What makes a TV show “talkable”?

This was a key question from our latest TV study, Did You Watch? The Power of Talking About TV. For this project, we challenged consumers aged 16-49 in Italy, the UK, the US, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia and Australia to go about their lives for two weeks without engaging in any conversations about TV in any form. This meant that no matter where they watched TV content, they could not discuss it with anyone in any way.

This research illustrates that TV becomes talkable when it makes us:

  • TV can provoke a wide range of emotions – when shows give us a chance to participate, get us involved, are relatable in some way, or excite us. Being high-quality helps, too.
  • Talkable shows engage our minds by being interesting – teaching us something new, sparking our curiosity, or inspiring us in some way. Shows that are dense, complex, and thematically or narratively rich give us a lot to contemplate and discuss.
  • When a show makes us see something in a new way – by being disruptive, disturbing, or challenging our preconceptions, it gets us talking. This is also true of shows that are personal. TV talk happens when a show feels relevant to us, realistic, perceptive, and poignant.
  • Shows can achieve “talkability” by being specifically targeted at a particular group or authentically representing a group or culture. On the flipside, shows with themes that are universal also get people in conversation.

Which genres have these “talkable” features? It’s not always obvious.

For example, the horror genre makes you feel scared, thrilled, and unsettled. It inspires you to think what you would do in that situation and causes you rethink your faith and sense of safety. You feel a sense of belonging with the other frightened people in the audience.

As another example, comedy makes you feel amused, uplifted, and understood. You think about the relatable characters and might rethink your own character flaws. In your everyday life, hearing catchphrases or other references to this show inspires a feeling of belonging.

In the end, for shows to get us in conversation with each other, the key ingredients are to make us feel, think, rethink, and belong.