In the beginning, content was king. If a broadcaster had good TV content, viewers would seek it out. Then distribution was king, because without it no one would be able to watch that content. But what happens in the future, when there’s an infinite amount of content on a multitude of platforms? Power will no longer lie in the quality of content or in the strength of its distribution. In this new paradigm, the ability to provide easy access to relevant video content will become the most important part of the equation.
Breaking out of silos
For most connected devices, videos continue to be siloed into discreet applications, meaning that users need to browse or search through each one to find the content they want. If you’re looking for an episode of Modern Family on the iPad, for example, you can find it on Hulu Plus, the ABC application, or through the iTunes video store. That means more work for users, as they have to hunt-and-peck through various different apps to find the content they want.
The good news is that this is changing: user interfaces are now beginning to surface video content regardless of the input feed. There are efforts like TiVo’s or Google TV’s universal search offerings, for instance, which enable viewers to find a piece of content whether it is live TV, video on demand or even streaming services online. Microsoft is also getting into the game, with a search function on the next version of Xbox Live that will surface videos across traditional cable or TV services, as well as online services like Hulu Plus or Netflix. Fanhattan was introduced as an application for content discovery on connected TVs, although it launched on the iPad first. Even Comcast is getting into the game, with a new set-top-box experience that aims to improve connections between types of content and enable viewers to see which shows their friends are watching. All of these applications are designed to make it easier for viewers to get at the content they want to watch.
From search to personalization
For the most part, all of the above products are focused on search, essentially enabling viewers to find content they already know about across multiple services. But for viewers who are interested in a “lean back” experience on connected TVs, just offering universal search won’t be enough. The holy grail for viewing will be a service that delivers content that is interesting and relevant to them, and it will do so without their having to ask for it.
After all, this is the way that TV watchers sort through content already. They may have a few pre-determined channels or shows that they wish to view on any given night, but most spend their time flipping between channels, seeking out something that will hold their attention. When something does seem interesting, they tune in until it’s over or possibly until a commercial break, when the whole cycle starts again.
And therein lies the value of a personalized, relevant discovery engine: It could not only make sense of a ridiculous amount of content but also provide a better user experience than today’s hunt-and-peck search and browsing habits. Whichever company or companies can crack that nut and offer such a service has a huge opportunity to provide value to consumers, who will save time and receive better video recommendations. They could make it easier for publishers to reach their desired audience.
Which approach wins?
Already, a number of players are seeking to tackle the problem of video discovery. There’s Rovi, which provides program guide and metadata information to TV and other connected-device manufacturers. There’s Clicker.com, which launched as a discovery engine for web video but has expanded into the mobile space. On the iPad there’s the Fanhattan app, which launched to sort through videos available on multiple services throughout the device.
There’s also the opportunity to help content creators reach the right audiences. A side effect is a more engaged audience: Viewers who have more relevant content delivered to them will be more likely to stick around. And a more engaged audience could mean more advertising dollars, especially if the platform delivering those viewers is smart enough to know what other interests they might have.
Rovi already powers the programming guide for a number of set-top boxes, and it’s extending that expertise on a growing number of broadband-connected TVs and Blu-ray players. On traditional set-top boxes, it’s bringing a new advanced programming guide to offer a better search and discovery experience. Its universal search works across linear TV, video on demand and DVR content. Combine that with a wide range of streaming content, and Rovi could provide an all-in-one solution for CE manufacturers.
Fanhattan was founded to help break down the silos between streaming content on connected devices. While it officially launched with an application on the iPad, it’s also being pitched to TV and Blu-ray manufacturers as a way to enable viewers to crack down on the discovery problem on their devices. With an attractive discovery guide and a wealth of information about TV and movie content, as well as an agnostic approach to where that content lives, Fanhattan could solve the problem of finding streaming content on broadband-enabled devices.
Clicker, which was acquired earlier this year by CBS Interactive, provides personalized recommendation technology that could be applied to connected TVs. Using data from users’ Facebook accounts and public info from their friends, Clicker is designed to help identify movies and TV shows that viewers might be interested in. As those users watch more content, the recommendation algorithm improves, offering up more relevant content as time goes on. If this were applied not just to online sources but also to more-traditional services as well, viewers could choose from even more relevant video, including that on linear TV.
Today, no single solution will do, but some combination of a universal search across TV, VOD, DVR and streaming services that can also provide personalized recommendations could be the future of video discovery. Of course, any company that aims to tackle the discovery problem faces a number of challenges. It would need to integrate with connected-TV platforms and would need to abstract data not only from streaming sources of content available on different connected devices but also from live and video-on-demand sources. In addition, it would need to find a way to make serving up that content more like “channel surfing” on traditional TV.
Challenges aside, it seems clear that the future of video discovery will not lie only in viewers’ hunting blindly for what they want or discovering new shows through TV ads and lead-ins. Future viewers will have more-relevant video content served up to them, through video recommendations and an increasingly inexhaustible range of content.