The Tyranny of Choice, As Seen On TV

If people always acted like logic and common sense would dictate, we’d have a pretty different world. But our real lives get in the way.

Take the matter of choice. It would seem logical that the more choices you have, the better your outcome will be. Maybe that is why the Cineplex 20 always seems like a better idea than Movie House 1 & 2, or the car dealer with acres of inventory is a better bet than the itty-bitty corner lot.

An essay on Conviva’s Streaming Ahead blog has a different take, and to me, it’s much more real life.

Michael Fan wrote that recently, “after a long day of work, I came back home, looked at my beautiful 4K TV, looked for the remote control, looked at the brand new AppleTV, looked at the remote control, looked at the HDMI switch, looked at the remote control… took a shower and went to read a book.”

He goes on to question a central selling point to Netflix: That people will pay for the stuff they want, but that linear TV really doesn’t give that option. He argues, maybe that’s not all it’s cracked up to be:  “What if there are too many great content options and too much information for my brain to process, and I don’t want to spend that much time or resources for something as simple as video entertainment?”

I haven’t heard a defense of the couch potato theory much recently, but Fan has a good point. The good things about Netflix and Amazon and other streaming content providers might be that they they come from a more intelligent/quirky/singular point of view that commercial television just doesn’t do (much).

But it’s still harder to find and harder to keep track of because streaming services don’t have promos, or widely-used electronic program guides to give viewers a road map.  People do have lives that go beyond remembering they want to finish watching the last three episodes of “The Man In The High Castle.”  

Could it be that in the very near future, content overload will become just as tiring online as it has in the Channel 600 tier on cable? 

People who are in the media sometimes have a hard time understanding people who aren’t in the media. There used to be the recognition that one third of the viewers do two-thirds of the viewing. Even with Hulu, Amazon, Netflix and YouTube added in, I doubt that ratio has changed much.

The fact of the matter is that while there has been an explosion of content choices in the last few years, the big movement that consumers want to get behind is a way to get much less. It’s the skinny bundle, not the fat pipe, that gets attention now.

What cable television once said with an exclamation point--all those channels!--is now what they’re trying to work around--all those damn channels. Once, the idea of plentiful programming choices seemed right out of "The Jetsons." Now, it's like a very unpleasant trip to the mall. 

At the MoffettNathanson Media and Communications Summit last week, Disney CEO Bob Iger blamed some of ESPN’s subscription losses on not being one of the ribs offered on the body of skinny bundle packages now being offered by pay systems.

That’s rich, considering ESPN added seven U.S. offshoots over the years, contributing mightily to the bloat those skinny bundles are now trying to rebalance.

Cable’s cord-cutting phase has lessons all over. Over the top might be destined to make the same mistake, as more digital SVOD services start up, but without the protection of mandated cable bundles. The more places to look, the less we might want to look at all.

1 comment about "The Tyranny of Choice, As Seen On TV".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 23, 2016 at 1:06 p.m.

    An interesting question, P.J. Our own analysis, based on show by show viewing claims made by Netflix streamers incicates that they are, indeed, relatively lighter---- or less frequent -- viewers of broadcast network shows---with a few exceptions ( as reported in "TV Dimensions 2016" ) but above par as viewers of many cable programs. This reflects the Netflix streamers' preference for something different---which is rarely found on the broadcast networks. Still,  there may come a time when SVOD's original program content ----as it increases in quantity---will compete with basic cable and, possibly, act as a substitute. We shall see.

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