Whose Research Is It, Anyway?

I've always been bemused by the view that "people don't want to interact with their TV.  All they want to do is sit back and watch."

It seems to overlook the fact that we already interact with TV content in ways ranging from using our remotes for navigating the program guide, managing our DVRs and selecting from the VOD options available, through sitting on the edge of our seats and shouting at sports events (NFL play-offs anyone?), answering questions aloud during game shows and making phone votes for contestants in talent shows ("American Idol," etc.).

It's also a view that wholly overlooks ample evidence from overseas that people are willing to engage in a more multi-faceted relationship with their TV (and face it, folks, people who watch TV are pretty much alike throughout the developed markets -- hence the international success of so many programs and formats).

It's a view, then, that in my opinion amounts to little more than a failure of imagination.

Don't get me wrong, however.  Although I believe that interactivity is undoubtedly coming to a TV near you, I don't believe that all viewers will interact with all content all of the time (even though in time they may like the option to do so).

So it was interesting to see a release yesterday on a study from Harris Interactive that looks into attitudes toward remote-control-based interactive functionality on TV.  One finding that surprised me, to the point of being bizarre, was the that "72% of viewers indicated they are currently using their remote controls for simple tasks such as finding favorite programs using the on-screen TV guide, scheduling or selecting DVR recordings and for viewing content on-demand".  So that's 28% who employ the power of telepathy, indentured servants or a long wooden stick?  It seems an awfully large number to consign to the losing side of the battle for control of the remote on every occasion.

Leaving that aside, though, the highlights were:

Viewers want advanced interactive television functionality across every genre of programming and advertising:

  • 72% of those who watch reality TV shows want to interact with those shows
  • 65% of those who watch sporting events on TV want to interact with those events
  • 66% of viewers want to interact with commercial advertising
  • 50% of those who watch drama TV shows indicated that they would be interested in interacting with those shows

I haven't been able to lay my hands on details of the actual questions asked at the time of writing, but certainly the top-line numbers are good news for anyone involved in the sector, at least as far as we can be led by what people tell us they would do.

The reality, of course, is that people really don't know what they'll do when confronted by an offering as unfamiliar as interactive TV -- but even if we take what would seem to be a harsh view and discount the numbers above by around 50%, they still make for a good starting point.  All we have to do, then, is ensure a decent user experience, a sound advertiser proposition for all that extra inventory that is created, and a pricing model that makes sense for all.

Word is that more research of this type is in the pipeline, but to my mind it would be great to see more of it funded by parties who aren't also seeking to prove the validity of their proposition.  Inevitably, they need to do their own research, but whatever gets shared with the market -- though conducted by credible companies like Harris -- isn't going to see the light of day unless it's good news.

This particular study was funded by one of the leading software and services providers in the space, Ensequence -- a company that doesn't need to strive for credibility, having fully established its reputation.  But just for a brief, idealistic (and unrealistic) moment, I'd love to think that someone on the buy side of the equation might actually step up and fund some of this type of research to inform the market in an objective way.  After all, buyers also benefit from doing business in a well-informed way.

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