The Co-Viewing Experience

About a year ago I was fortunate enough to meet with Ewan McIntosh while he was Digital Commissioner for Channel 4’s 4IP project. We waxed in the workshop about how many of us commonly pay attention to three screens at once – when we’re watching TV; we have our laptops and mobile phones beside us.

4IP’s remit was daring for the time. The core message I got was “no TV”. This wasn’t about audiences, it was about interactive, it might work alongside something that was TV and it might result in TV, but it wasn’t about TV.

Today I see this (emphasis mine):

Magazines and newspapers aren’t the only media eying big benefits upon the iPad’s arrival: TV is poised to use the device in new ways, including creating interactive, social apps designed to be used while watching live programming.

MTV Networks, for example, is developing a “co-browsing app meant to be used while watching live TV,” said one executive familiar with MTV’s iPad plans. “This means the iPad could be the appendage that makes interactive TV a reality.”

“Fifty-nine percent of people are multitasking when watching TV — that’s something we’ve always known,” said Ms. Frank, referring to recent Nielsen data quantifying a longstanding observation. “This is the next evolution.”

Of course it is.

When I watch TV, I have my laptop open. I’m looking up things, referencing actors, events, checking for the locations mentioned. (Frankly, it’s a little bit tiring.) But most importantly this is content that could be sold or advertised upon – it could be monetised by the television station, provided by the content producer on a platform that offers the content alongside the regular programming.

For example, while I’m watching Wonders of the Solar System with the very smart and cheerful Professor Brian Cox. I’m chatting to friends about the content, I’m following the good Professor on Twitter and I’m thinking about stuff such as:

Screen shot 2010-03-30 at 17.14.34

which ended up being answered by the Professor himself. Insanely cool.

TV shows are set to a timetable, we know ahead of time when they stop or start.And there’s more possibility for peripheral web sites to offer content which is synchronised with broadcast. This idea isn’t terribly new – Nico (who now works at UTV) wrote about it on his blog:

Whatever the future of TV, it is clear that online and social media are going to play an increasing part in how and where we consume broadcast media. Being part of a shared media experience, even if you are on your own, will be the shape of things to come.

There’s an opportunity for local television companies to build a much bigger proposition, to actually deliver on the “360” that is buzzword in television commissioning. It should be about the ‘web site’, it’s about the co-viewing experience.

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  1. The “it’s not about TV” was something that I was never too convinced by, given that the research I and colleagues in Education had done showed TV still had more pull over teens – even if they spent marginally more time on the net – than any other media. But it was more to guide people away from producing traditional cross-platform ideas, which 4 does already, and producing more web-first, TV-second ideas. We did change tune by about Jan last year, with developments like TestTubeTelly and MirrorMe, for example, has tie-ins with Embarrassing Bodies.

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