What’s on TV tonight?

What’s on TV tonight?

That is  a million dollar question. Unless if you are extremely opinionated on what you like to watch!

The internet and other rapidly evolving technologies have drastically lowered the barriers of content creation and distribution. This has resulted in an explosion of content for consumption. Content creators like Studios now compete with likes of Netflix and niche artists on YouTube channels. Users have a plethora of content to choose from & a variety of platforms to watch it on.

Content Value Chain

Trying to answer, “What’s on TV now?” has become increasingly difficult. Breaking down the content journey into a value chain can look something like below

The Content Value Chain

Industry players attempt to simplify content discovery, hoping to drive user adoption. Search & Recommendations is the holy-grail of content discovery. But, in the content value chain, every participant is active in this dpace. How can they drive user adoption? Are industry players willing to go beyond walled-gardens? Is any one of them better positioned than others to create enough value for the user, while capturing enough value for all participants of the value chain?

What is the goal of having a content recommendation system? Depending on where one sits in this chain, it could either be to make money or could be to boast of incredible user experience indirectly creating brand affinity.

Exploring further, I attempt to outline the players involved in the content transformation phase, figure out what their incentives are to build/buy a recommender system and how do such propositions impact their business model? Let’s start from the right extreme – the demand side. When it comes to content consumption, the end user is the king here.

The end user (Content Consumption)

A study from Digitalsmiths (Survey demographics covers North America) shows increasing difficulty in finding content that users really ‘want to watch’ (see adjoining figure here)

Complexity with content discovery
Is it easy to discovery content?

The number of programs users can find is extremely high. To make a decision on what they should watch is tedious.

An excerpt from an article states, “For pay TV operators, the challenge could be as simple as people just can’t find what they’re looking for. According to Digitalsmiths, 71% say they get frustrated because they can’t find something for the family to watch. Nearly half of pay TV customers don’t use search, saying it takes too long (20%) and is just too difficult to find (18%.)”

Users have no time to browse through the content clutter. Yet another barrier is the user experience. Depending on the type of device the user consumes video content, he expects a different kind of interaction paradigm – each suited for that device type.  (Reminds me of the famous Ted Talk from Barry Schwartz – The Paradox of Choice). So the consumer is thinking either of watching something that is popular among the masses (hence in the first handful of installed channels) or just watches a show based on word-of-mouth referral. That he has a certain taste & preference has little bearing on his viewing habits.

Who should empower this user? Is the content creator, the content aggregator or the TV device maker best placed to fulfil all objectives and deliver the punch?

More to follow, in the next post…

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Should the TV Guide still be ‘yet another application’?

Should the TV Guide still be yet another application?

After two back to back events, IFA at Berlin and IBC at Amsterdam, its finally good to get back home. These are two places where you would expect a lot to happen in the consumer electronics space and the closely related content-space. I took the opportunity to attend a few conferences this time at IBC and an interesting one of them was titled “From EPG to PPG”. Eminent panelists presented and discussed their views and I took the opportunity to get inspired an jot down a few thoughts.

How old is the TV guide? Any guesses?

Program guides a.k.a TV Guides have been around since as early as 1940’s, albeit in the ‘printed format’. The electronic version (EPG) has been around since early 1980s in North America. As per Wiki, Western Europe still took some time to adopt to the EPG (early 2000). Not much has changed in the EPG over all these years. It still is the matrix, rows full of program names mapped against time of the day and day of week.

So, what does the TV guide do for the consumer? What is the job done?

To take a step back and think – what problem does the TV guide solve?

“It helps viewers make choices. Which program or movie should I watch next or even watch later in the evening – that’s what the TV guide tells me”

TV guides in all these years have presented viewers with a list of programs. While the viewer is watching a TV show, at the end of it he opens this one application, hunts around for the next show he wants to watch on the same or other channel – and Zap! There he goes, switches to the next program with his pop-corn! With all the clunky interfaces and the evolution of catch-up-TV services, some operators took a step further – they let viewers ‘go back in time’ on this TV guide. Viewers could now discover and play back previous missed episodes from this interface.

