Claire Tavernier: Two Competing Trends – But Live is Winning

17th July 2013

A few weeks ago, I spent an entire day reading my Twitter feed with my hand over my eyes.

This was the day after the finale of Broadchurch on ITV. Everyone was discussing the killer. But I hadn’t seen the episode yet, having decided to time-shift for convenience reasons. Managing to stay “unspoilt” for 24 hours proved an extraordinarily complex feat.

More recently, the webosphere was abuzz for several days after a specific episode of the HBO series Game of Thrones aired in the US and the UK, prompting anguished pleas from time-shifters to avoid spoilers.

There are two concurrent, and conflicting, consumer trends around television these days. The first is time-shifting, which started out as a DVR “thing”, transitioned to an iPlayer “thing” and is now a Netflix “thing”. But the idea is the same: watch what you want, when you want, where you want.

The second one is social TV – the ability to amplify your viewing experience by sharing it with other fans. This really started in the deep dark days of Usenet and Compuserve. Indeed, in Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution Was Televised, Sepinwall says about Lost’s co-showrunner Calton Cuse:

‘I ask Cuse if the show could have been so successful for so long without the state of technology circa 2004, and he says, “I don’t think so. The audience component created a buzz around the show, which made people want to watch the show. It created a sense that if you wanted to be in the know, you had to be watching Lost. (…) The social media component really created a buzz about the show, that made them say, ‘Hey, I want to be in on that.’ If it had happened a few years earlier, it would have been a cool show, but a small genre show, where Damon and I and our fellow geeks would have enjoyed it and everyone else would have given up.’

Twitter and Facebook have accelerated this, and now internet-based social interaction before, during and after a show airs has become a crucial part of the enjoyment of the programme for many people.

Experts in TV predictions often get mixed up about these two trends, because the first one seems to predict the end of TV, when the second one strengthens it. Which one will win?

The main difference is that the time-shifting trend requires a profound change of behaviour. It’s a change that people generally want, but any change in behaviour takes an enormous amount of time to take hold. Think of moving your banking online, of stopping to write cheques in favour of bank transfers. Think of giving up books for ebooks. All changes that have (hopefully) had benefits in the long run, but that are a very slow process to implement.

All the more so, since the behavioural change is at all levels – from the consumer to the ISP to the platform to the rights owners to the legal system. These things take time. And even today, some people prefer to read physical books and others continue to write cheques. Time-shifting will continue to grow, but it will never represent 100% of the consumption of content – or at least not for the next few decades.

Now social TV is not a new behaviour. Social TV is a behaviour amplifier. Social TV has always existed – from “Friends viewing parties” to chats around the coffee machine at work. Technology is just making this behaviour easier, more scaleable, and more immediate.

So the barrier to engaging with social TV is much lower, and the immediate upside much more obvious. Which is why, as of today, social TV is winning. If you are a committed Game of Thrones fan, you will want to watch the episode live so you can participate in the conversation. Same with the Broadchurch finale, or any major TV moment. But also true, to a lesser extent, of lower intensity, but highly social content such as The Only Way is Essex or One Born Every Minute.

Time-shifting is here to stay, and will continue to make strides. Stronger OTT services, better broadband speed, more compelling content offers will all contribute to its continuous growth. It will eventually fund a large segment of our content provision, as well. But TV broadcasters can take heart: live TV is far from dead.

Unlike some Game of Thrones characters, who are very dead. Oh. Sorry. You hadn’t seen it?

Claire Tavernier, MD, StoryTechLife

Claire is the founder and MD of StoryTechLife, a digital content consultancy focused on the intersection between content and technology. She works with digital content start-ups, established media companies and lifestyle brands on digital and branded content development, production and distribution strategy, as well as speaking at various digital events, trying to regularly update her blog and spending way too much time on Twitter.

Before founding StoryTechLife, Claire was the head of FremantleMedia’s global digital division FMX from its creation in 2006 until the end of 2012. From 2001 to 2006, she ran FremantleMedia’s licensing and interactive activities for UK and Germany.

During her FremantleMedia days, Claire was involved in a number of high profile new media projects, most notably the online, voting and mobile activations of the Idols, Got Talent and X Factor franchises around the world, as well as the deployment of FremantleMedia’s famous gameshow brands such as The Price Is Right and Family Feud on a number of interactive platforms. Some of her successes have included turning FremantleMedia into a top 20 YouTube partner globally with over 90 channels; the launch of four YouTube-funded channels in the US and Germany; the roll-out of award-winning apps for The X Factor, Got Talent and Idols around the world; producing three seasons of the branded entertainment project Re:Discover for Buick and MSN; and winning interactive awards at the Banff festival three years in a row, a unique achievement.

She’s also pretty proud of having reached Level 200 in Candy Crush.

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