We can make TV entertaining again.

One night, Jack Bauer escaped death over 30 times.  I watched in amazement.  I was completely sucked in and couldn’t believe the plot twists and turns as I watched one episode after the next.  My Dad always talked about how good the show was and now that the first few seasons of “24” were on DVD, I didn’t have to wait to see what happened next!

I talked about it with my friends and family as they asked how far I had made it through the season just as if we were discussing chapters in a great book.  TV is supposed to be entertaining.  For me this was something I looked forward to watching.

Years later, I don’t use my DVD player and most of my TV viewing isn’t really viewing at all.  Often times, I type and browse on my iPad while I listen to a game or a show in the background.  The TV is on but not as the main attraction.  For me, most nights, my second screen is my TV.  Breaking news or major sporting events will get my attention, but otherwise it just seems like filler.

The Internet has changed my area of focus during primetime. It’s also changing what we expect from TV.  Last week, Netflix was nominated for 14 Emmys across three of their original programs.  All of them were available as entire seasons on the day they debuted.  No waiting to see what happens next week.  No fast forwarding or watching commercials.   Just entertainment.  Anytime. Anywhere.

Even content that may have ads on the Internet is completely different than the experience of watching a channel on TV.  After watching Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” I didn’t mind watching an ad to get to the next episode.  Also nominated for an Emmy, the content is familiar, featuring funny people talking about nothing and simply going to coffee with Seinfeld.  Seems like a winning recipe for Crackle, an online destination that features Sony content and is completely free.  Once again, the content is entertaining and I can watch one 15 minute show after another – all directly streaming to my TV.

Instant access means that we can enjoy something when it is top of mind.  If the time to relax and unwind by watching TV is coupled with less channel surfing and more of what we want to watch, then I think we could see huge change to what TV looks like soon – in fact, it’s already happening.

We are seeing more niche-focused content because of the global reach of the Internet.  It’s not about millions of people watching at the same time. It’s about millions of individuals connecting to something meaningful to them.  In August, YouTube Geek Week will celebrate content creators who appeal to the nerd subculture.  The creative vehicle serves to bring new exposure to content that may not have been found otherwise.

One of the best parts of watching TV is sharing the experience with others afterwards – the social interaction of talking with friends about a movie, show or a game.  The problem is that what people are talking about isn’t relegated to just the channels we grew up watching.  Great content is being produced everywhere and more importantly is being distributed in new ways, so that viewers can be entertained.   People are watching content when they can, not when someone scheduled them to watch.

Channel surfing is a passive past time.  It’s ingrained in all but the younger generations.  It’s mindless and part of our habit to turn on the TV even without a thought of what we are looking for.  It’s also instant access to tons of stuff.  It’s live and a connection to what is going on in the world.  It’s a sea of endless choices – sometimes with nothing that interests us.  But, so is the Internet.  The online experience can be just as all-encompassing and overwhelming.

Live TV has long been part of our culture and now so is the Internet.  It’s the combination of the two that no one has figured out.   Now that we have these vast choices of entertainment, it’s an even bigger mess.  More remotes, more things to think about on the way to finding something, so I don’t have to think.

Now that we know there is plenty of quality shows from online sources, I believe most of us are just in search of the good stuff.   I don’t always know what I want to watch so I don’t need a search bar.  I need a filter so that I know about the best shows.

I am always going to push “power” on the TV but whether I pay attention to what is flickering on the screen depends on how quickly I can access the best content for me.  If that happens, then TV might just be really entertaining again.

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The Level 3 Editor manages content for Level 3's Beyond Bandwidth blog.

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