Sunday, June 8, 2008


Todays journey of metaphoric bliss: Alzheimer, buses, jewelry, YouTube.

Patients with Alzheimer's and other cognitive troubles who wander out of their nursing homes are a danger to themselves, of course. And with short-term memory issues, folks can go as little as a block away and then forget how to get back or why they're out. To help with this, some German nursing homes have put "phantom" bus stops outside their facilities. Patients remember the distinctive look of the bus stops and associate it with "going home." So they stop, rest, and the workers from the home come and get them (link).

Paco Underhill did absolutely groundbreaking work in the science of retail shopping behaviors. The New York Times called him, "the anthropologist of the dressing room." He wrote "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping," (Google, WorldCat) and has consulted all over the place. In a 1996 NewYorker article (by Malcom Gladwell, no less), titled "The Science of Shopping," the concept of the "butt brush" theory is discussed. Full article here.

The quote that I'm most interested in today, though, is, "...the likelihood of a woman being converted from a shopper to a buyer is inversely proportional to the likelihood of her being brushed on her behind while she's examining merchandise." Which is the explanation for giant, wide aisles around the jewelry, perfume and watch displays in stores like Lord and Taylor, Macy's, etc. When pondering a pretty purchase, we get into a kind of dreamy, fugue state. Being bumped on the behind takes us out of that state and puts us back into the reality of, "Holy crap... that watch costs as much as three car payments."

[Note: I share this story with all my marketing and advertising students, male and female. It's a good trick, and not just for guys with wives and girlfriends. Men go into this same state, I believe, when shopping for power tools, HDTVs, boats, video games, etc. My non-scientific assumption, though, is that men are more likely to break out of Shopper's Fugue if you bump them in the testicles.]

What's the connection to degenerative brain disorders and shopping for jewelry? Well... let's move on to YouTube.

Douglas Galbi, over at the ever-intelligent and interesting "purple motes" blog, has an excellent recent post titled, "Stories largely missing in online video." His conclusion, after going over some good stats, is that online video is not successful in telling stories. While I agree with him that the "short form" video -- with YouTube as its major example -- isn't doing much storytelling, I'm going to point out some details that, I think, are important with regards to online viewing habits.

First, Doug is 100% right that the majority of YouTube videos are short, and a large percentage are repurposed  music videos that, in the past, would have run on MTV or VH1 or a similar network. A research study I was involved with at my day job provided much the same insight ("The YouTube Phenomenon," page 2-16 of "Our Social Spaces," from "Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World.") Our survey indicated that 49% of the top 100 YouTube videos were music videos. Also, 63% of the top 100 videos were "professional," in nature. This segment of the material is clearly not "user created content," but maybe best described as "user uploaded."

Doug also points out that online video viewing time only amounts to 3% of traditional TV viewing time. When considering this, lets remember that TV is, and has been for 50 years, the dominant communication medium in our country. It's only over the past few years that even a decent minority of the U.S. population (23.3% as of December 2007, according to the OECD) has access to broadband Internet service, which is pretty much a requirement for watching online video.

My two points, and they relate back to comfort -- which relates to bus stops and butt touching --  are simply as follows.

First, we currently regard TV as, largely, a "comfort medium." We sit down to watch, don't interact much, and enjoy it largely as entertainment. There are good stories on TV, yes. Because stories are a big part of how we like to be entertained, especially in "comfort" mode. I would remind my several readers, however, that lots and lots of TV is also "short form" entertainment, lacking in real storytelling elements. We have talk shows, sports, game shows, reality TV, news, weather and informational shows that don't have traditional narrative. And many of these have parallel elements in Web video. I just watched, for example, Clinton's "campaign suspension" speech on the NYT site. It was very, very nice to have the transcript and a TOC right next to the video. I think that as more online video becomes nested within other activities, it will gain more usage. I also think that as broadband becomes more the norm, non-narrative video will seem much more natural online, both in aggregate and compared to TV viewing.

As to when we'll get more narrative, storytelling content on the Web... well, it's starting. Hulu provides free (ad supported) access to narrative TV and movies. I missed an episode of Battlestar Gallactica a few weeks ago and watched the hour-long show on the SciFi channel's site to make up for my DVR behaving badly. I now have a desk chair in my home office for working on the computer... and a comfy chair nearby for relaxing and watching DVDs and long Web-videos. But, even when I choose to watch long-form video on my computer, there are issues. My spam-blocker, anti-virus software pops up in front of the movie screen and tells me it's finished updating and update. Super. My IM pings, unless I've remembered to turn it off. My screen saver kicks in sometimes. Geez. I'm trying to watch TV on my computer and it keeps behaving like a computer.

The boundaries are melting. Slowly, yes. I agree with Doug that, at the moment, there's not a lot of storytelling going on specifically within online video. I do think, though, that it's beginning. And, also, that many online "stories" have video as one element, with other media embedding video as part of the story.

We like our comfort zones, and TV is a *HUGE* comfort zone for Americans. We head to the bus stop of our La-Z-Boy lounger because it means, "Here there be relaxation." Major changes in how we watch long-form video will take time, and will require computers to become something other than "working machines," and to stop touching us on our collective butts when we're trying to enjoy a story.

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