We Watch What Somebody Tells Us To Watch

Metaphorically at least, we’re all searching for something better, something more, something different.

And literally we are, too, which makes a new Video Content Discovery report so interesting to me, because really, I sometimes I think it would be easier to find total inner peace than what I want or should see online.  

Daily somebody mentions a new digital video I haven’t heard of and that makes me feel horrible. So I wonder: How did they know?

Here’s the answer, broadly: To know what’s happening online, you have to spend a lot of time online. But basically, you have to know somebody who’s slicker and quicker than you are and likes to share.

Mostly, that’s my view, but the new research from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Maru/Matchbox tends to confirm it.

This survey says 48% hear about content on subscription services--from HBO Now to Netflix--via word of mouth, and likewise 43% rely on somebody else’s good word to find original digital video of the sort found on YouTube or Vimeo.

For those original videos, even word of mouth doesn’t beat basically prowling online and finding it yourself, which 51% say is the top way they hear about the a vlogger, or goofy Korean rock star on the rise. That's not discovery so much as bumping into something you like.

There’s a heck of a lot less television to choose from and people do tend to watch and watch. TV commercials are the best way most people say they hear about new shows (56%). Word of mouth is second, with 47%. TV commercials are third on the list of good ways online viewers hear about things to stream.  

Where they go to find what they want to see is more straightforward. For subscription streaming services, 75% say the best bet is to use that service’s menu. For original videos, 66% go right to YouTube, which most likely is where the content  been uploaded.

“When it comes to viewers of Subscription Service Originals (SSOs). . . Netflix's ‘Stranger Things’ Amazon's ‘The Man in the High Castle,’ and Hulu's ‘The Path,’ we begin to see a divergence towards a significantly younger-skewing audience, relative to that of traditional TV shows,” the report points out.

“Fully 48% of US adults who say they watch Subscription Service Originals are between 18 to 34 years old. Nearly a quarter (23%) are between the ages of 35 to 44, and the older consumers get, the smaller their share of this audience is.

"Also, the slight female skew of Traditional TV Show Views is inverted here, with Subscription Streaming Service Original viewers leaning Male by the same percentage (52%).”

It gets more interesting from there.

Some 30% of the viewers of subscription services, and 39% of other original digital video fare, say they are influenced by ads. But social media is a big influencer, too — 20% of SVOD and 27% of original, YouTube-like fare viewers say influencers are doing what they’re paid to do.

There is no way to empirically prove which of the various modes of drawing attention to content really draws viewers. Beyond what people do to hear about and find content, it would be interesting to determine if they think the content providers are actually doing a good job of creating discovery opportunities.

Maybe, there are so many paths to discovery because no single path is all that hot. A yes-no question would suffice.

“Our intention is not to point to a silver bullet solution or suggest what the ultimate next generation TV guide will look like. Rather it’s to identify key patterns in the customer journey, and look to those patterns as guidance for potential opportunities and areas for improvement for publishers and advertisers.” wrote Eric John, IAB’s deputy director of video, in a blog post.  

Obviously, advertising does a decent job. Yet, I’m amazed to say this, but the self-promotional apparatus at Netflix, Hulu and Amazon is fairly subdued. The kind of interstitial promo HBO does ahead of the programming you’ve tuned in for might seem annoying to people who say they don’t want to be sold.

But like trailers at a theater, they do help you construct a mental datebook. So I’m surprised the digital pay services aren’t more hype-oriented.

Recommendation engines, in my opinion, never seem to get where I’m coming from, based on where I’ve been. And honestly, I don’t think my viewing proclivities are that hard to figure.  

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