My last article article focused on the challenge presented by the collapse of the long-established conventions for programming and promoting linear television in the new “television” viewing environment: increasingly un-tethered to the TV set and unbounded by time. This challenge is lent urgency by the fact that the online search-and-discovery experience has not kept pace with consumer interests. In spite of the superabundance of viewing options that online makes available, finding “something to watch” is still frustrating and often painful, so consumer awareness, adoption, usage and monetization of online video all suffer.
The New Television “Programmer”
What is required is a new paradigm for the network programmer's role. The classic “time slot” approach to creating a network program lineup is antiquated in the online on-demand ecosystem. There is no “coming up next” or “live at 11” in VOD.
“Programming” was historically limited to filling out the channel line-up based on finite channel capacity. Preferred placement meant a lower channel assignment in the lineup. But the channel lineup concept has already become unworkable with over 1,000 channels and the endless scrolling through screen after screen of an electronic program guide. With the advent of an IP-based video system, the operator has effectively limitless “channel capacity.” The channel lineup is rendered meaningless and the legacy time/channel vectored grid is incapable of handling all of the current viewing options. The idea of preferred product placement is lost.
Both video and network programmers have limited experience and poor models to borrow from VOD when it comes to promoting video in an “online” environment. The current search and browse modes for VOD are cumbersome, time-consuming, and effectively support only a limited library of video assets, offering severely limited promotional capabilities. Programming is essentially a preview roll and a searchable list of the small number of titles available.
It does not have to be this way. IP video content has all the attributes and functionality of every other kind of online content: play lists; most viewed; save it (bookmarks); tag it, comment on it; etc. However, the full promotional capabilities of device-based and social-networking features have not been fused in a unifying content promotion and selection experience to drive awareness, usage, and adoption in the online video space.
We have strived to maintain the editorial/advertising divide in the online space, but we now need to incorporate PROMOTION into the experience: the effective selling, or merchandizing of content. By merchandizing we don’t mean erecting a pay wall, we mean the marketing of a piece of content the way an album, or a book or a movie (used to be) marketed and sold. It does not matter if it’s premium or free content. In order to differentiate it from all the other millions of titles out there, it needs to be sold. It can’t just exist in a back catalogue library.
The Web has strived for both an egalitarian treatment of all websites and content as being equal, as well as a sometimes creepily personalized experience: “We think you might be interested in this.”
But online viewers are discriminating. They don’t always want to know what you (disembodied Web presence) think I might like based on my past online behavior (invasion of privacy). They want to know: What's good? What are my friends watching? What are other people like me watching? What preferences do I get as a valued customer? Where are the deals? Why should I watch this? Amaze me.
The near-infinite number of video titles now available to be viewed on any number of devices requires a new paradigm that goes beyond the “look and feel” and cuts across devices to the FUSION of marketing, promotion and merchandizing of content.
The editorial and publishing teams for video will become the network programming and promotions groups of the future. The network promotion department needs to be well trained and ideally experienced online. They need to leverage ALL of the tools available to drive awareness, adoption, and use of content and how to move product off the shelves. The Video programmer of the future exercises the following skills IN REAL TIME:
The programmer of the future learns from online merchants who know how to sell products, applying the following principles to the merchandizing of content:
Pick the right product: Know the audience. Leverage research.
Focus the Choices: Too much choice is paralyzing.
Placement: Put the right product in the right place. Don’t put it “where we have the space.” Think POP displays.
Time: Pick the right time to promote the right product. Don’t promote or even offer the same product all the time. Take advantage of the seasonal calendar.
Price: Deals, Deals, Deals. Create packages and bundles for premium content.
Quantity: Create sense of scarcity. “For a limited time only.”
Set Up: Sound and motion attract attention.
Maintenance: Refresh the product and the display. Keep it neat.
Urgency: “Watch it now.”
Generate word-of-mouth: Add the social component.
Content providers often do not like the term content applied to their product. OK, so treat it like the product that it is. Get busy and move it off the shelves.
What remains important is the value of brand, customer ownership, customer service, and better packaging, marketing, promotion, and merchandizing of content than anyone else. You do this by creating proprietary algorithms (topic for another post) that synthesize all of these elements, and by moving product off the shelves.
Otherwise, viewers will vote with their mouse, discovering something else, somewhere else.