While I've written before about the "discovery problem" faced by TV viewers today, the issue certainly justifies a little revisiting.
How -- in an age when so many folks feel time-constrained, and when information about TV programming is so abundant -- could the majority of viewers sit down in front of their television not knowing what they are going to watch? Certainly, there has always been a large portion of TV viewers that turned on sets first and decided later. But how did "turning on before deciding what to tune-in" become the practice of choice for most of us? Here are my thoughts:
So many good choices. With the explosion of new channels, the total number of programming choices for any one viewer is extraordinary; the total number of very-good choices is extraordinary as well. Today, TV viewers are like kids in a candy store.
Poor information and navigation. There are no tools available today that can easily inform viewers in a timely way about all of the available programming that they might enjoy. Electronic programming guides are getting better. Web services and social media services are helping. But, in the end, most viewers know that they don't know what's there that they might enjoy, and are probably hoping to find it through channel- or guide-surfing.
Changing loyalties. Most viewers used to be intensely loyal to specific programs and networks. Now, there are still lots of very loyal viewers -- just look at the ratings of the best shows -- but the loyal viewers are in the minority now, not the majority. Today, viewers are loyal to their TVs, to the days and times when they turn them on, and to favorite genres of programming. Most are no longer loyal to specific programs or networks. At Simulmedia, our analysis of the anonymous viewing habits of many millions of viewers confirms this trend. On average, 60% of the viewers of shows last season only watched one episode live, and the numbers didn't get much better when you added in time-shifted viewing.
What does this mean for the television business? Clearly, the industry needs to do a better job solving viewers' discovery problem, whether through better navigation tools in TV systems or set-top boxes, or more and better on-air program promotions (still the #1 method for viewers to find shows). The most-watched shows will continue to be very valuable, since they will become fewer and far between. The smaller, more niche programming will also do very well and continue to help justify pay-TV subscriptions.
In my mind, what's certain for the future is that the data will tell the story. As the industry becomes more data-driven, programming that doesn't either drive large audiences or justify subscription fees -- those "tweener" shows that don't fulfill either function well -- will lose. What do you think?