In the very near future, audience participation in television programming is going to skyrocket. There are a handful of reasons as to why this is the case. To unpack this, let's take a quick look at the past and present of radio programming.
Talk radio is one of the most popular programming formats there is today, second only to country music. Furthermore, a significant portion of talk radio is comprised of audience participation programming. While there were early experiments with the audience participation format in the 30's and 40's, the genre didn't really take off until the late 40's and early 50's. This emergence corresponds to the timeframe shortly after WWII when most of America could finally claim to have a telephone in their home. AT&T's release of the model-500 telephone in 1949 spurred the rapid adoption of telephones in ordinary households, and by the mid-50's, calling a radio program and participating "on-air" was no longer a challenging endeavor.Television has not had the same benefit as radio when it comes to audience participation. The equipment, connectivity, and skills required in a medium dependent on video made it impossible for television to enable the levels of audience interaction enjoyed by radio. Now, due to the proliferation of broadband, the commoditization of video capture technology, and the massive global adoption of Skype, audience participation in television is finally going to have its day. Conservative estimates suggest the Skype network now boasts over 600 million accounts. There have been well over 3 billion skype clients downloaded to date. In 2013, Skype usage reached over 50 million concurrent users and the number has been continuing to grow. In 2014, Skype accounted for 40% of international calls. By many measures, Skype communication (which includes video and audio) is becoming as common place as the telephone was in the second half of the 20th century. It is now very easy for the typical audience member to place a video call with HD quality, and in many cases, they can do it from the smart phone they already carry in their pocket. And it's not just getting easier for the audience. Skype is beginning to integrate with broadcast equipment to make it very easy for content producers to include Skype feeds in their programs. Skype TX is a version of Skype designed for broadcasters, and Microsoft has been integrating it with popular broadcast solutions provided by NewTek, Quicklink, and Riedel. As a result, we are now starting to see Skype being used more regularly in television broadcasts. Ellen, Oprah, and Jimmy Kimmel are a few programs that are deepening audience engagement in this manner and, at the 2014 Xgames on ESPN, Skype enabled fans to communicate directly with athletes. I have no doubt we will see rapid adoption of audience participation in television as broadcasters continue to grow comfortable with the tool sets.
The concept of family is dead… well, at least when it comes to measuring the media viewing behaviors of households. It served a useful purpose in the days when homes had a single television and families gathered together during Primetime viewing hours, but in this era of individualized programming and connected devices, there is no more value in family. As this IAB survey shows, audiences are viewing media content on many different devices these days, not just traditional televisions. This means viewers are no longer confined to the "household" when watching media content. Furthermore, a recent study by Conviva, a leading online media measurement and analytics company, shows that the number of homes consuming multiple content streams during primetime hours increased by 28% between 2012 and 2013. In other words, when someone in the house is watching a show on television, it's ever more likely that others
are watching programming of their own choosing on other devices within that same household.
Of course, this presents challenges and opportunities relative to traditional broadcast measurement practices. What becomes of the Neilson family when the family has died off and the walls of the household have crumbled? It appears Nielson is looking to the same place everybody else looks when it's time to celebrate individuality: Facebook. The two companies recently announced a program that will kick off this Fall to measure viewing behavior through your Facebook account. Whether or not it's appropriate to use a social network to measure unrelated consumer behavior is a conversation for another day, but both companies claim their methodologies prioritize anonymity and will only focus on measurement (at least out of the gate). So, congratulations, you are no longer standing in the shadow of your family - you are an individual. On the other hand, when it comes to viewing behavior and advertising dollars, you are not just an individual, you are now also a person of interest.