As cord-cutting and changing viewing habits disrupt traditional TV, columnist Benjamin Spiegel explains why better content discovery is essential for the future of the medium.
Cord cutting, the death of TV and digital disruption are always hot topics. Agencies and marketers constantly talk about how TV is being disrupted by digital, and how consumers’ viewing habits are continuously evolving and moving away from traditional viewing. Technology aside, nothing has made a bigger impact on television than content — in spite of television’s outdated user interface and user experience.
On the internet, everyone has access to everything, right there at your fingertips. And most often, whatever you’re looking for is not that hard to find. Just type in what you want, and it shows up. Search has become the primary form of discovery on the internet and your mobile devices. But what about on your TV? TV search lacks the fluidity of online search, it’s difficult for users to perform simple actions, and often, it’s too cumbersome for consumers to find the right content. And while the intention is noble, the connectivity between smart TV apps is terrible. To stay relevant and win the content wars, TV has to improve its connectivity and enable easier discovery of content to its consumers.
The TV dilemma – it’s being watched more than ever
There’s a dilemma about television in that we all talk about its decline, yet (thanks to streaming services, perhaps) it’s watched more than ever. There’s no question that digitizing the medium is changing viewer expectations about what’s available and their behaviors about how to find it.
And, it’s changing delivery and business models, with streaming, subscriptions, DVR (digital video recorder), on demand — well, you get the picture. The bottom line is that TV is still an enormous content machine.
But therein lies the problem: Very often, digital TV offers a broader range of high-quality, fresh content than we can access via the internet; but because of the painful search models available, consumers don’t realize the massive amounts of content that are available through their TV set-top boxes.
Having left behind the world of UHF and VHF broadcast channels long ago television has had numerous challenges when it comes to surfacing content. In spite of all our technology, content discovery on TV sets is still sluggish and delivers a poor user experience. A survey performed in October 2016 by Hub Research revealed that more than 60 percent of viewers discover new TV content outside of the TV ecosystem instead of through their interactive guides or smart TVs.
Better interaction, better content discovery
To save the “traditional” TV, we need to rethink the way we surface content and programming to our consumers. And as attractive as they are, it’s not via recommendations or pretty slideshows. The No. 1 form of content discovery is search.
A great example of this is the latest release of Apple TV, which unifies all the different apps into an integrated search experience for viewers. I can now search for my favorite show inside the Apple TV app; the app will search Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, cable and broadcast channels — everything available — and show me unified results on the screen. Discovery made much simpler.
This is the type of experience we need for the TVs of the future: simple search of information and broad discovery of content, mixed with more Netflix-like recommendations and the ability to connect multiple sources.
With so many channels available to consumers — on TV as well as other media — the competition for viewer attention is heavy. Just as radio has made itself over in the digital age, enabling listeners to create their own personalized channels, simplifying how we discover content on TV will help resuscitate it rather than watch it die a slow death.