this research with client Fox Broadcasting during the Advertising Research Foundation’s Audience Measurement Conference in New York, which reinforced the notion that – in general – people are more engaged when they are watching television than when they are using more flexible screens.
The big question is what happens when users are consuming content originally created for television on screens and in situations that are more flexible than a traditional TV set. Innerscope Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer Dr. Carl Marci told me this is an area the company hopes to study more in the future. That’s probably a good idea, because if Screen Digest is right, more people will soon be watching “television” on something other than a television set.