It's been generations since families sat eagerly around monochrome television sets, watching Lucille Ball and Ed Sullivan. In 1948, only one American in ten had seen a television; today, according to Nielsen, the typical American household watches five hours of TV per day. Not only do viewers now expect premium content as the baseline, they demand convenience, always-on access, and a seamless user experience -- and they're voting with their wallets.
But viewers aren't the only group weighing in. All parties involved have vying agendas:
- Viewers want to quickly and easily find the TV shows and movies they want, so they can lean back and enjoy the ride.
- Advertisers want to reach target demographics through customized ads.
- Content producers want valuable analytic data to make advertisers happy.
- Cable providers want to take advantage of lucrative content delivery contracts through authentication.
Here's what you can do to reach a seemingly impossible consensus. To meet -- and exceed -- viewer expectations, digital marketers must identify and take advantage of opportunities to connect the right content with the right audiences, giving viewers what they want, when they want it. At a fundamental level, they must understand the marriage of software, hardware, and services, and how those will work together to map to, and in turn shape, viewing habits.
A connected future
The numbers tell it all: looking at Nielsen research, 70 percent of tablet and smart phone owners use their device while watching TV; for tablets, this accounts for 30 percent of total time spent with their device. What's more, roughly 12 percent of the U.S. internet population, ages 8-64, owns or uses a tablet -- a number that's projected to rise to 23 percent by early 2012. And don't forget social networking: Facebook users have "liked" TV shows a whopping 1.65 billion times.
It's clear that viewers are ready for a true connected TV solution -- are you ready to give it to them?
The mobile impact
Television's recent history has been a frenetic one: the viewer has been rebounded between television to computer screen, routed from passivity to activity and back again. Various providers, software, and hardware companies have offered their vision for connected TV, but each new solution fragments the landscape, and from a viewer's perspective, the inherent obstruction between the viewer and their TV remains.
The connected viewing experience is rife with barriers to access. Viewers are tasked with searching and clicking their way through layers of content -- some relevant, most not. Interfaces are a battleground for the competing forces of programming, social, and advertising. Remotes have grown more complex, and, in turn, more difficult to use. Content licensing and industry rules have emerged from behind the curtain to confuse and distract. Most importantly, and most damagingly, viewers are being pulled in opposite directions by being asked to search, sort, filter, and spend more time getting to the content that, in simpler times, was immediately available.
The trade-off is great -- anywhere, anytime access on every screen -- but the barriers are often greater.
Takeaways: Start here
As an agency, we've learned a number of valuable lessons during our time in the connected TV trenches, but they're relevant to the digital marketing side of the house as well:
- Don't skimp on quality. Premium media content demands an equally premium viewing experience, so treat your users with the same respect.
- Don't make your viewers think. There's a time and a place for thinking -- watching TV isn't one of them.
- Aim for can't-live-without-ability. If you're going to slice and dice authentication and availability, make your content so relevant that users won't want to live without it.
- Above all else: context, context, context. An experience is only valuable if it offers a seamless combination between the device and the situation. If use case isn't a factor in the final build, the chances of resonating with viewingaudiences are slim to none.
Beyond best practices, anticipating the market -- both viewer demands and market trends -- is critical to success. Effective digital marketers will combine research and cultivated thought leadership to contribute to ever more successful, innovative, and intuitive connected TV products.
Consider these stats: In a May 2011 survey conducted by Yahoo, 60 percent of those surveyed said they would be interested in viewing online content related to the TV program they were watching. 28 percent want to include their friends via social media when watching TV. Twenty-five percent of people who own a tablet say their connected TV use has increased since the purchase. Two in five consumers are interested in content relevant to the commercials they see, with more than half of respondents reported that they are likely to interact with an ad.
This is the opportunity for marketers, content owners, advertisers, and users to align -- invest in an end-to-end experience that marries content, associated data, and contextual advertising, and establish a relationship with your viewers where they want to see and interact with your content.
Kevin Kirkpatrick is an account manager for Ubermind.
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