Passive TV

On any given evening when I get home from work, I have dinner to cook, animals to feed, a child to care for and various household chores to complete. I’m being pulled in several different ways (not necessarily a bad thing) and one of the consequences of this busy lifestyle is that we have little time to watch television. We make choices about what to watch or record (TiVo) based on not just quality (Lost) or convenience (late-night Newlyweds), but also on what shows engage us, make us talk, think or want to participate after the show is over and the television is off. This simple fact got me to thinking:

TV will not survive in it’s current incarnation for much longer. A fairly bold, declaritive statement, I know, but I truly believe that we’re on the precipice of a new day in which the old strategies and tactics will not work any longer.

We live in an increasingly interactive world and the days of traditional, programmed media like TV and Radio are numbered now that we have time-shifting DVR boxes like TiVo and place-shifting devices like iPods for Podcasts.

And yes, I did just blockquote myself, but television networks and shows must do a better job of engaging people during that negative space between airings that viewers call their lives. We as programmers, marketers and purveyors of televised entertainment have to find auxillary and ancillary ways to attract and retain the attention of our audience. We have to take advantage of the new “citizen’s media” and let our fans be our marketers, spreading our brand message and our shows by word of mouth. We have to realize that the 21st century is full of media (games, internet, cellphones) where people can become actively involved in not just enjoying the experience but also creating and remixing that experience.

One cable network that has really embraced the love of it’s fans and the new technology available is SciFi. I’ll admit that although I have a predisposition towards science fiction programming, I haven’t watched SciFi regularly since Farscape was cancelled. I’m no Richard Dean Anderson fan and so I never got into StarGate SG1 and I had no interest in anything with the moniker Battlestar Galactica, until recently.

Since the show’s second season began, SciFi.com has had the executive producer, Ronald D. Moore, keep a blog regarding the production process. Just recently they added the most impressive piece, a podcast, to their site. The podcast features Ronald D. Moore discussing the filming process of that week’s episode just like a commentary track on a DVD.

Just let that sink in for a minute.

On a weekly basis people can automatically have this commentary downloaded to the music player of their choice and augment their viewing experience immeasurably by hearing his words. They’re watching the show in a different way then the rest of us. They’re getting something more than just 40+ minutes of TV. They’re involved in the show.

Imagine how many people are watching this show just to gain that extra insight. How many new viewers were likewise incented to watch because of this technology – this discussion – that the producer is having directly with the fans? I’m not saying that the blog or podcast are the exclusive motivating factors, but that’s an attractive combination over some other shows which barely have message boards online. Given the choice between your average sitcom or hour-long drama and something like this show that has a producer talking directly to fans on his blog and in actual audio, which would rather watch?

Think about your own favorite show. Wouldn’t you get a lot more enjoyment out of show that connected with you in these ways? Consider the Wil Wheaton example. He appeared on a show I don’t watch, CSI, and blogged so heavily and passionately about his experiences in front of and behind the camera that I watched the episode. I’m not ready to declare myself a CSI fanatic or add a season pass, but the extra insight and information definitely convinced me to watch.

SciFi has done something even better than blogging or podcasting, though. They allowed anyone to watch the entire first episode of the series, commercial-free, online. That’s an absolutely brilliant idea. Let people catch up/get hooked by a freebie, loop them into fandom by giving them direct access to the production process (blog) and keep them coming back for more by offering an exclusive content piece that sweetens their regular viewing habits (podcast). They’re using the full compliment of online tools available to them to help make this show a success and continue its growth over time.

If TV wants to be the choice of viewers in the future, we’ve got to give them more entertainment in more ways and more places than just the “boob tube” of the past. If I were in the position to influence online/technology decisions for a cable network ( ;-) ), I’d tell the executives to take note of what SciFi has done. They won’t be the last network, cable or broadcast, to follow this formula. Certainly not if I have anything to say about it.

2 thoughts on “Passive TV

  1. Bill,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. Replay Radio sounds like very cool software.

    My main purpose in writing this post was to draw attention to the fact that there are very few “old media” types that are using “new media” effectively. One reason could be that these new media don’t grant as much control as TV, Radio or Newspaper. Another reason might be that they haven’t yet figured out how to “monetize” what they do online – that is, how to make money on it.

    I agree that average people want more control over their media. Average people have less and less time and more and more alternatives. Average people need more of a reason to watch TV or listen to the radio.

    I don’t think that having old media types using these new technologies will alter the landscape much, but it might bring more folks to the table. Right now, not many of these average people read blogs, let alone run them. Big, old media could widen that audience. The same thing is true for podcasting, vlogging and any of the other new buzz-fads of the moment.

    My overall point is that the future will be increasingly interactive and cluttered. TV and radio are already cluttered with ads and increasingly threatened by more and more competitors in the cable/satellite space. If they would embrace new technologies, they could be seen as pioneers and perhaps create new audiences for both their traditional and exploratory services.

    But what do I know? I just work there. :-)

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