From Lean Back to Lean Forward: The Gamification of Television

Watching television in a traditional lean-back manner is no longer applicable in today's digital world, where consumers crave constant interaction with their favorite games, content and TV shows.
10/08/2014 02:33 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2014

Evolution is defined as a process of gradual, progressive change or development. While the consequences of evolution are all around us, many don't link evolution to entertainment. But, not to do so would be a mistake. Television, while not even a century old, has a well laid-out and heavily-documented path of evolutionary change. With its rapid evolutionary track record, the industry is now in need of another progressive development, to keep up with the ever-shifting ecosystem and the transformations in viewing habits.

Watching television in a traditional lean-back manner is no longer applicable in today's digital world, where consumers crave constant interaction with their favorite games, content and TV shows. The internet has turned consumers into lean-forward viewers, who require interactivity and fun to remain invested in a program. Consumers are no longer interested in simply watching television, but interacting at the highest level.

This type of character-shift requires an innovative new approach to TV entertainment. But for that approach to be successful, it needs to be rooted in mirroring consumer behavior. B.F. Skinner's 'Reinforcement Theory of Motivation' states that an individual's behavior is a function of its consequences. In the case of traditional television, the "individuals" are the viewers, and their behavior is contingent on the benefits that appointment television can offer them. If a traditional television experience offers viewers a new and tangible value, their behavior will positively follow suit. But the key is to offer something new, while still maintaining the qualities that make it an exceptional and compelling story.

Gamification does just that -- it supports the core values of television and story-telling, while weaving in interactivity and positive reinforcement by allowing two-way participation TV. Platforms that apply 'game mechanics' to a particular form of linear entertainment -- sitcoms, reality television, news, sports -- will give viewers a set of positive consequences without disrupting the power of the story. Utilizing a connected personal device, viewers can interact with a TV show in real time, play along and feed the emotional human mind's need for rewards, novelty and reinforcement. The benefit of a multiscreen form of gamification means results and rewards can be gained on second-by-second basis on both screens.

In return, the gamification of TV entertainment will give positive reinforcements for participation and correct answers. For example, if a viewer is watching their favorite sitcom while using a gamification platform, they are actively answering questions pertaining to what is happening in the show in real-time. By rewarding correct answers in the form of prizes or real-time recognition and creating a community in which to play, you will be providing positive consequences that can potentially alter a viewer's behavior in the long term. Recognition could be displaying the viewer's name and Facebook picture on live television for the world to see, while the rewards could be winning swag from their favorite TV show.

This type of evolutionary change in television is especially important when considering the Millennial generation. These extreme social media users and digital junkies don't know a world that is not fully interactive. Millennials are technologically savvy and openly demand collaborative and compelling content to win their attention. They're also the best indicator of generations to come. Gamification meets the needs of Millennials -- it's interactive, it's compelling and it's technologically advanced. Millennials are the future of entertainment viewership, making them an essential and reliable indicator for the successful evolution of the media industry.

To date, gamification has been proven to captivate viewers' attention on a number of US Network television shows. With increased engagement rates, gamification is giving viewers the ability to express their opinions and delivering the collaboration experience they crave. Gamification of TV entertainment supports Skinner's Reinforcement theory of motivation. By rewarding viewers' interactive behavior with positive consequences, their actions are more likely to be repeated. This means they are more likely to check in to an appointment television setting, ultimately expanding and evolving the entertainment industry.