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TV Watching is Not Passive Sometimes Passive

Let me begin by saying I am not a “second screen hater” as Amritha describes.  In fact second screen, third screen, and …nth screen is the only path that makes any sense for media.  Which screen will rule them all?  Now that’s a question for another epic.                            

That said all-or-nothing TV claims drive me totally crazy.   First of all it is nearly impossible to categorize television viewing into one extreme or another regardless of how convenient it may seem for the interactive scenario.  This is especially true when the claims are based on focus groups and journals since actual consumer viewing behavior is notoriously different from reported viewing behavior.  Regardless my issue isn’t with how people engage when using second screen devices, it’s really with the misleading title that greatly oversimplifies TV viewing habits.  This type of oversimplification and overgeneralization currently plagues interactive TV media buys and is one of the largest contributors to a pessimistic perception of the technology.                                     

There are in fact many significant (in the GRP and Ad Revenue Sense) circumstances where Television viewing is passive and STB data proves it.  Cable operators have introduced a variety of Interactive Overlays reaching over a wide range of networks.  Everyone from Comcast to Verizon and Dish has some form of the same technology that enables viewers to click on an overlay (EBIF or otherwise) and interact with :30 content.  Each time an interactive overlay appears and is clicked behavioral data is collected about that viewers’ action.  Without going into specifics, there are clear differences in engagement with this type of technology by network, day part, and even down to the program.  Let’s take two examples, ESPN and MSNBC.  How do you (or your colleagues, friends, family members) typically watch this kind of programming during the day.  I bet if you peek around to adjacent offices on your floor TV’s are tuned to these channels all day whether or not there is anyone watching.  This is only a small example and it can be extended to daytime programming like soaps.  All this kind of ‘TV viewing’ is background noise while people move through their day.                         

Based on the ESPN example people assume sports programming is a poor place to interact with consumers.  In fact it’s the specific nature of ESPN programming that makes this sports network a poor place to try to engage with viewers not sports as a vertical.  Live sports events like the NBA All Star game or pretty much any major league game generate huge engagement with EBIF enabled (or comparable technology) :30 second spots.  My point is just that over generalization and simplification is a dangerous game to play, by making such statements the power of interactive TV gets diminished.  Interactivity with viewers has its place, when viewers are actively watching TV.  Otherwise the promise and power of interactive TV to connect viewers to advertisers fades into the background.

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