Mary Poppins and The Science of Content Discovery

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Let us introduce Rick Howe - The iTV Doctor - a television industry analyst, speaker and consultant. Rick is a Cable TV Pioneer and a member of the Television Academy. Being highly experienced in the interactive TV business, Rick will share his views on the most pressing issues with our readers on a regular basis. Stay tuned!

I was chatting with a friend the other day about "Mary Poppins Returns". My friend opined that the Mary Poppins sequel couldn't even compare to the Julie Andrews original - not as creative, as groundbreaking, or as much pure fun. But his expectations were low, and he did enjoy the experience.
And I, thoughtful grandparent that I am, believe that the Emily Blunt version fully delivered on the promise of the original. Coupled with "Saving Mr. Banks" with Emma Thompson in the role of author P. L. Travers, "Mary Poppins Returns" was about fathers. Not fatherhood, mind you. Fathers. Particularly fathers and loss. My expectations were high, having seen the movie trailer with Emily Blunt singing "The Place Where Lost Things Go".

[Doctor's Note: Give a listen. I'll wait]
That conversation made me realize that my friend and I, watching the same film, actually saw two different movies. It is axiomatic that two people, watching the same TV show or movie, will have two different takeaways. But it goes further than that.
If my friend had been persuaded to see the sequel with promises of "Groundbreaking Creative Fun", his viewing experience would have been a disappointment.
On the other hand, if Disney had promoted the movie as "Mary Poppins Saves Fathers Everywhere" I would have stayed away (along with virtually everybody else!).

We all don't hear the same things when we listen - as any teacher will confirm - nor do we have the same emotional experience when we watch a movie or a TV show.
So why do people in charge of building audiences, particularly for TV, assume that we all see things the same way? At the most basic level, we have a drama starring somebody or somebody else. With a little more sophistication, we have linkage that dictates "because you watched THAT, we are recommending THIS".
And if the platform is REALLY good, they know that I watched the first show to the end, vs. blowing it off after a few minutes. Maybe they will even use an algorithm that combines my viewing of dozens of movies and shows (as long as nobody else uses my subscription).

But that's still not enough. While I'm not about to grant a personal interview after watching a program, the industry does have technology to measure my level of engagement scene-by-scene: my phone.
The vast majority of viewers, skewing MUCH higher with Millennials and GenZ, watch TV with their phones in hand; or watch TV ON their phones. And they are doing other things while watching: text, social media, email, games and more.

Right this minute, without any new technology, we have the ability to know what the viewer is tweeting ABOUT during a show. Certainly Disney can see that I'm tweeting about "Mr Banks" while watching "Saving Mr. Banks". They may not (at this moment) know when I'm tweeting about something else; but they certainly know when I'm tweeting about a key Disney word.
Does Disney care where I was most engaged during "Saving Mr. Banks"? If they want me to PAY to download and keep "Mary Poppins Returns" on their new subscription service, you better bet they do!
And that's where we are. Disney knows it. Now you do, too.

And for the record, that same tech can be used when I'm watching a commercial. My level of engagement can be easily determined by what else I'm doing. It's actually pretty simple.