Push beats pull in the battle for the television viewer
In 2011, Deloitte predicts that despite the sale of tens of millions of television sets that offer a form of built-in search capability for television programming, the vast majority of viewing will be delivered on a traditional “pushed” basis, in other words the schedules determined by channel planners. And a growing number of selections may be pushed via recommendation engines built into the television or set top box. However the “pulling” of television content by viewers beyond the selection of a television channel is likely to remain an exceptional behaviour.
Searching will be available to varying degrees of sophistication, ranging from simple search apps selectable from an on-screen menu, to powerful functionality that enable searching across a wide variety of broadcast, streamed and stored content.
Yet adoption of program searching is likely to remain modest, largely due to a lack of need. Although today’s viewers may value the ability to pull content, pushed content remains their default choice. This could be attributable to the inherently passive nature of the television medium. Marshall McLuhan famously suggested in Understanding The Media that television was a ‘cool’ medium that would require audience interactivity; however, remote control and other innovations have made TV viewers famously inert1.
Indeed, some argue that on-demand content, delivered by any technology, may never represent the bulk of viewing for the majority of viewers. Since the time that video rental stores first gave viewers the ability to opt out of scheduled programming, picking and choosing what to watch on TV has remained for most people an occasional activity. The monetary cost of selecting a la carte is one issue: but even as prices fell for purchased or rented video cassettes (in the 90s) and DVDs (over the past decade), demand did not rise commensurately. Typically households still rent at most a few DVDs per month. The biggest barrier might be the time and attention required to select content. Having choices is wonderful, but choosing can be a chore.
Actively “pulling” content may be even less compelling in 2011 due to growing availability of recommendation applications built into TVs and set top boxes2. Many of these applications will use previous viewing behavior to conveniently recommend new content.
Aside from the behavioural challenges involved in pulling content, price is likely to be a major obstacle in 2011. Television sets and set top boxes that incorporate the most advanced search capabilities must factor in the cost of additional processors, memory and storage, which typically add at least $50 (or 10 percent) to retail prices3. For low-end units, this additional cost will likely create a significant drag on sales. Customers pondering the selection of their next television set may well choose a larger screen rather than paying a premium for enhanced search capabilities4.
For consumers buying Internet-ready televisions that support advanced applications, a major barrier to search adoption is likely to be the required peripherals and user interface. Such televisions are likely to ship with a standard numeric keypad that makes it hard to enter search text. Upgrading to a full QWERTY keypad might be too expensive given the expected benefits, and current keyboard designs are not generally seen as elegant, convenient and easy to use5.
When it comes to television in 2011, the only pulling that most viewers may want to do is pulling up a chair.
Technology has always played a fundamental role in television. Since the first TV broadcast, the technology has shifted from black and white to color, screen size and resolution have grown by a factor of ten, and thousands of new channels have emerged.
Yet one thing has remained constant: for most people, television continues to be a passive experience. Viewers value the option to choose, but often do not exercise it. Interaction — even among those with multiple ways to control what they watch — has generally been limited to choosing channels on a remote control or, for the most sophisticated users, selecting from a DVR menu of pre-recorded content. Technological progress is unlikely to shift these ingrained habits any time soon. Technology enables. But it cannot oblige.
Younger generations, having grown up searching for content on computers, may bring their search habits into the living room. But this is not likely to become mass market behavior for many years.
Television is — and will likely remain — more than just a piece of technology or portal to a library of content. For many households, it is a focal point for family gatherings. For many individuals, it is the principal topic of water cooler conversations with friends and colleagues. In 2011, mountains of newsprint and terabytes of online chatter will likely continue to focus on TV shows, pushing and cajoling people into what to watch. And the best search algorithm in the world is not going to change that behavior. At least not in 2011.
1Marshall McLuhan Theses on “The Television”:http://www.utoronto.ca/mcluhan/mcluhanprojekt/fernsehen2.htm
2This functionality is now available via the BBC’s iPlayer, see:http://iplayerhelp.external.bbc.co.uk/help/using_bbc_iplayer/friends_feature
3Google TV reviewed: Did Google get ahead of itself?, Crosscut.com, 8 November 2010:http://crosscut.com/2010/11/08/technology/20319/Google-TV-reviewed:-Did-Google-get-ahead-of-itself-/
4See this article for details of price reductions on some deep-search equipment: Struggling Google TV Devices Have Prices Slashed at Retail, Gizmodo, 28 November 2010:http://gizmodo.com/5700535/struggling-google-tv-devices-have-prices-slashed-at-retail
5Sony Google TV Remote Leaked, Designed in 1980?, Wired, 6 October 2010:http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/10/sony-google-tv-remote-leaked-designed-in-1980/