By Jason Friedlander, Sr. Director of Product Marketing
When cable TV exploded back in the 1980s, it offered viewers an array of choices they'd never seen before. People who had grown up with only three TV stations now had access to hundreds.
The only question was how to keep track of all these stations. It was no longer possible to just surf channels until you found that Western you'd planned to tune into at 8:00 p.m. Instead, viewers turned to a resource that had been around for decades: TV Guide. The thick bi-weekly magazine included listings for every major channel, making it easy for viewers to find the next broadcast of their favorite show. It also had show reviews and fascinating articles about your favorite programs. Today, this analog solution seems archaic, but in the 1980s and ʼ90s, it was worth big money. In 1988, News Corporation bought the publisher of TV Guide for $3 billion in the most expensive public transaction of its day.
Just like cable TV in the 1980s, over-the-top (OTT) TV is at a pivotal moment in its history. For the past several years, we've watched every media brand build their own streaming app, from big broadcasters to online upstarts, resulting in over 200 OTT services available in the U.S. alone. In doing so, brands have once again made an incredible amount of content accessible. But there's a downside to the proliferation of streaming services: finding the content you want on an OTT service can be challenging. Want to enjoy a given TV show or movie on a quiet night in? It might be on any one of a dozen-plus different streaming services. As there's no central directory, you'd better budget some time to click through all of your OTT services to make sure what you want to watch is available – and if so, where and when.
Recommendation systems already help customers figure out what they're going to watch. The obvious next step is to help them figure out where they're able to watch it. In other words, we successfully broke Humpty Dumpty apart, now someone has to put him together again. The question is how?
It's clear that platform fragmentation, and the understandable viewer frustration that comes with it, is holding OTT back. A recent study by Parks Associates found that 50% of SVoD (subscription video on demand) users end up cancelling their subscription. One possible reason for this is that households are leapfrogging from platform to platform, chasing their favorite internet streaming movies and shows as licenses change or seasons begin and end.
Another theory for this high turnover is what some call the Netflix Paradox – the idea that having too many choices isn't really what people want after all. Research shows that an overwhelming number of choices means we're more likely to be less satisfied once we finally pick; there's always that subtle sense that maybe we could have chosen better. OTT FOMO (fear of missing out) – is real. Users who download one OTT streaming video app out of 50 different possibilities may find themselves quickly feeling like they're missing out on content from another app, leading to buyer's remorse and SVoD cancellation.
The problem is bad enough for video on demand (VOD), but with the explosion of live and linear OTT viewing options, knowing where to tune into a particular live event or program is only going to get more important – and confusing and frustrating – for viewers.
It's unlikely at this point that all content owners are going to license their video content to a single OTT platform; the economics of it just don't work out. But there should be a way to craft a streaming solution that takes some of the pain out of the current state of overwhelming choice by making the over-the-top world easier to navigate.
About five years ago, I was working as a vendor with Verizon, where I work today, trying to solve the OTT TV viewing guide problem. Although we were close, the industry wasn't ready for our solution. We envisioned a service that would sit on top of all of the separate streaming apps, aggregate them, and make it easy for viewers to toggle between everything – a portal if you will. This is what the consumer audience still needs today – a guide for the streaming age, an over-the-top version of TV Guide.
Xbox and Apple have taken a crack at this problem with their OneGuide and Apple TV, respectively. These attempts to solve the problem do a lot, but they're not comprehensive enough. For example, they won't tell you the news is on your ABC app at a specific time. We need a true aggregator, such as a service that costs $10 a month and tells users what is playing on which streaming service and when, and offers an easy way to click through to that service or remind a viewer that something they want to watch is on.
I'm a huge fan of English Premier League soccer and follow the Tottenham Hotspur team passionately. Trying to locate where any given game is streaming based on who owns the rights to that season or tournament is mind-boggling. Just this past year, NBC made it even harder to follow the team by removing some games from the MVPD (Multichannel video programming distributor) schedule and launching an app for $50 a year that airs the removed games. Adding to the confusion, sometimes the UEFA Champions League or League Cup games may be on ESPN, ESPN3, Watch ESPN or Fox Sports 1, or they might not air at all in the U.S. It's great to have the opportunity to see nearly every game Tottenham Hotspur plays each year, but sometimes it's not even worth trying to track down when and where they're playing.
The over-the-top TV guide-slash-aggregator I'm thinking of would easily solve this pain point. It would curate channels pitched directly at individual viewers, so they can experience a stream of personalized recommendations that make internet streaming TV watching as effortless as it is indulgent. We all know the distinct charm of binge watching, and, in fact, research has shown that autoplaying the next episode of a series encourages audiences to keep watching. An OTT TV aggregator could apply those same insights to content housed on several different platforms to create an even more satisfying viewing experience.
It might seem old school, but the opportunity for a modern OTT TV guide would be enormous – not to mention all the ad opportunities it would create. By linking together the rapidly expanding OTT TV ecosystem, such a service would set itself up for meteoric growth. It could curate the future of streaming experiences and offer viewers insight into what is on to increase discoverability across the multitude of OTT applications. The only question is, how much longer will we have to wait for this service?