By Anne Koopman
Always wanted to watch your own personalized news in your own time on your own tablet or smartphone? The Dutch Medialab of TNO (institute of research for applied science) in cooperation with private broadcaster RTL is now developing the app News Genius as answer to this question. Will this be the future of Dutch TV news?
It is eight o’clock in the morning. You overslept, so you rushed to the station to catch your train. At home, you missed part of your morning ritual, the RTL morning news on television. As you really want to know what happened at the climate top in Paris last night, you open News Genius, and the news bulletin you are interested in immediately appears. Ten minutes later, you know what you wanted to know and your train arrives at your destination.
One size fits no-one
Why do we need an app like this? Rumor goes that the TV viewer is changing. They want to choose what to watch, at what time and through what device. Watching TV the traditional way is no longer of this time. Netflix, Popcorn Time, Youtube and HBO become the replacement for the old-fashion television. It is over with one size fits all news, says Paul Valk, business development manager at TNO and initiator of News Genius in an interview with the Dutch Fund For Press (SvdJ).
(Video about News Genius. Created by SvdJ, commentary in Dutch)
TNO sees a growing interest in personalized news, as everyone has different preferences, interests, and time schedules. News Genius is a smartphone-app that will do what already happened to online written journalism, providing the user with news reflecting their personal demands. Due to a clever technology created by TNO, the app selects news video’s from RTL Nieuws, partly based on personal settings, but also by a learning system. This makes the news even more personalized the more times the app is used.
According to Valk, in the same interview, RTL Nieuws is experiencing a decline in viewers and uses the development of this app “to look forward and to innovate.”
Time spent watching TV
So is this rumor true, or is this just a myth? In the Netherlands, all the TV watchers are tracked by Stichting KijkOnderzoek* (SKO, the Dutch Foundation of research on viewers) and the results of 2014 might surprise you. In the last couple of years, no decline but an actual rise is seen in the amount of minutes the Dutch watch TV on an average day.
(Source: SKO, Mediamonitor, average time a person watches TV a day)
Looking more closely, you can see a decline when in the age group 13-34. But this decline is still minimum and rectified by the rise of those who are 35 years and older. Of course you can’t deny or forget the youngsters, but should we get scared already? I don’t think so.
(Source: Initiative.nl, the average time a person watches TV a day, divided by age)
Now the negative thinkers will address the argument that in 2014 two major television events took place, the World Championship in Brasil and the Olympic Winter Games in Russia. This is true, of course, as both events are rated in the top 25 most-watched television programs in 2014 in the Netherlands. However it still not takes away the fact that the time spent watching TV has actually grown.
This also counts for TV News. When comparing the amount of watchers of the Public broadcast NOS from 2013 and 2014, you can see there has been a shift in time of the day, but an increase in total amount of watchers. Also, if you exclude all sports events, in the same top 25 the NOS Journaal of 8 o’clock can be found on the third place.
Too many choices
In the end, the rumors might just be rumors. However, News Genius has another aspect that might attract future users, making their news personal. We should not get too excited by this either though, as in-depth research conducted by the intiators themselves has shown that some of the users are hesitant of having too many choices. They just want to watch the news.
We should also not forget the role RTL Nieuws plays. They have already said they want to contribute and make all their video’s available. However, the format must be created in the way they want it, so the app won’t differ too much of their own news app. You can wonder how personal this will make it.
Changing the nature of TV
To answer the question I started this blog with, whether this is the future of TV, I would say no. The numbers in this blog show that a new future of TV is not necessary at this moment. Of course it is good to think ahead and start with innovative projects. But you should not forget that what TV makes what it is. Looking at a screen is more passive than reading a blog or newspaper. The only thing you have to do is sit and watch. You can say it is a lazy medium, while the newspaper desires more brainpower.
The nature and characteristics of television is different than that of written journalism. You can question whether it is possible to copy a format, in this case personalized news, that applies to online written journalism to television news shows. Does this change the nature of TV, and the reason people watch the news instead of reading it? I’m wondering if an app like News Genius will be succesful.
*Important note: The numbers and figures mentioned in this blog are based on the traditional way of watching television, combined with watching TV on mobile devices and through TV on demand. However, the most popular way of watching TV is, still, by sitting in front of the actual television screen.
Anne Koopman is a Dutch journalist, currently finishing her Master’s in journalism & media. Contact her on Twitter.