What does a visualization consultant have to offer on the topic of TV-show consumption? And more importantly, how can insights on the growing phenomenon of binge television viewing provide useful guidance for communications within the workplace?
You’ll want, as they say, to stay tuned.
I grew up in a home with a boxy 25-inch TV, a far cry from the huge, HD flat screens that are almost standard in today’s households. Forty years ago, the idea of using an iPad as a remote control would have seemed like something out of Star Wars. Instead, our television had a round dial that let us switch between a whopping five channels.
Needless to say, it’s been nothing short of astounding to observe the rise of cable TV, satellite, premium movie channels, and all of the thousands of viewing options now at our fingertips.
New Mediums and Changing Content
The evolution of broadcasting has given us quick-turn series on mediums like YouTube, and new show formats are springing up on services like Hulu and Netflix. All the while, programming is becoming increasingly tailored to the viewing habits dictated by our busy lives.
As our home viewing options become increasingly hi-res, flexible and cinematic, the notion that Hollywood and the local theater would suffer—or even perish—has not proven true. As I write this, Iron Man 3 is on the verge of surpassing $1 billion at the worldwide box office. It’s obvious that with our insatiable hunger for consumption we’ll gladly pay theater prices for a film we can watch more cheaply at home in just a few short months.
There’s a model that helps me make sense of this, and I call it the Personal Consumption Vector:
For much of America and the developed world, the need for day-to-day products is taking a smaller and smaller percentage of our income. Of course, we’re continuously bombarded by marketing to buy more!—be it better cars or more advanced gadgets—but in terms of getting by, the Personal Consumption Vector shows the effect this has had on our everyday lives.
With easier access to essential products, and concurrent technological advances, people are able to indulge their hunger for free knowledge and entertainment content—accessed, of course, via the Internet. Not only can people explore a wider and wider array of entertainment options, but they are also given the tools to create new content, edit and repackage existing content, and collaborate as never before.
In a 2010 interview, Google’s Eric Schmidt stated that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.* That’s something like five exabytes a day. Think of the last concert you attended and the hundreds of iPhones capturing photos on Instagram, Vine videos, and tweets, and you’ll quickly realize that Schmidt’s estimates are probably even low. It’s not surprising that we will continue to spend more and more of our income on this digital-content cycle—consume, create, share.
There is also an ongoing tie-in between innovation and entertainment that represents a synergistic cycle deeply embedded in our culture. You can’t watch the Iron Man movies—with their 3D interactive prototyping, mechanical design and futuristic robotics—and not wonder where these technologies will pop up in the real world. Even today, we don’t bat an eye at things like 3D printing, virtual worlds, and touch computing, which not long ago seemed like Jetsons-style science fiction. We are all applying energy to participating in and creating richer experiences, from travel to museums and learning institutions and beyond. Multimedia content, touch-based user interfaces, and increasingly sophisticated displays are contributing to immersive experience design. This last third of our Personal Consumption Vector will, we predict, take a larger and larger slice of our take-home pay. Today, these experiences justify spending $15 for an IMAX movie ticket compared to $9 for a regular movie (popcorn optional). But, as with the digital-content cycle mentioned above, these rich experiences will be co-created, layered with high production values and BYOC (bring your own content). So what’s the common thread?
Get Ready to Binge
Back to TV (or should I say, your regularly scheduled programming). Not so long ago, though it may feel that way, the Big Four broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox) lost the monopoly on creative new television programming.
Years after The Sopranos and Entourage (“It’s Not TV, It’s HBO”)—not to mention all the groundbreaking programming delivered by AMC, FX and other non-network broadcasters—it’s apparent that our favorite viewing options are coming from unexpected sources. This has led to an incredible aftermarket for DVDs, digital streaming, and other ways to procure these series on second run.
For those of us who grew up with the conventional TV model, catching a show like Homeland or The Sopranos or Lost as a “binge” DVD or streaming experience was a whole new way to watch television—and a foreshadowing of what was to come.
Snuggling up on a Saturday and plowing through five or eight episodes of a show like Homeland has gone from an embarrassing thing to share at work on Monday to a more typical circumstance. This February, when Netflix released all 13 episodes of House of Cards at one time, another shot was fired across the bow of conventional TV watching.
Just this past Memorial Day weekend, Netflix released a full, 15-show season of Arrested Development, a cult favorite that struggled to find its ratings footing during a three-season run (2003–06) on Fox. A highly self-referential series that benefits from repeated viewings, Arrested Development is an ideal show for binge viewing, and its post-initial-run success has been fed as well by social networking.
