Going deep

The richest experience imaginable

I stayed up late the other night to watch the first presidential election debate.  Way late. American Politics can be so much more exciting than the dog and pony show in the UK, but there comes a point where sleep is the better option.  3am for instance.

Bloody thumbnail… missed the main point of the image. Still, you get the idea.. there was a split screen

What’s fascinating for those of us who spend our lives trying to understand audiences is that these presidential debates feature actual audience research in action. Live.  Or rather LIVE.

We get to see a dial test, where the viewers rate the candidates on a second by second basis during the programme. In some respects it’s not very televisual… two talking heads on a split screen, and some screen furniture at the bottom… (I became slightly obsessed by the clock showing how long each candidate had spoken).

And yet, there we were, analysing the body language, the words they used, the way they spoke, the arguments, what they wore, their eyes… did Obama look down too much? Was Romney presidential? Was the moderator a bit rubbish? Everything was pored over.  What did they NOT say.   This is the sort of in-depth analysis that gives researchers a reputation for TMI, but it matters.

It’s all so rich.

I like the word ‘rich’.  It sounds luxurious, but also sensual and intoxicating. Like foie gras… truffles…  or a Sufjan Stevens tune…or making love to a beautiful lady (or man. Needn’t be beautiful too, I was just quoting Swiss Toni off’ve the Fast Show, give me a break)..

And that’s what TV is. We may take a little more time analysing the content of a US presidential debate because the stakes are so high, but when you watch TV there is SO MUCH going on… it’s easy to absorb as a viewer but there’s WAY too much to analyse. It’s like poetry, but with images, and faces, and music, and a rhythm, and colour, and personality, and tone, and all that.  And more.

And that’s just the TV content.  Consider what’s going on in the home –  the relationships between the viewers, the ways their brains work and respond to the images and personalities on show, the impact of human needs, our mercurial relationship with the TV …  all that.  Consider the way our knowledge of the brain and the decisions we take is being advanced through behavioural economics…  If these are exciting times in politics, they are even more exciting in television.


The funny thing is this:  we know that TV viewing is a deeply rich experience… complex, fascinating, changing, powerful…. amazing. And we spend longer in our lifetime watching TV than working (as I discuss on the ‘Home’ page).  But how much attention is paid currently to understanding this television viewing behaviour by the media research business?  Compared with social media?

Hardly any.

Nicholson Baker once wrote an entire book covering a single lunch-hour.  I’ve written a book about a day in television but you know what?  You could write an entire chapter about a second of TV.





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