Is Technology Driving or Killing Live TV?
Technology is changing TV faster than ever before. For over 10 years TV evolution has been on a path to provide us with what we want, when we want to watch it. It’s a great premise; TV should be there for us, not the other way around.
Digital channels, satellite, and cable all gifted us with a multi-channel experience with box office hourly starts and red button channel services, and that was before the internet started providing us with a far easier way to distribute video on demand via IP.
We consumed everything in massive amounts and our desire for personalization continued even further. We now expect our favourite programmes to follow us around on handheld screens, laptops, or whatever device we have to hand.
THE LIVE GAME
With advancing technology, some were predicting the death of live TV. It seemed only sporting events, elections and breaking news would ever pull us into the same room again and the water cooler moment was over.
TV was dancing to the beat of our drum and custom built EPGs were just around the corner, who doesn’t want personalized channels? The price was simple; control what you’d like to see, or just give up enough of your viewing habits and an algorithm will figure out the rest.
RISE OF MULTI-SCREENING
However in the last few years something started to change the TV landscape.
Tablets started to appear on our sofas instead of the Radio Times, we were writing emails on our laptops and teenagers were engrossed in smartphones, messaging about what they were watching as they watched it. Then suddenly social media started creeping into our once-exclusive experience of watching a solitary television programme.
It spread quickly. Event TV started to become event again.
Our social in-the-room TV watching experience was being replaced by a social virtual-web one. Live shows started generating huge narrated Twitter and Facebook traffic, not just one-off events like The Brits, but shows like The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, Britain’s Got Talent and Question Time.
Quality dramas too are starting to receive attention: in January 2012 Sherlock received over 1000 tweets per second during the final episode. The water cooler had been virtualized and brought to the here and now; time-shift and you are already 10 seconds out of date.
It wasn’t long before there was a tipping point and multi-screening became the norm for some shows. A survey of X Factor viewers recently showed that 51% used Facebook at the same time as watching the show, whilst Twitter is now as influential as the judges with regards to how people vote on the show. With the Twitter user base recently topping 500 million and Facebook setting its sights on one billion there are plenty of willing participants.
Technology isn’t just driving live TV via social media. Content producers are innovating and trying new avenues. Channel 4’s The Million Pound Drop live Flash-based browser game pulled the viewer back to the live show to counter-act time-shifting (and valuable missed advertising revenue), and drew in new viewers for the gamification aspects.
FX UK commissioned a companion app for The Walking Dead based on the tweets its viewers were posting at the time of the show. The app even synchronizes live reacting instantly to zombie extermination.
With new social and gaming tools arming content producers, channels and broadcasters alike, live TV looks like it will stay very much that.
What do you think? Is technology aiding or eroding live TV viewership? Will multi-screening and social TV go mainstream?