Where's Waldo Goes To VideoLand

When Bruce Springsteen gave his first performance of “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” at LA’s Shrine Auditorium on Nov. 16 1990, he was -- except to the compulsive TV consumer -- understating the case.

But we can probably write that off to artistic license.  Somehow, I can’t see “An Ever-Expanding Number of Channels (And Programming Of Varying Types, Quality And Appeal On)” having the same crowd-pleasing power.

The Boss was on the right track, if he was referring to the difficulty of finding the programming you either know you want to watch or simply the kind of thing you want to watch when you serendipitously stumble across it.

It’s long been a common theme in TV and among consumers themselves, who feel frustrated when they can’t find something to watch.

Fast-forward from 1990 to the present -- and the array of not just TV channels but the many options of video content to suit our tastes is dazzling. It’s more like a relentless and particularly difficult game of electronic Where’s Waldo. (Only Waldo isn’t always broadcast at the same time each week, and you might be out when he pops up.)



There are many problems that come with this scenario. But as the landscape becomes more complex, and people consume more content outside the conventional broadcast TV schedules, difficulty in finding programs -- if left unchecked -- can only hurt audience sizes and ad reach and revenue.

Conversations continue about how current methods of finding content on TV could perhaps be improved. Many focus on improving the on-screen TV user experience.  Others lean toward the emerging utility and potential tablets and mobile phones. (There’s less talk about what remains the most significant second screen of all: the laptop.)

My money is definitely on the second screen as the space in which the innovation is going to happen:

It’s open territory

Unlike the onscreen experience, which has large MSOs as gatekeepers, the second screen opens up the field to others to develop, test and refine their concepts before aggressively going for scale.

Speed of innovation  

Small start-ups focused exclusively on content discovery will almost certainly move faster and more relentlessly in pursuit of their goal than large incumbent companies with legacy technology, internal politics, etc.

The absence of precedent

We’re still establishing notions of best practice with regard to the second screen.  There are no stultifying precedents to constrain creativity and to declare things off limits.


Tablet, cell phone or laptop -- second-screen devices are neutral parties in the content distribution world. They are display devices that provide access to any content distributor to subscribe to or have downloaded. Unlike the MSOs and the rest, there is no competition to have content viewed via particular distribution methods (Comcast vs. Dish vs. Netflix, etc.). This effectively means that it has the potential to be better aligned with consumer motivations than propositions on other platforms.

As an example, one looks inevitably to the West Coast. One start-up that is tackling the issue of cross-platform, multi-distributor video discovery is Effectively an iPad app that performs as a search and recommendation engine based on your own and your friends’ program choices, it’s among the first to harness both the user experience strengths of the platform with an intuitive and pleasing interface. A service that is centered around users’ program preferences is not what large companies desire.

In a scenario where I miss an episode of a favorite program, I generally have to fish around to work out when it’s next on. With the kind of service offered by -- and no doubt others in the future -- I can quickly find out all the options available to me; from my MSOs OnDemand channels, to syndication, through any number of online options, like Amazon Prime, Netflix, HBO, Hulu etc.

Not the sort of thing that the large incumbents would favor.

As we see more of these types of services gain traction with the growing tablet-owning population, it’s likely that models will also evolve to provide advertisers with additional opportunities on those apps themselves.

How about a sponsorship of search and recommendation of different types of content, or of access to related content, built into the app itself? TV Guide showed us there were dollars to be made in program search.  Perhaps the second screen will revive that model in the future.

1 comment about "Where's Waldo Goes To VideoLand".
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  1. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct, October 3, 2012 at 2:43 p.m.

    What's striking me in this equation is that we have a history of more variety not solving the problem. So it seems we need to think more deeply. In reality, this may be unsolvable because any individuals "desire" will, at points in time, be unable to be satisfied by any programming. In fact, a general sense of dissatisfaction at times is fundamental to the human condition. But lack of programming gets blamed ... Or offers the opportunity for programmers to attempt to over promise.

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