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Our Changing Relationship with TV

Two of the most popular television shows in American history, Lost and 24, ended their runs Sunday and Monday, respectively. I’ve never seen a full episode of either – mostly because I could watch other things instead.

Today’s media landscape is radically different from the days when the nation would gather around the television and watch the same show. There are simply more choices, and I don’t have to settle for what’s on broadcast or cable. I’d rather watch an old episode of Arrested Development than a new one of 24, and because of DVD’s and streaming sites like Hulu, I now can do just that. And I’m not the only one taking advantage of  this – others in the Millennial generation are doing the same. While we are watching the same amount of television overall, more and more of it is being watched on a computer screen, rather than sitting on a couch, in front of a TV.

There are many theories as to why this is – busy schedules certainly have something to do with it – but one important one is that watching traditional broadcast or cable television, to some extent, cuts Millennials off from their social lives and from consuming other media. And according to the Economist Special Report on Television, media companies are concerned by developments that move consumption away from the TV itself.

But a few great new innovations powered by social media are changing the calculus for watching television. It’s a set of technologies collectively called “Social TV”, and it’s gaining traction among big players in the media space. Last year, Verizon announced that it would add Twitter and Facebook widgets to its FiOS service, allowing viewers to watch their friends’ reactions to on-screen events in real time. A number of televisions are shipping with this functionality on-board as well. And finally,  Google TV promises to bring the social experience to your living room television, via a set top box running its mobile operating system, Android.

This idea of shared experience is one development that could lead me back to watching live television. The idea of reading my friends’ thoughts on a TV show in real time is exciting enough, but can you imagine, say, watching an episode of The Office and getting live commentary from Rainn Wilson? Or getting a hockey play explained by former All-Star Brendan Shanahan?

The possibilities for marketers in this space are endless. If the idea of social TV catches on, brands have a unique opportunity to provide in-program value. For example, if you do product placement, you can use Twitter to identify the on-screen product and provide a link to purchase. But in a more general sense, if watching TV becomes attractive to Millennials again, your return on traditional TV advertising (remember that?) goes up, too.

MLC Members, for the latest on the world of social media, please visit our Social Media Topic Center.

(Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Phrenzee)

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