“Is anything good on TV tonight?” -- it was the daily question in my house growing up as we finished dinner and migrated towards the TV set in the living room. Of course, each of us already knew our favorite show’s schedule – which channel, what time it was on and the critical status: was tonight a new episode (yay!) or just a re-run (boo!)? As these shows faded and were replaced with new ones, we faced a purely First World problem: what are we supposed to watch on TV now?
Today, the search for something good to watch is exponentially more complicated than it once was. Viewers can buy, rent or stream virtually anything they want to see, provided they know where to look. In a world of digital delivery pipelines, it sounds easier than it is. Scouring 200+ cable channels and the multitude of digital video retailers covers only the pre-Netflix world; subscription streaming accounts for over 80 percent of all home video consumed, and the list of new services grows almost every month. Furthermore, SVOD’s mix of content is in constant flux, proving to be both a blessing and a curse for viewers simply looking to be entertained.
With so many possible sources of content, device manufacturers are making search functionality a high priority in their new product development. DVRs may have blazed the trail by searching across cable channels, but smart TV and media player makers now strive for comprehensive source coverage as a new killer app. It’s admittedly trying to hit a moving target to: 1) cover all major rental, buying and streaming retailers, 2) include entertainment-adjacent categories like news or unscripted/reality shows, and 3) future proof against what emerging media content viewers might want, such as virtual reality. Sorting results by price is a standard output (e.g., free and subscription options are listed first, followed by higher priced paid options), vs. availability alerts for new releases that provide valuable intel. It’s no wonder that basic search tools are must-haves, and the more advanced interfaces such as voice control are quickly becoming the new normal.
Comprehensive search results are useful when you know what you want, but what if you’re looking for something new? Recommendations are a natural extension of searchability and viewing history. Lists of titles within the same genres, movies that feature your favorite actors, or what’s popular among your friends are fairly common within a retailer’s own app. Now imagine harnessing that knowledge across all content sources used. Comprehensive recommendations would be that much richer, if they could bridge all of our viewing platforms and shopping outlets.
Coming full circle, search results benefit content marketers too. By mining the data for what viewers are looking for, program creators and licensors can identify the most promising deals and projects in development. Is the popularity of a quirky pilot episode a good omen? When does interest in a niche title reach critical mass for greater investment? Following these clues may increase the odds of producing another Sense8 while avoiding the next Hemlock Grove. And by profiling consumers’ searching vs. actual viewing behavior, we’ll also know more about who they are, how much they spend, and which retailers they prefer. The net result will be an optimized assortment of content that benefits studios and viewers alike.
Finding great shows will soon be as easy as asking for it. Then there’s finding time to watch them all, which is a problem the binge watcher in me is more than happy to have.
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