Over the past 30 years we’ve evolved the television experience from something where everybody watched the same shows on the same channels on the same devices in the same rooms at the same time to a world where that’s almost never the case. Today, with the exception of appointment TV, it’s such a fragmented landscape that it’s almost a challenge to find other people watching the same stuff you do. But with all the variance in content, services, devices, location, price, etc, there’s still really only two ways people choose to watch TV. This is a subtle, but extremely important concept to anyone in the business of changing television.
Deliberate viewing: you go to the TV with a specific piece of content in mind. This includes live TV (“let’s watch Idol at 8pm tonight”), your DVR (“I need to watch last night’s 30 Rock”), and any VOD/OTT platform such as Comcast OnDemand, Netflix, Hulu, etc (“I’m going to watch the first season of Breaking Bad”). We could also include a deliberate type of content in this category (“I’m going to watch a comedy” – not necessarily something you’d say out loud, but if you are in the mood for something funny, that’s a pretty deliberate concept). I also refer to deliberate viewing as “search mode” for TV, since you will specifically search for the piece of content you want, whether by changing the channel, navigating your OnDemand menu, or going to your DVR library.
Random viewing: you go to the TV with no idea what you want to watch. This includes simple channel surfing (“nope, next!”) as well as direct channel changing (“I wonder if anything good is on TNT now. Maybe Shawshank or Blues Brothers??”). It also includes browsing the OnDemand options (“I wonder if there’s anything new on Netflix?”) and even your DVR (“Maybe we recorded something we haven’t watched yet?”). I also refer to random viewing as “browse mode” for TV, since you are just perusing lists of stuff until you find something you are content to watch. Note the last phrasing here, as random viewing is less about the “excitement” factor of watching something deliberately, and more about the “good enough to pass the time” factor, with the potential for excitement.
Now for the cold, hard fact: any “future TV” service or product which doesn’t account for both types of TV viewing, will fail. This includes OTT services, smart TV apps, second screen apps, third screen apps, eighth screen apps, widgets, websites, gadgets, platforms, and everything else under the hood. Again, if you cannot service both primary needs of a viewing audience, your system is a goner – unless, that is, you are specifically aiming to replace an existing component of those services (in other words – if your live TV service is designed to replace another live TV service, that’s viable, since the consumer’s ecosystem will still include whatever else it had before).
How do I back this up without cold, hard facts? Because people don’t really change much, and TV, specifically, is not merely “another” activity up there with Angry Birds, Facebook, Pinterest, reading books, etc. Watching TV is a very specific type of activity, one about entertainment and more importantly, escape. Life is hard, TV lets you escape for a period of your day – why on earth would Americans spend 4-8 HOURS per day in front of it otherwise?
So if people don’t change, and people need escape (especially as they age – I’m not talking about 13 year olds here, for the most part), they need some version of deliberate and random lean back TV watching. Could this include YouTube videos? Sure. How about an all-on demand lineup? Doubtful. How about a “TV is just an app” concept? Doubtful. It’s why most cord-cutting theories aren’t holding water. It’s why #SocialTV is still mostly just a fad. It’s why most “second screen” apps are just barely gaining traction. It’s why Google TV is such a mess right now. It’s why Apple TV is still a hobby. Sure, these things work absolutely great for some, but absolutely don’t for most.
The future of TV involves a lot of change. And the more things change, the more they stay the same. Long live TV.
Jeremy, keen insights as always. I am the type of person who never — seriously, never — engages in random viewing. I don’t have time for it. I’m not trying to insult those who do, I’m just saying that I am all about the deliberate viewing.
So, while I think your argument is probably correct, it pains me, because I desperately want new “future of TV” services and products that make my deliberate viewing more fun and rewarding. I’m worried that if TV-tech entrepreneurs feel they have to throw out idea after idea because they don’t meet your dual criteria, innovation will slow to a crawl.
I suspect — or rather, I hope — that what’s happening here is that the market is diverging and that cord-cutting deliberate viewers like myself will eventually be seen as a legitimate and worthwhile market, all by ourselves.
Excellent post and I agree with most of it. Most ‘future’ TV services focus only on tyhe deliberate viewing – indeed, the random viewing aspect of TV runs almost counter to the ‘on demand’ mentality. My work indicates that most viewing is of the random variety and that channel schedules are a really efficient way of satisfying it most of the time, whereas the ‘whaddaya want?” approach by Google et al works really poorly in a TV viewing environment – possibly the main reason why Google have not been able to create a significant niche within the TV market.
I have a similar theory that ties in nicely to this: Active or Passive viewing. Passive is when you have the TV on as background noise: something that happens a lot more than the industry admits. Your attention is focused elsewhere – could be anything from reading the newspaper to making dinner to replying to a day’s worth of email. So what’s on is less important than what’s making soothing TV-noises.
To your original point, this is an issue with discovery engines. There’s very little focus on the natural behavior process here:
1. I know what I want to watch in general (e.g. a romantic comedy from the past 30 years) or 2. I have no idea, point me to something I might like. But even there, some input from the viewer is going to lead to a more satisfying resolution than random guesses based on previous habits.
THis is not a radical idea, bur rather how a knowledgeable clerk in an old school video store would have approached the same scenario.