Television’s Growing Pains in the New Millennium

Viewers Have New Expectations . . . 

What exactly is TV these days? The younger the person is that you ask, the more and more you’ll hear an answer that defines television by content that is shown in a series format, not just linear programming through those rigid old pipes. My thirteen year old sister watches more video on her computer than on the television set. That’s probably not surprising to many of you, assuming you’re following recent statistics. However, what I do find surprising about her consumption habits is that she prefers to watch web series rather than high end studio productions on a daily and weekly basis. On an average school night, she often forgets about the television screen all together!

The television experience is evolving rapidly in the new millennium. Media stacking tendencies grow with each aging year because entertainment continues to become more accessible through different sources. Dad, it’s not just television, the home telephone and hippie record music anymore; Grandma, we’ve moved passed black and white movies, local restaurants and public radio. All of those traditional forms of entertainment have had to adapt in order to survive. The connectivity of the internet to home computers has changed everything. Get over yourself TV, it’s time to grow up.

Millennials seek a more dynamic interaction of entertainment. Something that’s easy and engages the senses. Entertainment is stimuli. Entertainment can be productive, informative, amusing or simply fluid engagement. We have come of age in a time when change is the norm and occurs rapidly, so naturally, we’re more inclined to try new things, think abstractly and reason quickly when problem solving. We are perceived by our elders as having an ADD attention-span, a distinctive characteristic to our generational divide. We’re the fault line, the dawn of always-connected, multitasking iGenerations to come.

WISDOM: “Every generation of adults sees new technology–and the social changes it stirs–as a threat to the rightful order of things: Plato warned (correctly) that reading would be the downfall of oral tradition and memory. And every generation of teenagers embraces the freedoms and possibilities wrought by technology in ways that shock the elders: just think about what the automobile did for dating,” (Time Magazine, 2006).

OMG, and watch out for the post-internet wave of millennials, born after 1990, raised in a home where internet and cell phones were commonplace amenities, (Jack Myers, The Millennial Myth, July 2012). Sensory, socially and personally relevant entertainment are innate expectations. Brands and services are beginning to extend across platforms, finally accommodating UX to situational circumstances.

Online Video Consumption Habits – Content Sources

Let’s talk about video, not TV. There has been a tremendous increase in time-shifting, place-shifting and source-shifting consumption habits since the birth of the internet. Today, it’s personal, with mobile devices offering access to a range of online content sources. For instance, I’m a paying subscriber to services like Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Cable. I often view videos on open channels like Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook or from custom websites or blogs. 12-17 year olds actively access entertainment via the use of a game console either for watching or playing anywhere in the home and their time spent consuming content in this way outweighs TV or DVR by 3-fold, (Nielsen, 2012). There are several important reasons as to why younger children, pre-teens, teenagers and young adults (Millennials+) are relying on the internet for their entertainment. It’s the go to resource for discovering diversity.

Traditional television and primetime series have been reluctant to produce supplemental bridge content for distribution in these online communities, where amateur content has risen to compete for attention and time from their target audience, but they’re beginning to catch up to speed. Fans are requesting additional content. 88% would like to see full-length episodes on their time and on their devices, 75% would enjoy seeing a sneak peek of new episodes, 71% seek out behind-the-scenes extras and 71% watch clip highlights. (Viacom Media Networks, 2012).

The younger the person, the more they crave diversity of entertainment and the sooner they grow bored of fixed show schedules. The target age group of TV fans want to engage- during shows, between shows and between seasons!

Social Relevancy & Social Curation

The internet is fluid and dynamic, acting as an open resource where bidirectional communication is the nature of the beast. Ultimately, those revolutionary aspects equate to an experience that traditional television delivery just can’t compete with, without the help of new technology. The internet offers the ability to easily share content with others, whenever interest is sparked. 71% check-in to a show to let their friends know and 64% check in to let other fans of the show know, (Viacom, 2012). Sharing goes way beyond the check-in point.

