Crowdsourcing a Crowd on TV

TV executives are stumped on how to get young adults to watch TV on TV. Maybe the answer is to let them design and even develop what they watch and how they want to watch it.Television executives can't find love from young audiences that are the target of many lucrative advertisers. Their attempts to lure young adults have largely fallen flat, even with programming that features younger protagonists. It's time for an intervention.

Young adults are no more monolithic than any other age group. However, they have some common traits. They grew up with computers and mobile phones. They learned quite a while ago how to avoid watching TV commercials, which they find annoying, and now routinely view programming they like on their laptops or mobile devices.

This is a very different behavior, if not lifestyle, than their parents and grandparents who grew up with television and advertising, believing the two were largely inseparable. Now even this demographic is becoming a shaky audience for network and cable television networks as they divert themselves by watching movies in high definition on their DVDs or tune into public broadcasting, with sponsors tucked neatly into the corners of broadcasts.

ABC has discovered some winning shows with appeal to young adults, such as "Modern Family." CBS is trying to repurpose its successful forensic crime formula with "Golden Boy," featuring a very young police commissioner, with an undisclosed back-story of how he got the job after only seven years on the force. NBC's latest offerings have flopped. Two were cancelled after a couple of episodes earned minuscule ratings.

How can TV networks create shows that connect with the young adult audience? One solution is an extensive online research project. But instead of asking analytical questions, turn the research into a search for creative or offbeat ideas young adults would want to see on television, then crowd-source these ideas to find out which ones have any traction with this age group.

Ask participants to show off their ideas with homemade videos, slideshows or storyboards. Make creating a television show a possibility for anybody with a camera, an imagination and a YouTube account.

Sure, you will get off-the-wall suggestions. Chances also are good you will unlock some hidden talent with fresh, authentic ideas that capture the attention and touch the emotions of young adults. It can't be any worse than the process television executives are using now to select TV show ideas. However, it could be just what it takes to spark the kind of word-of-mouth that built audiences for reality TV shows.

Many young people are thirsty to participate in decision-making. What better topic for their engagement than designing what they want to watch?

And while TV executives are at it, they should ask how this cohort of viewers wants to see the shows it likes. This may be uncomfortable listening for executives, but it could be the first step to finding new business models that deliver content to this desirable demographic.