What are the alternatives today?

A lot of debate and discussion of course focusses around the emergence of OTT content consumption vs. linear TV viewing experience. A report from Juniper Research suggests that subscriptions from ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) TV providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime will generate $31.6 billion by 2019, up from just under $8 billion in 2014. How do these services present their content to viewers? Recommendations – is one of the primary means to achieving this. To draw an analogy, remember when buying books (or any items) on the Amazon website, you are prompted “You bought this, so you might like that..” … a cool way of understanding your preferences, mapping it with the inventory on offer and creating a opportunity to up-sell goods and get a larger share of the wallet.

A similar mechanism exists in the content space, albeit with the objective of ‘keeping you entertained with stuff you want to watch’! And that is called Recommendations. So, while the scope of content is different (it is on-demand content) the job being done is the same – helping the viewer make a choice.

What should the Next-Gen TV Guide look like?

During this conference, Brenda O’Connell from Twitter opened her presentation with a bold statement – ‘The EPG experience is broken today’. Taking a user away from his current viewing, making him navigate through a myriad of program names, hoping he would select the content ‘almost’ right for him, reading more about it on the screen and if all looks good, lo behold he switches channels to actually start watching. Can nothing be done to throw this experience out of the window and look for a new way of getting the job done?

To steal a phrase from yet another speaker at this panel discussion, Fabian Birgfeld, the next generation TV guide should give a ‘Cinematic Integrated Experience’. Rather than the make the user open this one application to see a grid of program names and time, the next generation experience on TV guide can be derived from this ‘recommendation experience’. (See a beautiful illustration at http://bit.ly/1SZfn64 starting from timestamp: 18m16s)

Right before the end of a program, an end-screen notification pop-up indicating a ‘personalized and recommended’ program coming up on any channel. While a viewer is presented this choice, it can be reinforced with ‘why this is best for you’? Using genre and semantic based keywords can convince a viewer on the choice of program he is about to make. Overlaid recommendations and program information will enrich the viewer experience making it easy for him to flow through content. It could extend to mood based recommendations and even event based choices localized and personalized.

In all this scenario, the second screen device also can play a significant role. Multi-user login is still a tough nut to crack in the TV space. Proximity detection enabling viewer identification can help figure who is sitting on the couch in front thereby helping the cause of personalization.

What are the challenges in achieving this?

  • Broadcasters love their real-estate. Content rolled out by some broadcasters has a ‘watch next’ overlaid on the video feed. Additionally brands pay for the advertisements. Neither broadcasters, not those brands would like an atrocious overlay on top of their content. More so if it results in taking the viewer away from the channel there will certainly be some displeasure. After all ‘eye balls’ is what the media industry cares about. Having said that, broadcasters will be able to benefit from viewer data and make better decisions around content and advertisement. They will be able to leverage this towards monetising better targeted advertising.
  • Will they ‘All’ participate? In addition to this Pay TV bundle, will the OTT players play along. The business model of OTT providers has started to depend on original content and latest content release window (from tVoD providers). Rightfully so, they favour their walled-gardens. It helps them better understand consumer needs, thereby helping the investment decision-making process. If these players open up their catalogue interfaces to TV makers and Pay TV operators alike, this content will become a part of the broader mix! Will it loose its premium position? Not necessarily. As they are invested in quality content creation, their content where relevant will be stay afloat over the rest in the recommendations.
  • The consumer question ‘Will my TV give me this experience or will it be the set-top-box?’  Amongst this install base, different geographic markets have different adoption ratios of linear viewing through the TV vs through a set-top-box. Only the former part of this install base will use the TV guide on the TV. Is this base big enough for TV makers to spend money on? Does the meta-data and the powerful recommendations algorithm behind it have sufficient business value to the TV maker? On the other hand, using the set-top-box keeps the experience under the control of the operator – the gatekeeper to the viewer’s linear content.

