Bringing back appointment TV
This is something I’ve experienced myself: it’s a lot more fun to watch a live event on TV when 500 of your closest friends are watching it too and Facebooking, Tweeting and Twittering about it.
Now it appears that today’s immediate social networking –update status, send a quick Tweet – could be a boon to live TV viewing. And some sort of boon is exactly what TV needs right now.
TiVo first appeared ten years ago (!) in 1999. I know I didn’t understand what it was back then, and I’m pretty sure TV executives didn’t either. But now we all know that TiVo (and the more generic DVRs that followed) allows us to watch what we want when we want, and to skip advertisements. That’s meant two big changes: the death of appointment TV, and less and less opportunities to reach huge audiences just by buying a 30-second spot in a top-rated show.
Still, some events still warrant watching live: the Super Bowl, the American Idol finale, the Grammys, the Emmys, the Oscars. And now, with social networking, watching shows live is more rewarding than ever. While we used to watch a program at night and then chat about it the next day with our coworkers – that so-called water-coooler programming — now people are watching that same program and chatting with everyone in their network during the program. It’s like having a huge viewing party in your home without having to provide one snack.
Nielsen Online took a close look at this phenomenon during the recent Oscar broadcast, and discovered the following:
– More than 1 in 10 people (11%) watched the Oscars while simultaneously using the Internet. That’s nearly four times the normal rate of simultaneous usage Nielsen observes, according to Nielsen Online’s John Burbank.
– Facebook was the most-used social networking application. People using it stayed on it for an average of 76 minutes. People averaged 30 minutes on MySpace and 20 minutes for the major portals, according to Nielsen. My own observation is that this is because there’s no other social community like Facebook that’s so immediate: you broadcast your thought to your community and they broadcast back. MySpace is a more passive form of social networking – although they are changing that – and to me, Twitter is less personalized and thus less engaging.
– People who used Facebook during the Oscars watched about 50% more of the broadcast than the average viewer – likely because they were so much more engaged with what was going on, even if it was the soul-sucking 45 minutes smack-dab in the middle of the show. The boring parts are good times to send out snarky tweets.
– Finally, Nielsen Online reports that more than 100,000 messages were twitted and tweeted during the show, more than 400 messages per minute or nearly 7 per second.
At this point, I think social networks work particularly well with big-event programming – the inauguration, the Oscars, the Super Bowl. Smaller event programming – the season finale of Lost or the George Clooney episode of ER that is coming up on Thursday night – seems less applicable. When you are Facebooking a big event, everyone pretty much knows what you are talking about. If you are Facebooking the season finale of Top Chef, many people have no clue, and then you are just annoying people with random updates. Moreover, only a fraction of your friends are watching, so the same community isn’t created. This is where I think having the ability to sort your friends into different groups — or to start a temporary group and invite friends to join for the night — and then just update to them makes sense.
It also seems like TV sites – Hulu.com, TV.com – would be perfect places for people to gather together and interact in this same way, but the difference there is that you don’t have your own community of friends you’ve known throughout your life on those sites. So you are social networking, but not with people you know. It’s really not the same.
Still, I think we’re on to something here. If TiVo divides us as a TV audience, Facebook unites us. Now the TV community needs to figure out how to use both technologies to its advantange.