When my book club was picking its next theme recently, the unanimous vote was ‘fiction to escape to’. With liberation out of lockdown on our minds, it’s no surprise that our vote mirrored how we feel.
It’s strange that mood and emotional need states rarely dominate content creators’ agendas, playing second fiddle to debates about messaging and how often logos appear.
The ad industry has long known that mood and need states drive content consumption choices. In fact, the relationship between mood and need states fuelling media choices were a topic of curiosity for academics in the 1940s, when soap opera listeners were studied to identify what needs they were looking to gratify. The study concluded that the needs were wishful thinking, emotional and learning. Sound familiar?
TV broadcasters have since fine-tuned Uses and Gratifications Theory into their very own six TV need states: indulge, escape, experience, unwind, comfort and connect. They realised that different sorts of content were comparatively better at gratifying these needs than others. Live and sport events helped viewers connect with others outside their living room, while soaps gratified the daily ‘comforting’ rituals of shared family dinners on the sofa.
Then came VOD, algorithms, smartphones and smart TVs, reinforcing the shift from ‘what’s on right now’ to ‘what am I in the mood for’. This new tech brought with it the promise of free choice of anything, anytime and anywhere. The power of choice was truly going to be in the hands of the people, breaking down the dominance of the commissioners.
But do we really have the unbridled power of choice over what we consume? Looking at how our daily media diets are actually being shaped suggests otherwise. Considering 70% of YouTube views come from its recommendation engine, our "active" daily content decisions aren’t as clear-cut as simply changing the channel on the remote.
What’s emerged is a mish-mash of new viewing occasions and behaviours where tech and mood collide to inform what’s next on our viewing playlist.
Whilst special occasion linear TV viewing (think the upcoming FA Cup final) and everyday viewing is here to stay, tech has enabled more “me time” viewing – where we indulge ourselves by going down rabbit holes of niche personal interests and tastes. VOD, YouTube and other personalised AI recommendation-driven platforms like Netflix are the main instigators of this, with YouTube seeing watchtime increase each year on niche topics from keto diets to gardening. During lockdown, daily views of #withme videos of activities like tie-dying went up a whopping 600%.
Another occasion is the social viewing experience - where the TV sofa extends beyond the physical sofa at home and jumps into your other devices via watch parties and social. It’s collective viewing with a heightened sense of interaction to gratify our need for belonging.
Then there is background viewing. A lot has been written about the rise of ambient TV like “Emily in Paris” and our emotional need to unwind and relax without taxing our exhausted minds in tumultuous times can help explain its popularity.
But the impact of mood on content choices isn’t a one-way street.
A study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal confirmed the phenomenon of emotional contagion from YouTube videso – being exposed to angry (or sad) YouTubers can make us more angry (or sad) ourselves. Given the world watches nearly 5 billion videos on YouTube a day, the idea of emotional contagions spreading from person to person is a powerful force that creators and media brands can’t afford to ignore in their editorial choices.
Ok, so what does all of this really mean for brands, media publishers and any content creator? It’s simple. With free tools like YouGov’s weekly mood tracker, it’s never been easier to understand what moods your content can help elicit and the needs it can fulfill. And let’s face it, making someone feel happy and more connected can be the secret weapon for your brand to stand out from the crowd.
Nikhil Acharya is a strategist at JustSo
Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images