Interactivity, social networking line up to save television

Jim BartholdTelevision, like the Frankenstein monster, is alive--jolted back to life by elements many thought would eventually kill it: interactivity and social networking.

Strange as it seems, it appears people don't really enjoy sitting in front of their computer screens for hours on end. They might even consider it (gasp!) work. When it's time to relax, they want to sit back and watch television.

The difference with today's computer-bred generation and the couch potatoes of old is that today's viewers want to exercise more than their thumbs or the occasional finger switching channels between reality shows. They actually want to exercise their minds by interacting with the formerly static device. Older Americans used to shout at the screen; younger, more hip ones want to interact with it.

At least that's what FourthWall Media claims in a new study of American TV watching habits. It seems, hard as this might be for the Silicon Valley folks to believe, people are quite willing to step away from their computers and smartphones and deposit themselves in TVLand. The only thing that could make the experience better, according to Ellen Dudar, FourthWall's chief product officer and co-founder in the company's news release, would be the ability to sit back and talk back.

"They want one-click engagement with their favorite programs, movies and even commercials," she said--losing some credibility with the part about commercials, as the only interaction that's appropriate with commercials is a rotten tomato or a fresh raspberry. "Apps that deliver immersive experiences and increased convenience to satisfy this consumer appetite are the next killer apps."

There are, of course, caveats galore. First, one must wonder how savvy the audience might be if, as FourthWall maintains in its news release, consumers "indicate resounding interest in using their standard cable remote to submit 'American Idol' votes.'" Give them all this neat 21st Century technology and that's the best they can come up with? Vote off the clown that even Ellen DeGeneres doesn't like? That's a sad commentary.

But I digress. The important point is that people want the interactivity they've come to know and love on their computers and their smartphones on their TVs. It is an affirmation of the premise that the medium is the mental massage.

Serendipitously, because, of course, these kinds of things are never intentional, at the same time FourthWall was saying people want more interactive TV, CTAM released a survey that said 79 percent of social networkers would likely watch a TV show based on a recommendation from a friend via a social networking site. They'd probably change the channel even faster if that friend made the suggestion via a TV with social networking capabilities.

Again, what these people might watch is depressing but irrelevant. That they would do so on a TV rather than a cell phone, PDA, iPad or computer is relevant. The CTAM study offered up a further bit of information: 39 percent of those who don't currently connect their TVs to their computers would like to do so. That's not dismaying news; it's just their knee-jerk reaction to keeping the cord connected to the computer.

After all, these are the viewers who were raised on the idea of interactivity by computer; moving that structure over to the TV has to be a little frightening for a generation of viewers generally assumed to be on the forefront of cutting the cord to the TV, not the other way around.

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