In A World Of Too Much, Discovery Rules

Just last night, we decided to catch up on FX’s new, dark Zach Galifianakis comedy “Baskets” by using the video on demand feature on my cable box. This is exacting work. One wrong click on a button and you’re back to square one. And after each episode, you pretty much have to start again.

That means going through a tree that reduces your choices, from a long list,  to “TV Shows” to an alphabet bracket (A-C, D-F and so on) then the titles that start with those letters (several pages of them) to the show itself, and finally to the episode.

I realized somewhere in there that we had already watched the second episode, easily and graphically chosen, via the app on Amazon Prime.

That is the problem with cable and satellite systems, of MVPDs as they’re called. They’re clunky and stayed clunky for so long, for so much money, that cable and satellite providers couldn’t have worked any harder to lose your business. That's changing. 



It has long been possible, and still is, to use a cable box’s On Demand functions (they call them “functions,” I guess). But they’re a pain. And if that worked easier, sooner, possibly there wouldn’t be a line of customers at the Comcast store turning in their equipment and calling it quits.

Now,the FCC’s new set-top proposal, opening the business to third-party providers--like Apple, Amazon or Roku or anybody else--could create a new easier world of set-toppery, that will be easy, intuitive and recommendation-based. Or, more or less, what digital program interfaces are like now.

In a world of plenty, discovery is it.

In return, those boxes get to know even more about you. That data is gold. 

Alan Wolk, senior analyst at TDG and author of Over The Top. How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry writes about the set-top box for a new TDG report, “The Recommendation Revolution” he’s pretty sure will come about with newer set-top boxes that are a guiding hand. And also, let’s be clear, it will happen with help from Nielsen which sometime this year will introduce its Total Audience Measurement that will track views on every kind of device there is.

When that happens, and content carries like the networks can learn everything, everywhere about their viewers, those cable set-top boxes will suddenly have super fine on-demand capabilities.

“TDG believes recommendation-based program guides will open up a revenue stream for MVPDs, as networks turn to paid recommendations to promote their shows,” Wolk writes. “The improved targeting and engagement tracking inherent in these systems will provide an excellent environment for network promos, as viewers will see them at the exact moment they are making the decision on what to watch.”

Then, when you’re on Facebook or Twitter, program providers can easily match you with programming you’re likely to enjoy. “It’s not rocket science,” Wolk says. Already, if you’re watching rerun of sitcoms like “The Office” on Netflix, it’s no wild stab in the dark to suppose you’ll like something like “Parks & Recreation.”

Wolk will be the first one to tell you that even absent the Nielsen sweetener, set-tops could have been better a long time ago. But, he says, program suppliers didn’t didn’t want it, and in the end, MVPDs didn’t rock the boat.

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