Behavioural scientist Mark Earls looked at what broadcasters can learn from his area of social science. His first finding is that “It is ‘the people’ who determine the adoption of new technologies.”
The best “thing” does not always win out (and Sony is still sore about Betamax), he said. Moreover, successful things – or technologies – can take a long time to take off.
The reasons for this are two-fold. First, he said: “We are much less Spock than Kirk – we can think if we absolutely have to, but we’d really rather not.”
Second, we often do not make decisions on our own (summed up as – “I’ll have what she’s having”).
But the internet and social media have magnified the effect of these aspects of human nature, he argued. It is now the “hyper-connected” Kirks who determine the adoption of new technologies.
Indeed, the intrinsic quality of a “thing” is no longer so central – social scientists now talk of a “social-object” quality – things get their value from their ability to help people connect to each other.
The unpredictability of what will appeal to this mass of Kirks makes it hard for anyone planning to launch a new entertainment service.
Companies and organisation have developed three main responses to this situation, he said:
- Choosing safety first – or sequel, sequel, sequel to be cynical (or “franchise building” to be more charitable)
- Choosing to bake real-time interaction into their projects (this is hard to achieve, it is not just a question of more phone voting)
- Choosing to place a range of bets, and accepting most will not work (which Channel 4 seems to have ended up doing).
Mark Earls is a writer and behavioural scientist.
Report by Gordon Jamieson