Content can be shared in multiple ways. Share on an intimate delivery level via email, share with friends on closed networks like Facebook or share to the open public by broadcasting your message on twitter or tumblr. 19% of research respondents began watching a show after reading about it on a social network or blog, (Horowitz Associates, 2012) and 47% of the general population visit a social network site during a TV program, (Nielsen, 2012). Sharing can turn viewers into distributors and drive viral tune-in! But, the decision to share is always a personal motivation.

Television may be pushed out to the masses, but the reception and internalization of that mass message is unique to each individual viewer, that’s where contextualized interaction of social TV apps can swiftly follow through after the initial pitch.

Penetration of Mobile Platforms 

Discovery and consumption of content are often done amongst friends or family on the same couch and in the same viewing period. However, the decision to pursue further, stray away from that shared experience and motivation to share with others are intrinsic pursuits, taken at the individual level. That pursuit to extend the experience, expand your knowledge or enrich in conversation has always been triggered by mass produced television content, but the execution has never been as easy as the tap of a finger. Currently, access to social TV apps are dominated by 82% usage via smartphones and only 18% usage via tablets, (Viacom, 2012). That mobilized and personalized accessibility changes behavior and continues to induce media stacking.

In general, people have to be more than curious about something they’re exposed to on television to actually act on that inkling and pursue further. In the past, it had to be worth getting up from the couch and worth turning your back on the television set to search for answers on the home desktop computer. The portability of the laptop made that search process more convenient, but it was essentially still the same browser as before, just juxtaposed in a viewers line of sight to compliment the bigger screen, broadcasting tirelessly in the background.

Then the smartphone arrived and the tablet. 44% smartphone penetration in the U.S. by end of 2011. 45% of tablet owners and 41% of smartphone owners use their mobile device while watching TV on a daily basis! (Hill Holliday, 2012). These devices are portable, like a laptop, but their nature has changed the game entirely. The cell phone is attached at the hip to most every modern and young individual. This personalized mobilization doesn’t require a person to rise from the couch and seek their laptop computer in the other room, or battle over the shared desktop, but rather simply extend their arm to access a resource within reach. I would argue that the tablet is becoming a shared entertainment accessory. Tablets are often passed around the couch like a bowl of popcorn.

Customized applications are providing bite sized bits of information to viewers that compliment their entertainment experience, rather than interfere, and satisfy the curiosities that TV programs have always transpired. These TV applications have tremendous potential to harness an audience’s attention during viewing, between episodes and between seasons. Shows can live forever if we recognize that tuning out is the silent killer.

In conclusion, Viewers Have New Expectations. If traditional TV networks want their brands to survive, they must meet these viewers in the context of their lifestyle, in an accessible, personalized and mobilized way, without breaching the rules of engagement for acceptable contact practices from brands on mobile/social channels.

Cited Source Links:

(Time Magazine, 2006,

(Jack Myers, The Millennial Myth,

About Sarah Louise

I’m a millennial seeking to revolutionize TV with hybrid delivery and interactive programming. Seeking to advance the synchronization of multi-screen content to create heuristic harmony across fragmented devices. 2010 Graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communications.
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3 Responses to Television’s Growing Pains in the New Millennium

  1. Brent says:

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  2. Pingback: Social TV Week In Review: The News This Week! «

  3. as to your point of people responding to what they see on TV:
    “…people have to be more than curious about something they’re exposed to on television to actually act on that inkling and pursue further…This personalized mobilization doesn’t require a person to rise from the couch and seek their laptop computer in the other room, or battle over the shared desktop, but rather simply extend their arm to access a resource within reach….”

    In fact, it can be even more ‘lean back’ and seamless than that. With digital ads synchronized to live TV spots (“Sync Ads”), the viewer need not take any action. The digital creative is delivered automatically, allowing for instant engagement and absolutely no effort on behalf of the viewer. We’ve found huge levels of engagement with this new ad medium and big boosts in TV spot recall. The benefit of complementing the message on the ‘second screen’ and reducing the friction for interaction is proving to be quite compelling.

    David Markowitz
    VP, Mktg & Bus Dev
    SecondScreen Networks

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