Thursday, June 11, 2009
Search Won't Solve TV's Content Discovery Problem
By Dave Morgan
Nope, search is not going to be the silver bullet for television the way it was for online services. As we all know, television has a big problem with content discovery. According to The Accenture Global Broadcast Consumer Survey 2009, television viewers "face a significant bottleneck in discovering content that they like but have not seen before." The report goes on to state that "the proliferation of content options across devices is overwhelming to consumers."
Anyone who watches television today knows this to be true. And, anyone who sells or buys television advertising knows that the resulting audience fragmentation is a really big and growing problem -- one that threatens the ad-supported foundation of the industry.
Today, it is virtually impossible for the majority of television viewers to be actually aware of the program choices available to them at any one time. The explosion of new channels, programs, platforms, devices, content choices and ways to view video at home has seen to that. In the old days, tools like TV Guide, TV listings in the newspaper, and "lead-in, lead-out" on-air program promos provided all of the information and navigation guidance that viewers needed. Then, their choices could be counted on the ten fingers of their hands. No more. Those tools, and even their online equivalents, have not been able to keep pace with the volume and diversity of television viewing choices available today. Certainly, we have electronic programming guides today but, according to Accenture, even those are only relied upon by a minority of viewers. I don't know about you, but I myself find programming guides clunky to use and the information in them to be quite flat.
How to fix this? Should we just wait for someone to invent a new version of search for television, and solve this like we solved the problem online? I don't think so. Here is why:
Video, not text. Search works great for text, but not very well for video. Television is all about video. Over time, more robust video searching will be devloped, but I don't imagine that changing drastically over the next couple of years.
Little robust interactivity. Search works online because the primary interface to computers is a keyboard. Not so with TV. While remotes are getting more robust and cable TV infrastructure is getting smarter and more interactive, most Americans are not going to be typing search queries on their remote controls any time soon. Yes, I do imagine that smartphones may become remote controls themselves, I don't imagine that happening in a majority of American homes for many years.
Entertainment-driven, lean-back usage. Using online services on computers is primarily a utility-driven, "lean-forward" activity. Watching video on a television is primarily an entertainment-driven, "lean-back" activity. Search is very powerful in a utility-driven environment. It is not nearly as powerful in an entertainment one.
I think that this problem is going to be solved incrementally, with solutions built on top of -- or among -- existing tools. Like Accenture, I think that enhancing on-air program promotion with data-driven recommendations and targeting will make a big difference (I am biased here, of course, since that is the path my new company is pursuing).
I also think that we will see social media play a very big role. Word-of-mouth is critical to television viewing choices and the proliferation of smartphones and mobile computing means more and more viewers will also be tethered to the Internet while they watch TV. Finally, I believe that online program listings will get better, and become more personal. These two will benefit from the dual usage of TV and online services.
However, I don't think that when we turn our TVs on, the first thing we will see is a search box. That future I don't believe in. How about you?
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Dave Morgan is the CEO of Simulmedia. Previously, he founded and ran both TACODA and Real Media.
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