Throughout its lifespan, television has been in a perpetual state of flux. What began as a square box used to display a few black-and-white channels evolved into a one inch thick, high-definition multimedia universe. Its development has and always will be in everlasting motion. From black-and-white to color, several channels to thousands, and tube to LCD; content, experiences and devices continue to change with differing audience behaviors and technology innovations.
Today we are living in a new era of television that allows for complete two-way interactivity between broadcasters and audiences. This interactivity is the mark of the latest evolutional transformation: the death of the lean-back experience and the birth of lean-forward content. And with this latest development, television consumption and the industry itself will never be the same.
What we are seeing is a fundamental shift toward a new kind of viewing experience as people come to expect interactivity during their favorite programming. Prior to this golden age of television, people were satisfied with cable channels and technologies like DVR. That was until the emergence of the internet and personal devices, which unsuspectingly shook the TV industry to its core.
The development of personal devices has driven TV interactivity through a variety of phases. Initially, hot buzzwords like "Social TV" purely meant that audiences could discuss TV content on social media by following a link on the screen of their personal device.
Shortly after, a multitude of second screen apps sprung up, and either failed, consolidated or pivoted their business. Zeebox, GetGlue and Miso represented the early days of the shift toward broadcast interactivity and laid the foundation for change, marking the beginning of the end for lean-back television.
All of which leads to present day, where the culmination of this evolution has lead us to the concept of "Participation TV." This genre of watching allows viewers to become a crucial element within the story of their favorite shows. New programs are emerging with a focus on making audience participation instant, completely changing how we view and interact with shows.
Popular shows like Modern Family and Project Runway have brought this kind of experience to the mass market, allowing fans to engage second-by-second in the storyline. Why throw your shoe at the TV, when you can jump in and express your opinions on the TV screen in real-time.
Ushering in this revolution are interactive shows like ABC's Rising Star. A reality singing competition, Rising Star allows the audience to vote for their favorite contestants in real time, demonstrating how the masses consume their TV media and demand to be part of the action instead of just spectators.
Through this drastic shift to a more engaging experience, broadcasters only stand to benefit. According to Enders Analysis, 85 percent of viewers use their smartphones as they watch television. While this can take attention away from the program, it also has the potential to bring them into the story. Not only will this type of engagement drive up ratings, but it also presents opportunities for advertisers to connect directly with their consumers while they are passionately engaged in their favorite TV show.
The networks that understand the importance and value of engaging their viewers -- both with ratings and revenue -- are the ones who will flourish in this new genre of television. Participation TV is no longer about revealing results over time, but letting the results reveal themselves in real time as the audience interacts. It's a new age of television and broadcasters and viewers should brace themselves for it. People don't want to just watch TV anymore, they want to be a part of the story.