Interactivity Is Back, Better than Ever, IBM Concludes


In IBM’s impressive “Beyond Digital” report, issued this week during the NAB convention, chart 6 really jumps out.

It shows that 48% of Americans would like to “control the replay or the angle of the scene” while watching a video show, and that 26% would like to play along with a sporting event. (By comparison, the responses in China are respectively 74% and 78%, but that’s a topic for another screed.)

The very fact that “choose camera angle” and “play along” are still under consideration was a fun flashback to interactive TV circa 20 years ago, when companies such as ACTV, Interactive Network and TV Answer were vainly trying to promote exactly such features.

OK, so it took a little longer than expected, and it’s still barely a large niche opportunity (except perhaps in China). But it is, according to IBM, still appealing.

Far more significantly, the IBM Institute for Business Value’s study paints an important portrait of life in the “connected consumer era.” For its fourth annual Digital Consumer Survey, IBM interviewed 3,800 people in six countries.

“Across all of these markets, it’s no longer just a minority of young, early adopters who are digitally connected,” the study concludes. The market “cuts across age boundaries.”

For media and entertainment providers - the target market for this IBM group - the findings offer significant insights. IBM breaks out four distinct personality types, based on how people engage with technology: “Efficiency Experts” (41%), “Connected Maestros” (35%), “Social Butterflies” (14%) and “Content Kings” (9%). The study concludes that the last group acts in ways that foreshadow what mainstream audiences will soon adopt.

For example, 39% of the Content Kings say they prefer to “pay” for online movies by watching advertising included within the movie, while 36% would purchase a subscription for watching movies on their tablets. In contrast, 36% say they’d prefer a pay-per-use format for watching movies on a smart phone.

Such variations should keep the studios’ revenue modelers busy for months.

IBM’s survey showed that nearly two-thirds of early adopters are willing to pay for content, but the report notes that media companies have not yet figured out how to capitalize on that acquiescence. The IBM gurus advise that media/entertainment companies should “build direct consumer interactions, where feasible … access and aggregate direct consumer information and … wring out compelling consumer insights down to relevant micro-behavioral segmentation levels.”

In another segmentation, IBM splits the adoption cycle into more conventional “early,” “mainstream,” “late” and “straggler” categories. It offers the important conclusion that the “critical mass” of mainstream consumers is now using digital content routinely. For example, more than half of early and mainstream viewers in the U.S., United Kingdom and China watch Hulu and Netflix (or similar services) on their PCs or VOD on home TV sets.

The report even delves into sociological factors. It notes that, “In a profound shift from the linear nature of traditional content consumption, global consumers are distracted, decreasingly giving TV their undivided attention.” In the U.S., it says, 90% of mainstream consumers split their attention by surfing the web (at least some of the time) while watching TV - a greater level of multi-tasking than in other countries.

IBM concludes with advice to look beyond digital distribution. It recommends that media/entertainment providers concentrate on differentiating the product itself to accommodate the new micro-segments that have replaced legacy mass audiences.

Now that’s an idea we should have recognized two decades ago when personalized interactive TV was offering all those opportunities - way ahead of their time.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, Md., and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at