Control for all

For the last thirty years people have been trying to come up with clever ways to make TV interactive. In the early 80s, we had Teletext services. We later had phone votes. These days digital TV users know that they can get more content – such as games, documentaries and commentary tracks – by ‘pressing the red button;’ whichever method they are using to watch TV.

On the other hand, more devices can be modified to act as remote controls for TVs. Eventually all phones will be able to interact with nearby TVs. They’ll start by being able to switch channels and record to a DVR. Soon TVs (and computers) will accept text and multi-touch input from phones and remotes.

Maybe it is time for those designing the future of TV to take into account the essential nature of watching content on TV. What makes it different from going to the movies? Or watching DVDs and downloaded movies on computers and phones? The fact that you watch TV with one or more people that you usually know well. Phones and computers are usually used by one person at a time (unless the computer is being used as a TV replacement). When you are at the cinema, you may be with hundreds of people, but you know no-one but those you came with and you don’t spend time during the movie interacting with anyone (unless your primary reason isn’t to watch the film…).

Given that before the invention of the remote, anyone who walked over to the TV had control, maybe it’s time to plan for TV broadcasts where each person watching can control and interact with TV content. Instead of using a child as proxy remotes, as I was, the person who usually holds the remote (still typically the man) should be encouraged to share with others.

The future could be made of every individual consuming media on their own terms – on their own. It’s the interaction between those watching TV that makes it special. If TV improves and changes those interactions, it will keep groups of people together for a long time to come.

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