Wednesday 19 October 2011

TV Platforms, Not TV Programs

Split attention is fine oh look a pretty flower

Recap. People do stuff while the TV is on. They also to do stuff while the radio is on. They have always done this. It used to be books and newspapers and phone calls and bare-knuckle boxing, now it’s probably internets. The thing that has changed isn’t behaviour, it’s the nature of the device that is distracting people from the telly. The interactive nature of that device means that now the telly people can tempt attention back onto their programs, and thus the delicious advertising that pays for the whole kit and caboodle. Two-screen TV is born.

Lou Dobbs, chilling out

As we batten down the hatches and prepare for a slew of two screen programs of wildly variable quality and vision, one of the many questions troubling those producing such content is how to deal with the issue of split attention. Even if your test subjects are engaging with your TV show, their attention is still split, you just have responsibility for both of the things they are looking at.

If we’ve managed to convince you to synchronise what you’re doing with your personal device with what’s happening on the large glowing rectangle on the wall, how do we then artfully sashay your attention from the small screen and back to the large screen? How do we manage your attention across two devices?


Sometimes this isn’t a problem. In most interactive (the show listens and talks back) rather than participatory (the TV just listens) cases, it will make complete sense for you to be looking one way or the other. If there is a quiz, then you will look at the screen with the question on it, look at the screen where you input your answer, then look at the screen which tells you if you were right or not. That’s not managing, that’s just a natural result of the format.

If you are looking at a more participatory format, one where there isn’t a direct, logical reason to look at one particular screen baked into the format from the get-go, then things become a bit more complicated. This is when split attention and managing that split can start to loom large into the sights of producers.

"If we don't move, he can't see us..."

The solution here is to forget about guiding attention and instead to allow that attention to wander. The behaviour you are seeking to piggy-back by making your two screen product in the first place is that of varying, split, wandering attention. So fit your product into that. If people wanted to do one thing at once, they would be doing one thing at once. Two screen will be more about choice and variety than it will be about a carefully curated experience

Let people pick and choose what they want to interact with and when. Watching TV is a largely passive, sit-back experience. If you want people to move beyond that and actively get involved, you need to fit those moments into your overall experience in a way that lets them choose when to get involved and how to get involved.

Actually, you just can’t please all of the people, ever

The fundamental point behind this is that you can’t make a TV show or two-screen experience that’s great for everyone, because you can’t make any product that’s great for everyone. We are all different people with different desires. Well, except that one guy. If you want to make your show more appealing to more people you need to make it more different, to do different things and let people get to the world you’ve created in as many ways as possible.

What good are words when I have no mouth to scream?

Obviously, doing that takes time and it takes money. And you don’t have either of those things. This stuff should be a profit centre, not a cost centre, right? If you want to make plenty of content around your show, let people access it in lots of different ways and hopefully make money doing so, that’s going to require a lot of experimentation, a lot of up-front cost. So what to do?

The logical end-game for that line of thinking is to make your program into a platform. The big successes of our time are not products, they are platforms. They have APIs and they are open to other people adding onto them. Facebook, Twitter and iOS leap out as great examples. None of these companies make any content at all. 80% of all Twitter content is accessed through third-party applications.

Come on in, the water’s mutually beneficial

What is needed is a platform approach to program, to content, to brands. There’s no question that the more ways to access your ‘thing’ the more people will access it and there’s no question that doing that all in house is prohibitively expensive. So don’t do it in house. Open it up. Let anyone who wants to contribute to the world of your ‘thing’ make a ‘thing’ using all of your ‘things’.

Fascinating. Please, do go on.
By allowing access to the inner bits of your program/brand/content to developers and entrepreneurs, you’re exponentially increasing your chance of discovering really great ways to get your audience more engaged or engaging a new audience. Stop thinking that great ideas for your program/brand/content can only come through the laborious and arcane commissioning, tendering, pitching process. Use the good bit of capitalism and let the market decide what a good idea looks like, not a clever person in a room deciding WHAT IS RIGHT and WHAT IS WRONG. That person will never be as smart as everyone.

Not only is this shifting the discovery, the R&D costs and thinking onto others, it’s still letting you benefit from its successes. And via the power of the brand, it’s helping the creators get access to audiences they would never have otherwise managed.

Let your IP free. Create platforms, not content. 

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