Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Once upon a time, we used to watch TV by appointment. Families gathered together around a tiny screens - screens that were even smaller than our current laptop screens - and share the experience of watching a program together. Even earlier than that, families used to sit around their radios and "watch" their favorite comedies, dramas and adventures.

Whether it was the Jack Benny Show on radio or the amazing Thursday night lineup on NBC in the 1990s, for the better part of half a century, we enjoyed entertainment when the broadcasters decided we should. What's that, you say? You work on Thursday nights? Sorry, but that's when our show airs.

To a certain extent, the VCR solved that dilemma, but it was cumbersome and required a commitment from the user. With the advent of the DVR, the process is much cleaner - no piles of tapes, no flashing 12:00 - and viewers can skip over the commercials quickly. Now, with streaming video from the likes of Netflix and today's announcement from Amazon, the option of play-on-demand is more diversified and available than ever. We can watch programming when, how and on which devices we choose.

Such a variety of choice - being able to view programs on devices such as phones, netbooks, laptops and tablets - fractures our communal viewing habits. Whether we're commuting, passing time while waiting to meet someone, or simply curled up on the couch, we have own own screens - and many of them. Long gone are the days of a single screen around which we could gather to watch our favorite program.

What's Old is New Again
But there's something interesting happening at the same time. While one might expect these fractured viewing habits to lead to more isolated experiences, new communications platforms and technologies are making it possible for us to recapture this collective experience. In a comment on a Facebook post regarding a Freep article ("TV watchers look to Web for instant analysis, laughs"), I called this the "digital living room," in which we have the ability to have a shared experience once again.

One recent Fast Company articles point out how appointment TV has returned, because of none other than Twitter. If one watches the flow of commentary and topics that trend up during popular shows, it's easy to see how viewers are sharing their experience with each other and offering their own stream of commentary. Fans who have TiVo'd their programs had better steer clear of Twitter while their favorite programs are on, lest they have a barrage of spoilers come their way. Indeed, American Idol and Dancing With the Stars winners are usually blurted out on microblogging sites first. In another article, Fast Company called Twitter TV's killer app.

I actually had this experience first hand a few months ago. PBS contcted me and asked that I host a live Twitter chat (promoted through my other blog) during the premiere of a much-hyped new show. The statistics were impressive, showing a very healthy interaction in a limited time period around a very specific subject. Viewers were able to have questions answered by an expert, and they collectively shared their enthusiasm and surprise throughout the course of the show and afterward.

What does it mean for brands?

The fear of skipped ads has been palpable over the last few years. Advertisers are spending more and more of their budget trying to be creative and break through the clutter. What's to bring a brand back into the conversation?

One way would be to capture the moment through a chat on Twitter. By selecting some high-profile Twitter user in your brand's niche, you'd have a credible authority who is able to hold a convincing and intriguing set of conversations around your product.

For additional technology resources, platforms like GetGlue, Miso and IntoNow provide alternatives for a variety of devices and for a variety of entertainment content. Each give viewers a chance to connect and share - but more importantly, services like this give brands a chance to connect as well. I can just imagine a brand that integrates a creative and interactive element around a television program that involves one of its products - either as product placement or as an ad - and requires some action of the viewers. Ideally, this interaction would take place beyond the 30 or 60 minutes of the program and continue into some other meaningful engagement.

Technologically, these are exciting times. When the technology allows us to reclaim some of the round-the-fire element of our humanity, it's encouraging that we're not simply living separate yet connected lives.

What do you think?

Image credit: brizzle born and bred (Flickr)