If you watch that without me I’m divorcing you

The turn of the year is traditional time for taking stock and trying to get space to think. Thinking is something that in the media industry we like to “think” we do but it is a rare commodity as we hurtle from inbox to meeting to conference to home to bed to much-needed sleep perchance to dream. So what do I think about when given a bit of head space? Well TV viewing of course.

Our recent ‘Screen Life: TV in demand‘ research revealed six needstates which drive us towards watching TV programmes. In broad terms, there are three needstates driven by content – Experience, Escape and Indulge; these involve a more active selection of a programme. So if you search for and watch something on 4oD or ITV Player it is easier to remember. It becomes more important in your rational mind.

We are often confronted by these easily available rational memories from colleagues in media: the dreaded “sample of one”. We may claim to time-shift everything, only ever watch on demand, never let our kids near the telly and only watch serious documentaries on BBC4, but we generally don’t really stop and truly think about our viewing and the viewing of others. Often people who work in media find it hard to understand why people are not self-scheduling; crafting their “screen based audio-visual experiences” into a “user friendly engaged lean forward” content fest.

I wondered if there was something in this, after all I am a media type of sorts. So I decided to really study my own dreaded “sample of one” family. I quickly realised that the other three needstates – Unwind, Comfort and Connect – which are less about the specific content and more about who you are with – are much harder to spot. Plonking yourself down on the sofa to relax, scanning the EPG and choosing something you fancy is less memorable, but no less important in terms of how we enjoy TV, we just take it for granted. But, when you really think about it, it is there to see.

TV plays a vital role in family relationships. The programmes seem to act as magnets for different parts of the family, drawing us together at different times and in different combinations, cementing and creating bonds through laughter, tears, or just hanging out and cuddling up on the couch.

Our favourite comfort viewing recently has been Sky One’s Modern Family, a brilliantly written and incredibly funny show. This show was all about us getting together, not all the family gets all the jokes, indeed we all pick up different jokes and nuances, but everyone gets something out of it. Mum and dad get all of our children in one place at the same time; they use it as an excuse to stay up just that little bit later.

There are moments of indulge that are easy to spot. My love of anything with “999” or “Real Camera” in the title gets derided by the whole family and I am literally sent to my room or have to stay up much later than I’d like to on a school night to watch it. And mum is on her own when it comes to Call The Midwife – in fact, come to think of it, anything with word Midwife in (as well as repeats of Gossip Girl).

My 11-year old son and I both unwind with a few cartoons that we know are too young for us but, well, that’s the point. Our favourite is Regular Show for Cartoon Network which revolves around the lives of two friends (both park keepers), a Blue Jay named Mordecai and a raccoon named Rigby – it is as surreal as it sounds.

And when the younger kids are safely tucked in bed there is special “grown up kids” time with the adults. Sometimes it’s a fine line on appropriate content, those awkward pre-teen years, neither one thing nor the other, desperate to be mature but not quite getting there. Outnumbered, Dynamo, Harrow, Bake off, Grand Designs and things like Child Genius are safe territory and Downton gets a look in…it is all about being with mum and dad when everyone else has gone to bed.

And of course the adults have their escapist content; the stuff we do plan to watch and the easily remembered. For us it has recently been Homeland, The Sopranos and Silent Witness. Like many others these can become cherished hours spent together relaxing and feeling free from responsibility. These are to be shared. As my wife said playfully (I think) when I threatened to watch an episode of Broadchurch without her: “If you watch that without me I’m divorcing you”. I waited for her.

Why is any of this important? Well it’s vital because we need to keep in touch with our viewers and consumers, understand who they are and why they do things, and how and when we should be talking to them to remain relevant and congruent. That way we can produce better relationships and more love…for each other and our brands.

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