Welcome to the Era of Purposeful Viewing

The Golden Age of TV is all about viewer empowerment

No one watches crap on TV anymore.

This is how Jeffrey Cole, research professor and head of the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School, succinctly sums up the state of television.

Beyond the amount of quality content being produced today, the new Golden Age of Television is defined by viewer empowerment. Viewers now control their TV experience like never before. They can choose what they want to watch, when, where and how they want to watch it. TV viewing has become self-directed, and viewers have become self-schedulers. With this great shift in consumer behavior, we have entered what we are calling The Era of Purposeful Viewing.

Peter Naylor


In this world of self-scheduling, content rules—not only is it king, it is "king-er" than ever (another great Cole-ism). No one watches anything they think is crap because they don't have to. Viewers no longer have to turn to the TV with an attitude of "let's see what's on." They now come to the TV knowing there's content that they want to enjoy, and since they are making that active choice, when they watch, they are engaged regardless of the time of day or the day of the week.

In the Era of Purposeful Viewing, viewers are no longer tied to program grids. While many still choose to watch programs at the original time of airing, they may also time- and place-shift their viewing. Or they may eschew the offerings of linear television and turn to video on demand, subscription video on demand or even pure-play digital programmers. And with dynamic ad-insertion, whether they're watching last night's Modern Family or last year's South Park, these highly engaged, purposeful viewers get this moment's ad, which means marketers don't have to worry about C3, C7 or fast-forwarding. For advertisers, The Era of Purposeful Viewing is a world of C-Now.

This shift to viewer control did not happen overnight. It has been coming for some time, as connected device penetration has grown. Nielsen's fourth quarter 2014 Total Audience Report highlighted how much viewers are taking control of their personal TV experience, noting, "Never before has the viewer had more control and more skill at navigating the evolving ecosystem of devices and platforms for content discovery." Technology has ushered in this new era and helped viewers navigate beyond the cable box for their daily entertainment.

Between DVRs, connected video game consoles, tablet computers, smartphones, streaming devices and smart TVs, there are now dozens of ways for viewers to watch video content. But the key behavior shift is the ability to stream digital video to the TV screen. The TV is the screen that best lends itself to the relaxed, lean-back experience that consumers want when they watch long-form content. It remains the contemporary hearth around which the family gathers. It's this shift to the best screen in the house that makes over-the-top behavior much more compelling, and it results in viewers weaving that behavior into their daily routines.

GfK, in its annual Home Technology Monitor ownership report, has chronicled the meteoric rise of connected TVs. According to its research, in 2010, 37 percent of TV households had an Internet-connected TV, but only 8 percent were taking advantage of that capability.

Fast-forward to 2014, and Internet-connected TVs have reached critical mass and are available in 49 percent of TV households. And now 37 percent are using that connection to stream content. That's more than a 400 percent increase in the proportion of all TV households that are watching over-the-top video on a connected TV. This on-demand viewing is the disruptive force that is bringing about a revolutionary shift in consumer behavior that not even the DVR, with its pausing and rewinding of live TV, could create on its own.

It is an exciting time to be in the television business. The Era of Purposeful Viewing is upon us, and viewers are more in control than ever as they hone their skills at managing the many technologies that enable them to watch what, when, where and how they want. 

Peter Naylor (@prnaylor) is svp of sales at Hulu. This opinion piece is the fourth in a weekly series leading up to the the start of the Digital Content NewFronts on Monday, April 27.