What's On? For Video, Decider.com Hopes To Have A Good Answer

 This is the end of the first (not quite whole) week of Decider.com, a new Website dedicated to the probability that your online video choices are hopelessly a blur and that you need help deciding if not what’s what, then certainly what’s where.

“What we really like about the name Decider is that it cuts to the fundamental problem we’re trying to solve, which is helping people decide what to watch next,” says Mark Graham, the editor who has a staff of seven and the resource of the New York Post and the Post Digital Network behind him.  “The thing we kept hearing from people is that there’s almost too much choice.”

(And also: "Why didn't someone do this a long time ago?")

There certainly are a lot of places to go. Decider.com’s home page is skylined with the names of the major content providers: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime HBOGo, iTunes, GooglePlay, YouTube and Vudu.

Click on one of those and you’ll get info about how to join (Graham says that friendly service is staff provided, not paid for) and a list of stories that, I would guess, are most relevant to a user of one of those services.

But maybe not. When I went to the Amazon Prime page, I landed on a story titled “My First Time Watching…’Howard the Duck,’ which has no particular relevance to an Amazon Prime member because while Amazon has it for rent, so does Netflix, Vudu, iTunes and Xbox. That’s according to Gowatchit.com, the Website that Decider often directs readers to visit to actually find/choose a provider. Maybe there’s no way around. I’m just sayin…  

I pick a nit because I love the idea of Decider.com. but doing what it says it wants to do—helping sort out what to watch from a fragmented universe of online sources isn’t easy. I appreciate the effort. (I found a Funny or Die video I would have probably missed, for example.) So more power to them.

Graham knows the frustration of plenty, so Decider is big on making choices for its users, based on what might be happening out in the real world. I like that.

The Ebola scare, particularly in New York, led Graham to hustle to find video of “Outbreak,” the 1995 movie starring Dustin Hoffman. “I wish I could say it aged well, but it hasn’t,” he said. Decider’s take on the film more or less turns it into a comedy; it’s a cool companion for a viewer.

“A lot of services spend a lot of time figuring out algorithm for you, about what you want to watch,” he says. “That’s all well and good but most of the people I talk to and interface with recognize you have to put a lot of work into an algorithm in order for it to return great results.” But, he suggests, it misses the quirks of timing and circumstance. People just aren’t always exactly the same, all the time.

Pardon me but Decider sounds so newspaperish in a way. The newspaper business once knew the reason people went to a paper was for a little organization, which is why TV and movie listings and sports scores and weather forecasts and the like became the humdrum engines of successful publishing. People do want to be suggested to. Sounds unfashionable to say.  

And they want to play along. Graham promises that in the future it will alert readers when, for example, a new something is going to have its streaming debut, and then invite them to watch along with a Decider staffer and comment throughout on Twitter.

That’s obviously been done elsewhere, but if Decider gets to be a spot viewers and OTT services put themselves for advice and comment, it will be looking good. 

Graham seems to make clear Decider wants to be as active on Twitter and social media as it does on the Website.

For the first six weeks, Decider has a special launch partner—Netflix—which seems to me to be good and bad news.

Good news because, well, what an endorsement. What a way to start.

Bad news because Netflix so dominates the streaming world that it is hard to tell which Decider copy begins and which is paid for by Netflix advertising.

Graham says there’s no unsigned native advertising going on. “New On Netflix This Week” is a valid service article—after all, it does have 50 million subscribers—but when that story gets played surrounded by Netflix ads,  and when Netflix,  by its sheer size and influence, gets mentioned in many stories on Decider, it looks, well, odd.

But again, I pick nits because it’s a great idea—it’s a community ready to be culled and a real service Decider.com can provide.

It’s also a tough one to pull off. Decider.com ain’t the original TV Guide resurrected by a long shot, but it could play something of the same role. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. “What’s on?” seems to be the question we keep asking, regardless of the device.

pj@mediapost.com   

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