Emergence of Connected Viewing

2 April 2011 was a momentous day in India’s sporting history in general and cricket in particular. The Indian Cricket Team won the ICC Cricket World Cup to become the World Champions. It was a dream come true for millions of Indians who hoped and waited for years before Team India could win it again after 28 years.

India’s first World Cup win came in 1983 and I was not even 10. I didn’t see the final in 1983 but remember waking up middle of the night when the celebrations erupted in our house as well as the neighbourhood. That’s the only living memory I have of the 1983 World Cup. Post that I always watched every major tournament and specifically the World Cup matches with my family and friends – mostly on live television with a handful of exceptions where I got an opportunity to see them on-ground. Co-viewing was a lot of fun with gossip, analysis, speculations, opinions, arguments, and even fights. It added much needed spice to a slow (daylong) game. It continued for many years (throughout student life) but eventually friends and family moved on to different cities/countries. So we seldom got a chance to watch things together. I continued to watch cricket matches and other sports on my own but the experience was not the same.

Things changed over the last three to four years. Internet penetration and bandwidth improved dramatically (across the globe). Social platforms came along with powerful tools for expressing, sharing, and conversing. Most importantly, things became easily accessible through a variety of mobile devices. Slowly and steadily my experience of watching sports (and other live events) started to change. First realisation came during the historic Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal in 2008 when I discovered that I had several friends following the same event from their respective comfort zones. We expressed our opinions plus excitement (or disappointment) through social platforms and occasionally commented on each other’s status messages. All of a sudden my experience changed and this was the early sign for the future in store. As the digital platforms became more powerful, things kept improving and people around the world also learnt the art of conducting geography agnostic conversations.

Fun improved with every passing event and finally the 2011 Cricket World Cup brought it really alive. I watched the 2011 Cricket World Cup with over 300 friends and family members across the globe. During the last 45 days, we were sharing gossip, analysis, speculations, opinions, arguments, and even having fights on our Facebook walls and Twitter timelines. Experiences from the ground were shared in near real-time through status updates, photos, and videos.

So why am I so excited about connected viewing? Because it is likely to redefine how we look at delivering brand experiences through content and advertising.

Location Agnostic Advertising

Firstly, connected viewing is location agnostic and delivers almost as much fun as if one were watching things together. People are increasingly watching television content through or with the Internet. So more often than not they’re seeing ads from different geographies. It is a natural tendency to discuss advertising if we find it entertaining, relevant, irrelevant, or irritating. Connected viewing with family and friends gives an opportunity to discuss various brands that appear or do not appear on the show. Things are evaluated in real time and these conversations are not only restricted to people sitting together but they’re visible to a wider set of people across the globe. So it becomes necessary for global brands to deliver a consistent message across the globe otherwise they now run the risk of generating dissonance. In my opinion, this is a huge opportunity for a truly consistent global brand to engage with networks of friends connected through passions rather than geographical locations.

Avatar over Appearance

Secondly, digital Avatars will become more important than physical appearances. Connected viewing puts pressure on all the participating people to have smart digital avatars. No one now cares about how you look because you’re not sitting together but they do pay attention to your avatar online. It is so interesting to see people changing their profile pictures and curating walls during big events like the Olympics, World Cup, F1 Races, Tennis Grand Slams, Grammy Awards, and the Oscars. Curating a digital avatar is not an easy task and brands can play an important role by providing tools that help in making digital avatars better. It is an interesting opportunity as brands can potentially get embedded into avatars and social platforms through pull rather than push. Nike’s Bleed Blue campaign during the 2011 Cricket World Cup achieved that inadvertently. I didn’t see any avatar (profile) improvement tools from Nike but people on their own used Bleed Blue visuals on their avatars during the knockout stage. I’m sure Nike is now busy calculating the earned media generated during the World Cup.

The connected viewing phenomenon has just started to gain momentum and it will significantly change the way we consume content. I have no doubt that it will bring new challenges as well as opportunities for brands. I’m excited!

(Originally published on 13 April, 2011 on ClickZ.Asia)