Mar 20, 2012

I'm Not Really Watching: Active vs Passive Viewing and Social TV




Quick question: when you’re watching TV, do you talk during the entire show? When the commercials come on (provided you’re not skipping through them) do you only think and talk about the show you’ve been watching?

I’m guessing the answer is no. So then why does so much of the activity in the social TV space assume the opposite?

Yes, a lot of people watch TV with a second screen device in hand. But there’s no logical path that says they are using that device solely to interact with whatever is on the screen. Chances are high that if they’ve whipped out the iPhone, they are checking email, looking at a friend’s Facebook photos, checking the score of the game they’re not watching or some other activity completely unrelated to the what’s on TV.

That’s because people often turn on the TV just to have some sort of background distraction. Call that “passive viewing.” Reading email and half-watching American Idol aren’t incompatible. Neither is going on the Fox website and looking up the bio of a contestant who captures our attention. They’re just two of the many things we might do during a passive viewing experience.

What about shows that aren’t just background noise? Shows we look forward to and actually care about what’s happening. Call that “active viewing.”  Logic dictates that if you are engrossed in a program, you are not going to wander off to look up the IMdB profile of the lead actor or open up TweetDeck to see if anyone else is tweeting about the District Attorney’s pink shoes.

That’s the thing about chat: there are events where we want to spend the entire time talking exclusively about what is happening onscreen: football games, political debates, reality game show finales. But those are the exception, not the rule. During active viewing we’re far more likely to give our undivided attention to what’s happening on the screen, to the point of letting phone calls go unanswered. During passive viewing, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to spend a time talking about a program we’re only casually watching.

All of which weighs in favor of a Social EPG: an application whose primary purpose is discovery: a nicely designed listing of all the programming options available to us and the ability to change the channel.

Everything else is just gravy: which shows our friends are watching, which ones they’ve liked, who is in the cast, what, if anything, are people saying about it. That’s all information we might want to have before we hit “Watch Now.”  Any “second screen experience” is unlikely to be the focus of our attention for shows we are actively watching and likely to be just one of several outlets during shows we are passively watching. A social EPG just a really useful tool, one that provides us with all the social and related data we need.

In other words, it’s not a magic bullet. Just a really powerful one.



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