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If there is any doubt about the potential for content discovery solutions, like search and recommendation engines, figures gathered in a TV Genius sponsored survey of 3,000 European TV viewers should dispel them. In Germany, half the respondents said they frequently find nothing to watch on TV. The figure averaged 43% across France, Poland, Sweden and the UK, the other countries covered by the study, which was conducted by ResearchNow.
The study looks at how people find what they are looking for on television and how they gather more information about content. It leads to the conclusion that while the EPG is valuable in its current form as a source of content discovery, there is huge potential to increase its value.
The survey demonstrated that among frequent EPG users, 40% said they frequently could find nothing to watch on TV. For occasional EPG users the figure was 45% and for those without an EPG, 56% frequently found nothing to watch. Of those who occasionally use the EPG, only 3% said that the EPG was influential over what they watch. But among frequent users, 35% said that the EPG was influential.
However, the ResearchNow study reveals that traditional media such as newspapers and magazines are more effective in the content discovery process and also highlights the importance of online sources or on-screen trailers. The study asked consumers where they search for information about a programme they want to watch. For the 35-44 age group, the preferred sources were: magazines (28%), EPG (22%), online (15%) channel surfing (12%), trailers (11%), newspapers (7%) and friends (4%). For the 18-24 age group the preferred sources were: online (27%), EPG (18%), channel surfing (15%), trailers (14%), magazines (13%), friends (8%) and newspapers (6%).
It is clear that Pay TV platform operators understand the importance of improved content discovery. They want to help their subscribers get more value from subscriptions through linear and on-demand content, or drive them towards more VOD and PPV buys. This study suggests that while the EPG is still a good starting point, they need to reassess the traditional programme guide and look beyond it.
According to Tom Weiss, CEO at TV Genius, “It is evident from our research that consumers consider the EPG an important part of the TV experience, yet it is traditional media such as magazines that have a stronger influence over what they decide to watch. Maybe it is time for the industry to consider a more enhanced approach to the EPG. How can we take the best features of magazines, such as previews and recommendations, and incorporate them into the EPG?”
Weiss points out that the EPG has only ever provided information about programming rather than opinion. “That is the difference between the programme guide and old media,” he says. “Old media has opinion. A newspaper tells you ‘This is good’ or that it is not worth watching, not just the fact that it is on television tonight. We need more opinion in the EPG.”
Weiss believes this opinion could be provided by the Pay TV operator or genuinely independent sources, perhaps through a widget. It could be something as simple as ‘Pick of the day’. “It is even better if that can be personalised for the user,” he adds.
The study shows that the people who watch more television rely more on magazines with editorial viewpoints. “I think one of the things that comes out clearly from the research is that people like to hear about content from a number of different sources and they are almost looking for reassurance,” Weiss explains. “They might have read about the programme in a magazine and seen it in the EPG or channel surfed to the programme, but they like to see it in a number of different ways.”
VOD is a real challenge for content discovery precisely because the content does not appear in traditional media like TV listings and magazine articles, Weiss suggests. TV Genius thinks there are a number of possible solutions.
First, try to replicate the channel surfing experience for the on-demand world. As we all know, the typical channel surfer watches a programme for a few moments before making a decision on whether it looks good, and either gives it more time or swiftly moves on. “How can we make that approach work for VOD?” Weiss asks. “We need a way for people to flip through the content. They may not be able to view the start of the on-demand show, but there needs to be a way for them to watch something.”
Perhaps that something is a trailer. The TV Genius research points to the influence of trailers, which are valued even more by younger viewers than the population generally. “Operators should consider harnessing the apparent influence of trailers to recommend relevant on-demand content,” the company suggests.
Trailers are not only relevant to VOD, either. Weiss points out that with targeted advertising infrastructure in place, combined with a recommendation system, there is no reason why platform operators cannot target trailers at their subscribers for all types of content. “This would be a very easy way to start expanding viewing into Pay TV channels and also the VOD library,” he argues. “It is a new concept for the industry but it could be very powerful.”
An enhanced EPG is part of the answer for content discovery but service providers or content owners also need to make sure content is being talked about in old media. ‘Old media’ does not just mean print, either. In future it could mean magazine portals on tablet devices like the Apple iPad. Weiss points out that magazines want to get on the iPad and service providers should use iPad applications to encourage content discovery.
Delegates at IBC could see a great example of this on the NDS stand. A television listings magazine, modelled around the glossy consumer publication model, had been replicated on the Apple iPad in the form of an interactive, Internet connected programme guide. Targeted at Pay TV operators, this clearly demonstrated the potential to provide content related editorial as well as the ability to search for content and receive recommendations, tied in with a consumer-friendly companion device. You can read more about that demonstration here:
“People do not only want to discover content in front of the television,” Weiss adds, referring to the need to provide search and recommendation, and other forms of discovery, across multiple screens.
Weiss is convinced that it is the service provider who must take responsibility for helping people find content. One thing they should not rely upon is the supposed power of social recommendations, something that is generating a lot of interest right now. (You can read more about social TV recommendations in ‘The role of social media in content discovery’). This is where social media is integrated with TV and consumers can start commenting on programmes, possibly while they watch them, via on-screen Facebook or Twitter style applications. The social interaction could also occur on companion devices including a laptop.
The research sponsored by TV Genius revealed that people largely ignore recommendations from friends and family for classic television, although a study by research company Gartner suggests peer recommendations are valued for online video.
Weiss thinks the reason for this apparent inconsistency is the infrastructure that is available to help people find content in each case. “There are a lot of content discovery opportunities in place for television. You have the EPG but also magazines and newspapers so you do not need to rely on friends and family because there are more authoritative sources,” he suggests. “You can watch trailers on TV. With online video, none of that infrastructure is in place so it is harder to find what you might like.” ‘The role of social media in content discovery’.
Weiss believes another way to boost uptake of content is automatic recording, where the service provider uses its knowledge of subscribers to predict what a viewer would like to see. This is the model pioneered by TiVo on its Personal Video Recorders, where the predictions are made partly on what you have recorded and partly on proactive ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ feedback about whether or not users liked what they watched.
The TV Genius research, titled ‘European Content Discovery’, was based on questions asked during August 2010 and is a valuable addition to the current understanding of content discovery. As we have reported previously, content discovery is going to become an important tool for Pay TV operators, especially given increased competition for the attention of consumers as online video expands and starts to hit connected TV screens.
Tom Weiss has been blogging on Videonet. Read more of his thoughts here:
In July we published a report looking at the next-generation user experience. Content discovery, and its potential benefits to a Pay TV business, are explored at length. All our content is free to read. Click on the link below: