Are Audiences The New Transmitters?


The next "episode" of Seven Days is on Wednesday (6th October). The Channel 4 execs will be keen to see if its audience will build this week.

The question is: will the conversations amongst last week’s audience fuelled by the interactive element of the show (the audience gets to decide which ‘characters’ we see more and which we see less of) and the excellent use of social media (Facebook and Twitter feeds and the bespoke ChatNav) encourage more people to tune in on Wednesday?

Seven Days represents the kind of TV marketing and programme making we’ll be doing more of in the future. And so it’ll be important to see how it performs.

Broadcasters used to only broadcast the channel’s ideas and opinions through their programmes. Marketing would just let people know what time the show was on and where. The broadcasters didn’t seem interested in hearing from their audience. (It’s no co-incidence that so much of the language of TV – ‘broadcast’, ‘transmitters’, ‘playout’ is all about one way communication).

But, TV/internet convergence will enable the audience to have more conversations about TV. Social media makes it easier for the audience to say what they think about the shows they’re watching and the public will increasingly play a part in shaping programmes. Seven Days represents a continuation of the shift of power away from broadcasters to the audience.

As a strategist working in broadcasting, I am very much in favour of the increasing use of audience research, audience understanding and audience shaping of TV. But up to a point.

It used to be that we’d talk about the TV we’d seen face to face the next day with people we knew or worked with – all gathered around the ‘watercooler.’

But, now, shows like Seven Days encourage live conversations during the broadcast not just afterwards and conversations with people you’ve never met before and probably never will.

Last Wednesday, as I settled down to watch TV, I was very much on my own. My husband was out, the kids were in bed, so I had no one to share the TV experience with. Watching Seven Days with other viewers live on Facebook meant that I had people to talk about the show with, as it happened.

However, it was a mixed experience. There was something quite cool about watching something happen on TV and, almost instantaneously, a comment appearing on the Facebook page on the laptop in front of me.

But, despite there being lots of people commenting on what was going on, they didn’t appear to want to have a conversation. They just wanted to broadcast their views.

Maybe it’s because of the type of show Seven Days is. Maybe it’s because of the audience it attracts. Lost, for example, demonstrates that it is possible for audiences to want to work together to solve clues and that interesting conversations can happen. Shows like Seven Days demand immediate comment and there’s little room for people to take stock and work out what it’s all about. Channel 4 is using the production team and the characters from the show to facilitate and start conversations with the audience, but the answers they are getting back don't move the conversation along. Ironically, the audience commenting on the show appears to be interested in speaking and not listening; broadcasting, not conversing.

Clare Phillips, Head of Strategic Planning