There is such thing as information overload. (Flash back to Bing’s “information overload” commercials.) Even giant services today, such as Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand, are offering messy browsing experiences that inundate audiences with too much content at once. Long ago, the living room used to be simpler – audiences turned to one device and a handful of channels for all of their video consumption. But even with cable services these days, I end up starting at a channel and staying there all evening just because it is hard to find even two relevant channels that match my taste. Video consumption has evolved, but I feel as though the OTT market is going the way of the cable box TV guide – too complex.
The Roku 3 is a good case study of how discovery can become difficult. Released this past March, Roku currently has 750 unique video and music channels, each with their own collections of videos. Trying to find something to watch can turn into an endless game of decision-making. I recently installed the Verizon Redbox application and realized that I probably didn’t need it since I had Netflix. Maybe Redbox has unique content on its service, but it is just one more giant library to search through
Sure, the new Roku 3 menu is simpler and faster. When viewers search through Roku’s channels, they have more options than the previous version, which offered a single linear row of available channels, and users could see only five channels at once. However, Roku 3’s 700-plus channels suffer from the same quality disparity as mobile app stores : there are many apps that offer beautiful video experiences, but there are more that leave you wondering how they even made the list. (Pathogen, anyone?) In my opinion, the Roku channel discovery experience should not be akin to shopping for apps on your smartphone because they are uniquely distinct devices: one is for managing your life, while the other is for watching TV. For OTT, I just want to be able to watch good TV - quickly. It’s obvious that Roku is probably working on this, especially as more apps flood its platform, but publishers and producers can also play a role by collaborating and consolidating their content.
A Call to Consolidate
Last summer, Roku announced it was removing some 25 independent channels with foreign language content, which, according to GigaOm, effectively shut “down the entire international section of its channel store.” Roku struck a deal with Dish Network, rendering the satellite provider’s DishWorld service the exclusive distributor to packages of content from different countries. Roku developers were told that if they wanted to remain on the service, they would have to make a licensing agreement with Dish. Although a controversial move, it makes sense for Roku to begin limiting partners to in-demand producers and encouraging independent producers to leverage larger brands that can feature their content. As a Roku spokesperson put it, the Dish partnership allows Roku “to maintain the best selection and highest quality of international and foreign language content.”
Roku and other OTT platforms and publishers should make more moves to consolidate. I’m much more likely to be drawn to content from HBO than having to independently come across an unknown producer, even if the content is of quality. And wouldn’t it make our OTT lives so much easier if, say, Roku struck a distribution agreement with Meredith to aggregate channels in areas it already had experience with -- e.g. parenting, fitness, and cooking -- and smaller publishers in these categories could partner with Meredith?
In the end, audiences and all OTT stakeholders would reap greater benefit from such consolidation – it’s how television already works. There aren’t 100 travel channels. Consolidation would ultimately lead to audiences spending less time searching and more binge viewing. Instead of OTT models trying to be the open Internet, blend in the television business model, and you’ll have the right balance of choice and simplicity.