The iTV Doctor Is In! What We've Learned So Far

Dear Readers:  

In 1994, Paul Saffo wrote in Wired magazine, "It's the Context, Stupid." Working against the commonly held belief that "It's the CONTENT, Stupid," Saffo opined that it's not only about WHAT you watch; it's about how the content is organized, and how you find it. Saffo called it the "Point of View."  
"In a world of hyper-abundant content," Saffo wrote, "point of view will become the scarcest of resources, and we will race to model human points of view within the personalities of our software agents. I will even bet that an industry will grow up around individuals licensing their points of view for use in context engines in exchange for usage royalties. Imagine being able to give your news agent the personality and perspective of Walter Cronkite, Howard Stern or John Updike, or consult the software-doubles of Siskel and Ebert for advice on cool movies to view."
As much as that was true in 1994, it is monumentally more important today. There's plenty of content. There's actually way too much content for any sane individual to absorb. Perhaps when Artificial Intelligence takes hold, the content will watch itself. But until then it's just us--the individuals.
Much has been said about personalizing the television experience: content aggregation, discovery, advertising, platforms and devices. At mid-year 2016, perhaps the good doctor can offer a bit of perspective.
But first we might listen to one of the people who is right square in the middle of everything that's happening with television: Tony Goncalves, SVP of Strategy and Business Development at AT&T's Entertainment Group. I had the privilege of interviewing Tony at the TVOT Show in San Francisco last month. Here is an audio playback, about 30 minutes long.  It's worth your time, if all you do is play it in the background while you're checking your email today. Trust me, you're going to pause a couple of times and replay:

TVOT Session:
In that vein, here are a few of the topics that have dominated the first half of 2016:
Differentiate, Don't Emulate. Television industry DNA has always been a blend of safe decisions and qualified risks. One procedural cop show begets dozens of imitators. One adventurous network OTT service is followed by a flood of similar services. Makes sense. Highest probability of success. And nobody loses their job if they're wrong, because they followed a trend. But as is usually the case, we focus on selling what we've got, rather than what our customers want. That makes sense, because we know what we've got, and we really don't know what they want. But that's changing, because content aggregators like Freecast and data aggregators like Amdocs are developing consumer behavior models that pinpoint, down to the single individual level, usage patterns, tastes and gaps (otherwise known as opportunities). We have the ability to tailor and target our services to individuals in a real-time environment, because what I wanted to watch yesterday is not even close to what I want to watch today. I won't be in the same location; I won't be using the same device; yesterday my mind was at ease and today I'm working. The experience works best when it's personal.
Keep It Really, Really REALLY Simple Stupid! Apple has taught our customers that everything they need is a click away. Everything except television, that is. Television, especially TV Everywhere, requires passcodes, authentication, a few dozen program guides and a degree in advanced physics. Everything is available to everyone, as long as you can find it. And once you find it, good luck if you forgot your password. More often than not, you're going to give up and go to Netflix. They've got pretty much everything you want:  kinda, sorta, not exactly, but it'll do. It's easy. It's there. It's everywhere. Did it surprise anyone that Comcast integrated Netflix into their X1 platform?
Embrace Frenemies Speaking of Comcast and Netflix, we learned shortly after that announcement that growth for Netflix in the US had slowed, which shouldn't have surprised anybody. As you get closer to the saturation point, growth by definition must slow. But Wall Street doesn't care--investors are addicted to growth. And that's why Comcast/Netflix, which wasn't the first such agreement, simply re-states the obvious: when it is in the best business interests of competitors, they will cooperate. Witness the local DMA advertising co-ops that have aggregated cable, satellite and telco viewing audiences for decades, in order to accumulate the kind of mass that advertisers need.  

OTT growth is slowing. We've picked up most of the heavy users--those who are tech-savvy enough to climb over all the walls we've put in front of them. But if we want to continue to grow, we have to get to everybody with content they want, at a reasonable price with a consumer-friendly user experience. We'll do that by putting the consumers first, and giving them what they want to buy, rather than what we have to sell.

And that means we find a way to work together. If it was easy, anybody could do it. But we're supposed to be the sharpest knives in the drawer, so let's figure it out.

Stop Driving Consumers Away with Ads. If the success of Netflix has taught us nothing else, its taught us that consumers' aversion to advertising influences their viewing choices. An ad-free older episode of my favorite series is frequently more appealing than an ad-packed newer episode. The industry agrees that we need a new model, and research, workgroups and trials are proceeding rapidly.

A few months ago, I wrote about Project Quantico--an approach to television advertising that puts the consumer first.

I'm pleased to say that with the help of the Amdocs folks, Project Quantico has continued to gain traction with television networks, distributors and tech partners. If you want to get involved in Project Quantico, ping me at 

The Cable Mantra:  It's MY Subscriber. I am unashamedly a "cable guy" (and, for the record, I include all pay-TV platforms in that definition). The relationship we have with our subscribers is our greatest strength. Whether they use us for subscription television, broadband, telephone or advanced services, they are our subscribers. Everything they do with video comes through us. And if we keep that position top of mind, everything mentioned above works. As long as we continue to meet their needs, they will continue to be OUR subscribers.

And lastly, we'll see you in December--TVOT NYC December 8th, 2016.