It is apropos that this article appears at the beginning of a new year - a time of fresh starts, new ways, and unlimited possibilities. With that, what better way to start the New Year than with ... wait for it ... data! And not just any data, but data that points to what the consumers say they want, what they do, and what we ought to be giving them. Now, whether or not you listen to what the consumer is telling you and incorporate that information into your everyday planning or creative process is up to you. But I implore you to at least see this as an opportunity to step back, take a look, and start from a clean slate.
So You Want to Interact, Do You?
What kinds of technology are consumers using today? More important, what technology are consumers using while they watch TV? The 2005-'06 television season saw the birth of several groundbreaking initiatives when it came to multiplatform program viewing and interaction. From exclusive broadband and wireless content to ad-supported full-length episodic streamed programming, content owners went out on a limb. And while the successes have been touted, our data show that just watching TV is what holds the majority of the audience.
Not Now, I'm Watching TV!
For years, the promise of interactive television has been the golden ring for many a technology and media company. What makes interactive television different today than say 10 years ago is threefold: choice, two-way network, and mobility. By choice I mean programming choice. By two-way network I mean both digital cable infrastructure as satellite coupled with broadband as well as just a general IP network, such as the Web. By mobility I mean not only cellular but content that is portable and able to move across various platforms for distribution as well as consumption. But the question remains: What do consumers really want to do with their content? What do they want to do when it comes to interacting with their television programming? Well, oddly enough, they want to watch TV.
When audiences were asked how they interact or interface with various technologies while watching one of their favorite television programs (and we looked at favorites specifically because one would assume that the user is passionate and therefore motivated), they said they really just want to watch the show (73 percent). Of those that are interacting with the Web, 18 percent are surfing for information that is unrelated while only 6 percent are searching for related content. What's even more perturbing, at least to advertisers, is that if they are surfing, texting, or instant messaging, 28 percent are doing this during the commercial breaks.
Technology and the Everyman
One of the most talked-about impacts of technology on media is the portability of content. What happens when content becomes mobile? What is the impact of this kind of behavior? What are the platforms that consumers are using to watch TV programs? What is most striking is the low penetration of alternative devices for watching TV programming. With 65 percent saying that they use none of the options, a DVD player ranked highest for usage with 21 percent, but there is a precipitous drop for the DVD player on the pc desktop at home (9 percent), portable DVD player
(6 percent), and DVD on the laptop at home (6 percent); the iPod came in at 3 percent.
We have heard for months that the DVD market is on the brink of collapse; the DVD sky is, evidently, falling. Market indicators point to some interesting twists on this theory when we consider the following:
>Traditional packaged home entertainment was up in the third quarter of 2006, tracking 1 percent higher, with consumer spending at $14.7 billion for the first nine months. Yes, billion. For 2005, DVD sales were up 4.5 percent from 2004 to $15.73 billion. Again, that's billion.
>DVD penetration rate (as a percentage of TV households) was 76.2 percent, or 84 million homes, up 28.4 percent over 2004. The number of broadband households at the end of 2005 was 36.3 million, up from 28.8 in 2004.
And from the consumer research, it appears that DVDs are alive and well in the television market. DVDs rank as the second-most-used "interactive" application for television programming fans (11 percent have purchased a set of the previous season online). What is even more telling is that the interactive elements programmers are concentrating on may not be resonating all that well with online television audiences, with 7 percent watching streamed episodes of their favorite programs, 5 percent watching outtakes or promotional content, and 2 percent downloading wallpaper to their cell phones.
Now don't get me wrong - I have been on the interactive television bandwagon for more years than I care to remember. I mean, I am chairwoman of the Advanced Media Committee in New York that hands out Emmys in the category! But that doesn't mean I can't take an honest look at how the "average" TV viewer perceives and responds to all the bells and whistles being offered as part of a richer media experience. Our data show that interest remains low when it comes to interactive applications and programming enhancements. Sixty percent of viewers surveyed said they weren't interested in any interaction or enhanced experience, with DVD (again) ranking as the second-most-desirable programming extension (14 percent), followed by access to streamed episodes (13 percent), access to the program on video-on-demand (9 percent), and streamed promotional content (8 percent).
What consumers are telling us they want is not necessarily what they are acting on. So the question, really, is what the heck do they want? Someone wiser than I once said, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." For us this means answering this question: How are we going to teach the consumer to interact with programming rather than simply react? I'm not sure, but think about how much fun we are going to have finding out.
Lydia Loizides is vice president-director of technology and media experience analytics for The Consumer Experience Practice at Interpublic Media. (email@example.com)