Whoever said television is dead, obviously hasn’t taken a cold, hard, look at a Roku… or an Apple TV, or an Amazon Fire Stick. Television isn’t dead, it’s evolving; moving increasingly fast in the direction of online, on-demand, broadcast. Thanks to streaming sites like Netflix, HBO Now, and Amazon Prime, binge watching has allowed TV fans to unwind anywhere, anytime. Yet, not only is it the act of watching 10 nonstop hours of Game of Thrones pleasurable, it’s also downright engaging; starting before the show begins and even after it ends. So much so that binge watching, or watching any amount of television at all, is no longer a means to an end for boredom, it’s a chance for show runners to engage with viewers like never before.
According to a survey by Conviva, a video optimization provider that was reported by Techcrunch, more than half of today’s binge watchers are unlikely to return to a series they’ve stopped watching due to a negative experience. Whether it’s from poor resolution, frequent interruptions, or an unavailable episode/season for long periods of time, the well over 100 million people binge-watching want just one thing: a quality watching experience. But how can television shows provide that, especially when they’re not in charge of what (legal or illegal) streaming sites they appear on?
There is only one answer: television shows need to focus on their viewers at all times, throughout every episode, across all channels. Seems difficult… until you realize that some shows have already achieved huge levels of success by doing just that.
Quality television requires a fan base — one that’s dedicated to the overall storyline, its characters, and the behind-the-scenes team that make it all happen. In return for their continual support, show runners often give something exciting back to their fans. They begin to focus on the wants, desires, hopes and dreams of their viewers, and sometimes actually implement their ideas into the storyline. This doesn’t mean by any means that every show has to have a main character like House of Card’s Francis Underwood that literally talks to the viewer, but it’s not like that type of dedication hurts viewership…shows just need to make sure they don’t go too far.
“At a certain point, as always happens in Hollywood or culture in general, a set of superficial things come to stand in for quality,” says author of ‘Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution’ Brett Martin for the New York Post. Essentially what Martin is saying here is to never forget your audience’s standards. It’s inevitable that some viewers are going to get bored or disconnected and leave. If every show had the same viewing ratings as its premiere date, than no one would win an Emmy. But what’s important to remember is that although some viewers will leave, those that stay are the heart and soul of any show. Honing in on those users will allow the show to thrive – living a long and healthy life (looking at you, Law & Order: SVU, currently on season 18). But this type of lifestyle won’t last long without being shared.
Today, shows that see the light of day (aka a second season), take their experience to the next level… well, levels. Quality television shows are designed for shared experiences. Taking the action off screen and into the real world is what sets apart B-list shows, from A-list winners. Most recently, the #1 spot on the leaderboard goes to USA’s Mr. Robot. The mysterious drama revolving around an underground hacker society has gone to extreme lengths to tie in the viewer. From tweeting this seasons first episode a full 24 hours before it’s release (then deleting it shortly after), to launching a VR narrative experience at Comin-Con, to even secretly relaying messages in the form of QR codes on screen mid-episode, Mr. Robot is the epitome of the total television experience for viewers. But if Mr. Robot is the King, The Walking Dead is quite obviously the Queen.
Debuted on AMC in 2010, The Walking Dead has some of the most dedicated fans of any television show. Viewers talked about the series so frequently that the network created a second show just to talk about it: Talking Dead. Various other series have too incorporated an after-show for fans to further revel in the shocks and rumors of each episode (Mr. Robot just debuted the after-show Hacking Robot, and Bravo’s live after shows often lead to some intense catfights thanks to the Real Housewives). But to push the experience even further, Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, California created a Walking Dead Attraction, filled with professionally trained zombies. Yeah, it’s that serious.
So for other shows to catch even a bit of the viewer wave Mr. Robot and The Walking Dead are riding, they need to stay focused on the user across all digital channels and engage where their viewers do. Television isn’t on it’s last leg, but the way viewers watch it just might be. It’s time for shows to move past the realm of ‘the box’ and into the real world- where everything is shared. Television is in the big leagues of UX now, will your show be ready?