Passive Experience is a Good Thing

Joey Fung  

December 08, 2010

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This last part of the series discusses the oldest device in the group, the television. The television is almost the exact opposite of the smartphone. Its stationary, it’s the most shared, and users immerse with it for hours on end. Where the TV differs most from other devices is its ability to feed users information. One button push and immediately there is some kind of content. If the user isn’t amused, it only takes one button push to change the content. This initial browsing may not be as immersive as in a tablet, but it doesn’t require conscious decision making. Browsing eventually leads to a program of interest, capturing the user’s attention.


Video recording (from VCRs to DVRs) and video-on-demand services enable immersive experiences for users who have favorite shows or schedules that don’t align with the broadcasts, but this type of conscious interaction is much more suited to the tablet. We posit that time-shifted TV is a more personal experience since it’s infrequent that the entire household missed primetime programming. It’s more likely that a family member works late, or multiple shows are on at the same time. Video-on-demand is essentially the same experience as selecting a show for streaming on a PC or tablet. It’s not that this activity shouldn’t be done on a television; it just doesn’t offer the passiveness that is TV’s strongpoint.

As companies try and try again to bring internet to TV, we continue to see that people just don’t want to browse the web from their couch. The TV replaced the hearth as the center of the modern home, and as such is an inherently shared experience. It seems that Google is learning this, as Google TV seems to be much more suited to organizing video than to browsing the web.

Google TV Screenshot via Crunchgear

The opportunity for internet-enabled TV lies in enhancing the shared experiences and supplementing the content already there. Many providers are starting to offer things like stock tickers, weather, and social networking through set-top boxes. This is fine, as a lot of this content is the same sort of things people like to check in or check up on, but it’s not necessarily related to the content being broadcasted. The ability to point to an actor on screen to find out his name and roles in other films, or a player during a game to see their statistics can enhance the viewing experience both on a personal and shared level. Some services now allow watching a program with someone remotely, which is particularly beneficial for long distance couples’ movie nights or live broadcasts like sports games or presidential addresses. Extending the shared TV-viewing experience beyond a single household satisfies the desire to share experiences with distant family and friends much more than a phone call or webcam ever could.

Unlike smart phones, tablets, and PCs, the television has a much longer history filling a particular role that lets us relax and does the work for us. Technologies that take it out of that role change the TV into a large monitor instead of the escape we want it to be.