The concept of the “Rearview Mirror effect” refers to our tendency as humans to reuses old behavioral patterns in a new environment
Media philosopher Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1967 that “when faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past,” that, “we look at the present through a rearview mirror. We march backwards into the future.” This seems to be especially pertinent today when we look at television programmers who are adding over-the-top (OTT) content services to their abilities challenging and trying to disrupt traditional media and models. For cord-cutting consumers having more network options to choose from is good news, however many players might well be hampering industry progress and thwarting innovation by falling into the trap of McLuhan’s “rearview-mirror effect” — they’re just recreating what has already been done in OTT distribution.
The traditional distribution model offers an impersonal user experience where viewers select channels to access the content they want. Instead, programmers should look at the online ad industry that is already targeting specific content to individual audiences. Video content needs to be pushed to viewers instead of them having to seek it out and the key to advancement is through personalization.
The March Backwards
A good example of our tendency to march backwards can be seen in the very history of television itself. When TV was invented, media applied the exact same techniques used in radio instead of creating disruption. Now we’re seeing the same behavior amongst several online media networks, while others are focusing on producing something distinctive for online environments.
There may be many exciting and new shows on Nickelodeon or other OTT service providers, however the evolution of media is the evolution of distribution. The move from terrestrial channels to analog channels enabled CNN and MTV. The move from analog to digital enabled the formation of numerous MTV channels.
Up Close and Personal
As we move towards online advertising and video content, it is imperative that we don’t rework the patterns of old models. By old “patterns” we mean traditional TV broadcasting where viewers are required to approach a single channel for viewing content. This is not just a passive approach, but one that produces a completely impersonalized experience.
New “patterns” that should be adopted for the online environment involve push and personalization. In other words, content must be proactively tailored and targeted to viewers on the sites and channels they visit regularly. This is the only way content owners will ensure maximum content monetization, while viewers will be offered the personalization they expect to receive. Take advertising as an example — people don’t have to search for their favorite ads, they encounter them wherever they visit.
Engaging the Consumer
Effective online viewership is not about how many people enter a site to watch content – that would be old-fashioned TV. It is about catering content to the viewer.
For example, millions of viewers tune in to HBO to watch the series “Game of Thrones,” whether it’s through HBO’s streaming service or its cable station. They need to search for it. Instead, an innovative approach would be to offer a service that automatically delivers them with “Game of Thrones” regardless of where they’re tuned in. This is why we say that OTT content service providers are currently just offering yet another traditional experience where consumers need to enter a specific site and search for content.
For online content creators and advertisers to succeed, online viewership needs to be about tailoring content so that audiences see content and ads that are relevant to their interests and see it everywhere they look. Tailoring content is much more likely to keep viewers engaged, which is a more long-term sustainable solution for reaching target audiences. Moreover, unlike traditional media, the online environment enables content be tailored toward separate users.
To stop marching backwards and rearview-mirror gazing, we need to update our content and distribution approaches. After all, if the ad industry could realize and respond to the need through targeting and native advertising, surely the content industry can come on board by catering to viewers and pushing the content they want to see on the sites they visit most often? The alternative is an industry that will stay behind!
By Hiro Media