Deconstructing TV Linearity: CNN Super-Duper Serves The News Addict

CNN recently rolled out a limited-release test of a remarkable use of personal apps to create a fully personalized, hyper-interactive model for on-demand video. I have been using it for the last couple of weeks and find it a compelling example of how linear TV programming can be deconstructed, rearranged and rewound.

CNNx for iPad is kind of a super console that on the surface gives the user access to the last 24 hours of CNN TV programming in a form that is broken down by segment. So for any given show I am watching now or have missed, I can back up into the specific story in a small timeline box.

The first thing that strikes you about this app is the pleasure of high responsiveness. You tap a segment in the timeline and it snaps onto the monitor window faster than most TV remotes work. This has a subtle impact on the way you use the app to sample video clips in much the same way you might sample an RSS feed. Once the expectation of lag is eliminated, any inhibition to devour and trawl content drops. This is no small thing. YouTube and some TV networks could learn from this. There are ways of constructing digital video experiences that allow for a kind of sampling that is usually associated with text or images.

The other real win here is the way picking a segment prompts the app to wrap the larger thread of reporting around it. As soon as you choose a segment, it appears in the main video screen, but then triggers previous reporting on the item and associated topics to roll into a bottom rail. The descriptors are rich enough to see how each element is amplifying or providing background for the story.

The only issue here is the limited time frame of the background stories. The rail of related content seems too narrow to me. There were also instances when the related story area seemed broken, with no items available. Still, the feel of being surrounded by the story at hand is impressive. Some other news apps have been doing them well too. The next layer needed here is re-indexing the content by story threads rather than the broadcast timeline. I should be able to blow apart the vestiges of the linear TV structure and have the app scramble all of the content around the top news topics.

I think we are also getting closer to being able to manage multimedia within the context of apps. One of the things I like about this and the Fox News app is the way you can work multiple screens of different kinds of content. In the case of CNNx the TV screen shrinks into a corner while you read articles or swipe through related articles. The next stage is to widen the scope of multiscreen browsing and allow the user to keep the stream running while she browses the full range of CNN text and image content.

But the CNNx project follows a fascinating trend in media apps lately -- enhancing the media experience. After years of simply getting content from the Web and TV into apps, developers are starting to focus on the ways in which a highly personalized, portable, always-on touch interface can redefine how media is consumed not just distributed. We have Amazon doing some under-appreciated work in their Kindle devices and apps, for instance. They are enhancing ebooks and now movies with embedded reference materials. CNN and Fox News are letting the user play with their media. The modes of media consumption for over a century have been defined by a fairly static set of technology platforms that dictated how information could be absorbed. The Web indicated how interactivity could change that, although arguably the desktop setting was not always conducive to richer media consumption. The personal device -- part TV screen, part virtual magazine, part radio -- finally brings all of this interactive potential together with a platform that invites more play.

For marketers, these new multitasking modes of on-demand media access have to open up more native ad experiences. If the user can play with their core media content, then they can play with the advertising or commercial content more readily too. The static modes of media consumptions invited and even necessitated interruptive forms of advertising. Now that genuine, fun interactivity and multitasking are becoming a part of the new media experience, marketers should be re-imagining their own messaging so that it fits seamlessly not only into the content but into the mode of media use too. You need to think about being more than native to the content but native to the experience. 

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