I admit to being a baby boomer who is tied to certain cultural dog whistles of media past. I still choke up at iconic images of the ’68 Chicago Democratic Convention police riot and the Kent State carnage. I am riveted by Joe Cocker’s transcendent performance of “A Little Help From My friends” at Woodstock.
Much of the “The Graduate,” “Nashville,” and “Godfather” scripts are committed to memory. And if I happen to channel surf into an "SNL" rerun from the first few seasons, I can pretty much kiss the next hour goodbye.
The new "SNL" app, released in tandem with the 40th anniversary this month, is not only a stellar example of serving the nostalgia jones, but also representative of new opportunities in personal media.
The rise of mobility and this new channel for personalized media consumption is creating a renaissance in narrowcasting. Service like Fandor (art house media) and ShoutTV (retro TV and music) along with the "SNL" app show how mobile screens are opening up the content possibilities of the intimate screen.
The "SNL" app is one of the best of the type I have seen. It understands the way that generations of viewers have related to the show.
As Lorne Michaels himself has said, everyone thinks that the best cast of "SNL" was the one they experienced as a late teenager. The app lets you access substantial chunks of the show by year, by cast member and by hosts. You can search topics, guest hosts, music.
It is easy enough to assemble your own retrospective, not only of Harry Shearer’s staggeringly good filmed satire spots, but even of all the different Ronald Reagan impressions. "SNL" may have done well parsing its decades of content into DVDs and specials by topics and cast members, but this is a personalized viewing experience on a whole other level.
As networks and news organizations pour their archives online, they should take the "SNL" app as a good starting point for making that trove more than just accessible. The dial and filtering overlay here makes the boring and kludgy act of searching (keywords in a box) truly absorbing. It is an interface that lures you into exploring more. Plus, a running feed of classic bits on the top level of the app also provides serendipity and reminds you of even more things to search for.
Mobility and its native capacity for personalization create a great opportunity for narrowcasting that didn’t always pan out on the desktop Web. Having a trove of material accessible online often seemed a nice idea for nostalgia hounds like me, but the mode of presentation (Web browser, desktop) deterred most of us from regular use.
The superior design and interface capacity of the app platforms combined with the personal relationship with the screen gives these niche projects an opportunity to find both the audience and occasions to enjoy them.
Shout Factory TV launched this month with an online, mobile and OTT (via Roku) ad supported channel of retro TV, cartoons, B-films and more fodder for geeks. I love it. Watching even a few minutes of the “Mister Ed” or “Dennis the Menace” TV shows is a childhood nostalgia rush. These guys understand that the same sensibility that enjoys this kind of way-back experience also tends to appreciate the most recent “It’s Gary Shandling’s Show,” Werner Herzog films or the truly bizarre marionette series "Stingray."
I know I love them all, but my wife most certainly does not.
Hijacking the big screen TV for any of these idiosyncratic faves is not a viable prime time option in my house. It is precisely these excursions into personal taste that are perfect for the mobile/personal screen. I think these projects have a fighting chance via mobile distribution when they may not have on the desktop.
That said, I think it is imperative the media companies rethink their interfaces for both mobile and OTT. Much like the "SNL" app interface, these apps need to match the user experience and UI to the passion. As media gets more personal and experienced on this intimate level, old modes of consumption also change.
I often will consume just a portion of a retro TV show, because I am not there for the content so much as the memory or that odd cameo from Robert Duvall in “The Time Tunnel.” Discovery and viewing modes need to mature out of the TV interface that was born in the living rooms of 1950.