The ability to “repackage” the series by sharing favorite moments on such venues as YouTube has even changed the show’s dynamic from a passive experience to one in which fans are in many ways helping to create the viewing experience. And binge viewing also plays into our ongoing desire for ubiquitous data display (smart phones, tablets, and larger and higher-resolution home displays).
Television consumption has become more personal since America first met the Bluths. Seeing characters on a tablet or smartphone screen makes it that way, and so does having the ability to pause, rewind, and rewatch at one’s leisure. Yet television has also become much more public.
People who identify as Arrested Development fans can connect with thousands of others just like them online and off. Case in point: this past month, hundreds of fans in their 20s and 30s patiently lined up in Midtown Manhattan at a replica of the show’s famous frozen banana stand. When BTIG Research interviewed 427 of them, 86 percent said they subscribed to Netflix, and half of the others said they probably would sign up to watch the show.
As we’ve seen, social media allows the masses to consume their favorite shows, share theories, comment on inside jokes, and essentially build a community experience around TV and media consumption. Shows with highly complex plots and character lines, such as Lost or Game of Thrones, are really a group “puzzle” that brings us into a shared consciousness while still allowing us to enjoy our time-tested, “personal” home-viewing pastime.
Binge Viewing and the Workplace
New trends in entertainment consumption will open up opportunities for more content creation and allow us to put less emphasis on the world of things. In the workplace, it will give us ever-newer models for focusing our attention on change.
When we talk about the daily staff meeting, and capturing people’s attention, we have to realize that our main goal is to keep our employees tuned in for the entire story. A large part of the success of shows like Breaking Bad is that they are so incredibly progressive. The model isn’t for stand-alone episodes that viewers watch at random, but for seasons that tell a coherent story that builds from one show to the next, as though the season were a single, long episode.
With any project in the workplace, we hope to capture the excitement of seeing what happens next. In other words, we want to transform viewers’ need (and it really is an almost physical need) to stream just one more episode of their favorite show (after watching three already) into something that can fire their ambitions in the office.
Knowing what people consume in their private time helps us design experiences we hope they consume during work time. By using the power of story, we can create a work environment where people can more easily envision new technology and processes. To do so, we have to understand the following:
- How modern twists of the classic story arcs are reflected in our culture
- The nature of the content that moves us most and keeps a community involved
- The form and function of the entertainment world
- Popular memes for keeping our work communications current
So what lessons have we learned from the social-network-driven, binge-TV experience? For one, today’s technology enables us to tell stories (or implement new designs) that simply weren’t possible or appreciated before. Our challenge is to construct the corporate or organizational story in a way that provides the layers of content and ease of navigation that enable employees to follow the story, stay informed, and have their questions answered.
And in terms of the story, it’s important to find ever-more-powerful ways of sharing the compelling need or benefit, both for the larger organization and the individual. As Simon Sinek said in Starts with Why, people want “to do business with people who believe what you believe.” In light of this, these stories must align with the core “whys” of the organization—and they must persist, even in the most challenging times.
Our hope is to harness the passion and sense of connectedness that our employees are already applying to their outside-the-office entertainment choices, and to use this same blueprint—and all the technological tools at our disposal—to capitalize on this shared enthusiasm to produce more innovative business solutions.
In our project planning, we try to put away conventional thinking (the network model) and see where a more interactive, experiential model takes us. By doing so, we hope to keep our employees tuned in for the entire story, with whatever project we’re working on. We believe that if we have a compelling story to tell in the workplace (a Lost-like puzzle that employees are eager to figure out), then our employees will be more engaged, creative, and, most importantly, fulfilled.
What you’ve just read ties in with a project I’ve been developing for 20 years, a labor of love I call the “Secret Theater of Work.” What and where is this theater? Why is it secret? All I can say for now is that the box office has not yet opened, but in the coming months, we’ll be releasing more sneak peeks leading up to a big premiere. In the meantime, we will be posting our progress at www.secrettheater.com
image credits: sho.com/sho/homeland; magadesign.com
- Daily — RSS Feed — Email — Twitter — Facebook — Linkedin Today
- Weekly — Email Newsletter — Free Magazine — Linkedin Group
Scott Williams is the founder and CEO of Maga Design, based in Washington, DC. A pioneer in visual information mapping for wide-ranging business challenges, he’s led the development of Maga Maps™, Maga Design’s unique process for creating physical and digital representations of collective strategic thinking. Scott combines 15 years of Navy technical and business-innovation experience with commercial marketing and brand-strategy acumen. Scott’s clients include the Air Force, Disney, National Geographic, the Navy, Pepsico, and QinetiQ. Maga Design has been named to the INC 5000 three years running.