A transition in the user experience paradigm from this grid view to an integrated experience will create a leanback viewing experience. Certainly more than one player in the value chain will have to work together to bring this dream to a reality.  For the viewer the new ‘personalized’ TV guide will be more of a personal TV assistant than a mere two-dimensional application.

Design for people, not awards – Timothy Prestero @ TEDxBoston

“Timothy Prestero thought he’d designed the perfect incubator for newborns in the developing world — but his team learned a hard lesson when it failed to go into production. A manifesto on the importance of designing for real-world use, rather than accolades. (Filmed at TEDxBoston.)…”

Product Design for actual use > outcomes > manufacturing & distribution > appearances? Interestingly said, there are no dumb users, rather dumb products. Its a great 10 minute piece. Have fun listening to it.

Are you happy with your LinkedIn account?

Being an active job seeker, I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. Over the past few months I have seen several changes in LinkedIn, from the web user interface to the business focus. Starting with a Freemium business model back in 2003, it has evolved into a multi-sided business model. The LinkedIn Recruiter Product back from 2008 has transformed into a complete Talent-Solution and now contributes to over 50% of revenues as reported last quarter.

The huge professional users base ( 238 million members as reported here) is the key value-proposition in its offerings to Talent Acquisitions & Marketing Customers. However, being on the other side of this multi-sided business model, I sometimes wonder – Is LinkedIn providing appropriate features & services to its premium subscribers? What else can LinkedIn do to monetize its offerings and make this user base a happier lot? Can anyone else benefit from LinkedIn’s user base & features?

I have four specific aspects to discuss herein from the job-seekers perspective (premium account holder) unless mentioned otherwise. While I have elaborated some aspects I believe are not good enough, I have also tried to propose amendments to them.


1. Inmails – Guaranteed delivery or response?

In a discussion board here on LinkedIn, recruiters discuss the effectiveness of Inmails in talent sourcing strategy; it is said that LinkedIn itself suggests about 20% effectiveness (so if you send out 100 Inmails, you can expect about 20 to respond)

In my opinion this is quite low and the quoted figure is for recruiters. Turn the pyramid around – get into the job-seekers shoes – can he expect as high a response rate given the many-to-infinite relationship between recruiters and job-seekers?

Inmails also come with a 7-day-no-response return guarantee. That is to say, when you buy a pair of jeans, 75% of the time you may not be happy with the jeans – but we offer you a store credit. Does a Premium Customer care about the Inmail credit or is he really hoping to connect with a person who can help grab that career opportunity? Selling a 20% effective service to premium account holders, especially to job seekers accounts is like selling a deficient service with the promise of accumulating store credits.

Can something be done? – Notably, while you send out an Inmails, LinkedIn shows your Inmail Feedback Score. How about seeing a Receiver’s Inmails Acceptance score? That ways I know what are my chances of getting a response when writing to this person? Should I really waste the precious Inmail on a person who doesn’t bother responding to them and wait till it is credited back to my kitty?


2. Endorsements for Skills & Expertise – Real or Pseudo?

This feature that started off with good intentions, but I believe has lost its way! Being able to enlist skills & search people based on these is interesting and useful. But forcing your network to endorse skills of people in the network? Especially the aggressive pop-ups with four people & their skills appearing on the page right above the profile of a connection becomes annoying and mundane after a few rounds.

After I deliberate carefully for a few contacts, I am lost for specific skills of people who are relatively new on my network. Why would I expend energy and time on these endorsements? This has resulted into several endorsements that people make, but not many care about.

On the other side, ‘LinkedIn Recommendations’ is still a powerful way of endorsements; when someone has put the thought behind elaborating your strengths, it is more purposeful.

So what can be done here? In my honest opinion, the endorsements of skills & expertise should cease to exist! Save people’s time and clicks for more important aspects of professional networking LinkedIn.


3. Job Applications via LinkedIn – Whats happening?

As of date, “Jobs posted on LinkedIn” can be applied to in two ways

  • Redirected to company website
  • Apply on LinkedIn

Redirected to company website – the painful process of non-standard formats, no visibility on how many have applied (you do see how many have clicked). Not very useful apart from the fact that you could discover the opening on LinkedIn.

Apply on LinkedIn: Great features. You can actually see how many people have applied, so you know if it is extremely sought after position. Occasionally, you know through a notification if the recruiter ‘saw’ your application. But on several occasions, being in the job seeker’s position, I haven’t ever been notified of the progress on the job I had applied to? If the recruiter doesn’t see my application, why do I upload it? Why does the recruiter post it at all? Or is there another way that the recruiter sees it and I don’t know what happened with it. Well as a job-seeker, not the best experience I would expect.

Can anything be done here? Well for starters, there needs to be consistency in the job apps process. If recruiters have filled up a position – can LinkedIn’s tools inform the several aspirants that the show is over. A nice little summary page could also help tabulating the company name, posting/unposting/application date, number of applicants et al. How about bringing in that automated-job-search agent notification to LinkedIn Jobs. So, “I am looking at Product Management roles in the technology domain in London (oh yeah – work authorization needed – yes or no also helps)” … an email with periodic alerts on this query would make life much easier for the job seeker.


4. University Pages – Can you take over the alumni portal as well?

I kept the best for the last! Fantastic interface, great query modes and seamless. Its like some other design team formulated this for sure! If yes, kudos to them for a neat job.

This, I believe has immense potential for yet another segment. Consider University alumni networks. A busy professional keeps his profile on LinkedIn more updated than that on his online alumni network.

LinkedIn specializes in providing a professional networking platform, while schools specialize in knowledge dissemination (and not in software platforms & IT systems). Can LinkedIn provide the university pages in some form to these alumni network associations? Schools will benefit from a better managed online platform at lesser hassle & perhaps lesser costs. The student network will benefit from more updated information of the alumni network. LinkedIn will benefit by monetizing this service in some form. Subscription based revenue models will generate recurrent revenues over a large user base – students & universities. Surely a lot more possibilities can emerge out of this.


While the recent user interface changes have been good, sometimes basic features seem to get lost. For e.g If I search for people in Amazon, there is not way for me to ‘sort’ the results based on relevance, degree of connection et al. Now I click on Advanced – I don’t know why but it sets the default radius around my location – every time! Is this a feature or a bug – is for the product team to declare, but often a cumbersome experience for a user like me. Nevertheless, for now it is a tools of immense utility – I hope it continues to be.

Marissa Mayer’s Unauthorized Biography .. via Business Insider

Wow.. just finished reading The Truth About Marissa Mayer: An Unauthorized Biography” by Nicholas Carlson at Business Insider; I couldn’t stop myself from sharing this here.

Its quite long, but quite the thriller in itself.. ! The part I liked best  ….

The past two years at Google — since she was, according to the rest of the world “demoted” — had been quieter than the first 11, but in many ways more challenging and exciting.

In local and geo, she’d taken over a much more massive operation than the one she’d been running at Google.

Whenever people asked her about the “demotion,” as Wolf and the other directors might over dinner, Mayer always pointed out how she had gone from managing 250 product managers in search to supervising a much larger, more diverse group of managers — 1,100 people managing engineering, design, marketing, and sales. Mayer would tell people that she was supervising some 6,000 contractors.

She’d figured out that by the fraction of the company, the geo and local piece that she was running was something like 20-25 percent of the company’s overall headcount.

The business challenges she’d dealt with in those years had been as diverse as the types of people she managed.

…….

Perspectives! When you know what to learn from an experience than worry about what ‘people’ think, you prepare yourself for the right opportunities! While Yahoo’s recent products have seen a huge turnaround and there’s news about increasing traffic, one must agree that there is have positive change for now.