Sunday, February 28, 2010

Feb 10 - Interactive TV

When I was living in the UK a few years back, MTV regularly broadcast shows where the audience was encouraged to interact, and seemingly participate, with a show by sending text messages.

During the course of the programme, the text messages ran across the bottom of the screen. Much like the news feed used by CNN and other news channels these days.

More recently I’ve noticed this type of viewer interaction has shifted from text messages to Twitter. From Masterchef to New Inventors, if you logon to Twitter during any popular TV show you will always find people commenting on aspects of the show.

As yet, this Twitter stream is not being utilised by the TV networks, but it can’t be far away. In fact, I predict that coverage of the next federal election will almost certainly feature a Twitter stream scrolling across the bottom of the screen.

The best use of Twitter/TV interaction at the moment is the ABC’s panel discussion programme Q&A. Throughout the show viewers are invited to add the programme’s hash-tag, #qanda, to their tweets about the show.

By entering the hash-tag #qanda into the Twitter search function, users are able to follow a stream of Q&A related tweets. For me, and many others I’m sure, this greatly enhances the viewing experience.

It does, however, require you to watch TV and follow Twitter at the same time. Some people might roll their eyes at the thought of that, but it’s probably a lot more common than you realise.

In a study conducted by YouTube in December of last year, 36% of broadband users in the UK said that they had the TV and internet on in the same room every day.

On weekdays, the time when this TV/internet multitasking was most likely to happen was 8pm. Ask any TV executive and they’ll tell you that’s primetime in TV land.

So if primetime TV is also the time when around a third of people are also on the internet, how much longer can it be considered primetime? Unless of course you are able to create TV programming that utilises the web to expand or enhance viewing.

This type of viewing has given rise to the term continuous partial attention. This is a much more accurate description than multitasking I think.

When you multitask you are focussed on doing more than one thing and doing it well. When I “watch and web”, my attention is on both media, but with constantly varying levels of attention.

The best explanation of continuous partial attention comes, I think, from noted technology writer and consultant, Linda Stone;

“Continuous partial attention is motivated by a desire to be a live node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.”

So why do so many of us feel the need to do many things at once, when we could be relaxing? According to Stoner, “We pay continuous partial attention in an effort not to miss anything.”

Of course it could easily be argued, that doing multiple things at the same time, that none of them are getting the attention they deserve. Given the disposable nature of much TV programming, I doubt that’s really a problem.

If it is a problem, and I’m not convinced that it is, then how do we explain the success of the interaction between Q&A viewers and twitter? I suspect it comes down to the audience of the show.

Q&A is intelligent television. It is a programme that generates debate. By encouraging viewers to tweet, it is inviting them to become participants in the show.

Obviously they’re only participating with other viewers. But I’m sure it won’t be long until Q&A style twitter streams become commonplace for many of our TV shows.


Linda Stone



Linda Stone said...

Great post, Stan! What came first -- continuous partial attention or the changes in the CNN and MTV screens, adding CPA-loving features? I began to notice CPA behavior in GenX and others in 1997. I noticed features catering to continuous partial attention (CPA) shortly after that. What do you recall?

Jeffry Pilcher said...

The people running TV are living in the Stone Age.

Ten or 20 years from now, TV watching will be NOTHING like what it is today. There will be no more cables. No more waiting for a show to air. No more "channels" (in the sense that we know them). And there will be a lot more interactivity, as Stan points out.

The improvements that can be made to today's TV watching experience are unbelievably obvious. Yet the industry loves taking baby steps -- V-chip, HD, digital broadcast -- whoopty doo...

Jeffry Pilcher said...

And don't forget... There are still people heading up TV networks today who said 20 years ago that the market couldn't bear- and didn't need more than four or five channels of content.

It's embarrassing how behind and out-of-touch the TV industry is when you really start thinking about it.

FiBendall said...

Hi Stan, brilliant post. I couldn't agree with you more. When it was election time, I thought this would be a brilliant feature - live integrated tweets across the screen. Even better if there is a live debate on the Internet Censorship plans or during parliaments Q&A. So many applications to really bring the interactive component to TV.