That nowadays young people watch linear TV channels seems as unlikely than old people using Snapchat. But yet both seems to happen; admitingly in small numbers only. Nevertheless, while it sounds like an abnormal oddity, I still believe that there is a good chance that young audiences come back to linear TV.
There has been a lot of talk about linear TV being an old-fashioned, doomed media. That no-one will watch linear TV anymore and that in maybe 5-10 years such a broadcast genre will be non-existant anymore. I dare to differ on that: I strongly believe that linear TV will be around for quite some while and that it even stands a good chance of revival.
Linear TV still remains the single most important media outlet
Linear TV still remains the single most important media outlet that has the power to congregate large audiences simultaneously at one place – i.e. in front of a screen. The screen might not be the one large, heavy TV set in the living room anymore, but rather a smart-phone, tablet, smart TV, high-tech multis-surround equipment etc. The device itself though is not important: the crucial element is that one watches the same at the same time like his peers, family, friends etc.
Throughout our history and development we human beings always cherished this communal moment of wittnesing an event, story or experience in the very moment as it happens and together with other people. It started with the infamous campfire at which our ancestors said each evening, sharing the stories of the day, the legends of the past and learnings of the now. Later on we congregated around totems, altars and other places of worshipping to celebrate and witness rituals. We went (and still do) to church on Sunday morning to be part of the community, to show and experience that we are part of a group and have the same belief and stand in life.
People want a communal, bonding experience
The experience of watching and listening in parallel and in synch with our community is a strong bonding element. A bond that is a deep, natural need for us humans. Later in our development this unique bond was build on going to watch a game of football live together, or – in a technical and media development – to all read the same newspaper, to listen to the same radio station and eventually to watch the same linear TV channel.
Like a totem, a special place or a unifying story, the linear TV broadcast become our special bond with each other. We all watched the same news cast, the same daily TV show, the big Saturday evening extravaganzas or the newest soap episode. We knew that almost all of our peers did the same and we could share the moments with them. We knew we belong to a group and that we share experiences and perspectives.
I do not think that our need for such type of communal experiences has changed. We as humans still need this campfire and totem moment once in a while. We want to belong to a group and want to be reassured to be part of this group by sharing same experiences, knowledge and sagas. Even more, young people are in much need of such a sharing element and of the feeling to belong to a group. In their struggle to find their personality and place in the world they seek peers, they seek community and they seek a common story – a narrative (as it is now so fashionable to call it) that unites this particular peer group and speak to them.
Young people need a common narrative and tribe they belong to
If you look at the development of how young people consumed TV since its inception, it was always an element of community coming with it but also an element of dissent. The old (and at that time very new ) TV shows that united younger audience were always a bit provocative, broke with the norm and in that way united and attracted younger audiences. Later on linear Tv channels, that specifically targeted younger audience, made every effort to be different (but were still linear broadcasting channels). MTV was innovative by airing music videos, later on by introducing the short clips and fast cuts, and new docudrama/ lifestyle series. It actually created the path to the clip-culture that seems to dominate how young people now consume TV.
But how can we re-introduce young audiences to consuming a live TV broadcast. It is all about bringing them a new experience of consuming TV and a narrative that speaks to them. RevoltTV in the USA, for example, is successful because it has the overall narrative of going to the heart of the music industry. It attracts young audiences to their live channel because they can also interact with the stars in the studio during live shows. Live and linear is a crucial element of this success.
Often these days TV companies just try to adapt media elements that they deem to be attractive for younger audiences. They have all kinds of social media activities around their TV channels and they build thousands of different digital apps, online presences and fast-moving products. They think by throwing a lot of different stuff to the audience something will stick eventually. The classic thinking in that world was also to strengthen individual show and series brands; to build these brands even stronger than the channel brand itself. This seems to backfire though in the world of OTT / VOD and similar ways of TV consumption: the young audiences do not go for a channel brand, but rather directly for the show brand and ‘live’ in this digital world. They want to belong to that particular show’s digital tribe and not to a ‘channel tribe’.
Old-fashioned linear TV broadcast might offer new way of experiencing community
A new TV channel who approaches all of this differently can however build a new digital tribe around its brand (see RevoltTV). It is about providing new, distinct live experiences. Telling its own story and providing an overall sense of vision and mission to the younger audiences. You must, of course, make this linear feed available on all devices that are possible used by the target audience. You must also involve all of the latest social media technology and apps. But must not copy only social media into a TV format (the TV channel Joiz in Germany was, for instance, an example that failed because it was just offering the same in a different outlet).
I would even argue that you can do ‘Slow TV’ formats on such a channel; truly old-fashioned TV might be something unique, new and fresh to young audiences, because never in their live they have witnessed or experienced something similar before. Such an example is the Red Bull Stratos where audiences around the same world watched live the preparation and actual space jump for many long hours. Interestingly it attracted a good share of younger audiences.
It is about finding the right message – the narrative – to create such a successful new linear TV broadcast channel and be the place where young audiences want to be simultaneously with their peers. That can be a revival of the old-fashioned TV broadcast and a proof that linear TV is not dead – not for long. All it needs it some smart re-invention.
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