You might think that you know your own tastes pretty well, but an up-and-coming tech company begs to differ. Immersion Neuroscience claims to have developed technology capable of predicting the success of a TV show with astonishing accuracy.
Every video gamer or TV viewer worth their salt has some understanding of “immersion,” that intangible brew that helps an audience lose themselves and their surroundings to the proceedings on-screen. It’s the fuzz at the corner of the TV; it’s having the volume of the real world turned down. Immersion is that elusive sense that there’s nothing in the world but you and whatever you’re enjoying. Needless to say, being able to quantify such a critical aspect of the entertainment process could prove invaluable to the people who craft the shows, movies, music, and games we love, at least from a financial perspective.
It Sounds Neat, But …
Now, one company believes that it has drilled down the math of immersion. In a study conducted by Immersion Neuroscience, 84 people were rounded up, hooked up to a neurosensor, and asked to watch 25 different TV shows that had already aired. Half of the programs were highly rated when they premiered; half were low rated. When the numbers came back, Immersion Neuroscience announced their tech could predict a high-rated show with 84 percent accuracy.
Here’s the kicker: unlike Immersion Neuroscience’s fancy doodads, your brain can only predict popular TV shows with 17 percent accuracy.
Yeah, This Whole Thing Stinks
Reducing a person’s unconscious emotional impulses to a string of numbers is the kind of thing that only sounds appealing to an executive, someone whose livelihood depends on producing bona fide hits. For everyone else, the neuroscience study sounds like decades of more junk like The Big Bang Theory or The Voice, because the simple fact of the matter is: no one can predict which shows will land and which won’t.
In 1989, for example, a new pilot called Stand Up circulated through NBC. Test audiences hated it. The lead was a dim-witted wimp. The plots were mundane. And the whole set up was too urban for most viewers. Ultimately, NBC concluded, “No viewer was eager to watch the show again.”
Yet, the network took a chance on the series, made a few changes (including the title), and stuck by the series’ unique premise. When Seinfeld went off the air nine years later, it had become perhaps the most beloved and influential sitcom in TV history. And all because someone ignored the numbers and went with their gut.