Monday, December 3, 2012

Future Consumption: Unboxing


This is what I hope to be the first in a series titled Future Consumption. Basically, I am rethinking our current usage of technology, and how we can change the state of current services to utilize newly available tools.

Chances are that if you live in the United States, you have a cable or satellite dish provider that you have chosen to work with for your television, telephone, and internet services. They offer all kinds of bundles, but their prices are fairly high considering that you can technically live without a house phone and watch your favorite shows without cable. Now that networks actually stream their shows online, you can catch up over the course of a few hours without needing to use your living room (well, actually any) television. That is why I believe it is time to "unbox" cable.

Let me elaborate. I have experienced Comcast, Cox, Fios, and DirecTV services. They have their strengths and their weaknesses overall, but at the end of the day, they feel so unnecessary and bloated. Every time I watch my television, I am instantly struck by a feeling of wastefulness. I don't even know how many channels I really have. I never search beneath the HD threshold. I have at least fifteen HD sports channels collecting dust 365 days a year. In the end, I would prefer to pay for what I will actually consume—not "potential" consumption. We no longer watch television the way we did in the past. We can know what is on at any given time of the day with the help of online schedules or the equivalent TV Guide type menu found as part of set top box interfaces. With our time devoted to so many new avenues, the need to religiously watch a show on its first airing has declined. Now, we can resort to any number of online video platforms if we miss an episode.

Therefore, given the climate of television and the rise of services like "OnDemand," imagine that instead of paying for haphazardly created "bundles," you subscribe to a variety of networks for monthly, quarterly, or yearly fees. Of course, the longer you subscribe, the less you pay, but then you can really choose what it is you want to watch (and consumers will feel they get the most bang for their buck). Your provider can give sophisticated network bundles based upon actual customer usage. For example, families might be interested in the "family" networks, which could be offered for a discounted rate for X number of months like they currently do the bundles they provide now. However, they can back this up with a lot of raw usage that might help networks when they come up with new shows. If you know more about your audience, you can cater to them in a more exciting way. For the actual viewer, providers becomes less of a hassle, and more like tools to discover new shows and enjoy old favorites. 

I read an article about how HBO created a special standalone streaming service for European customers. This comes at a time when HBO subscribers are able to access all seasons of HBO's series (from the beginning) using HBO Go if subscribed to one of numerous cable/dish providers. As a current user of the HBO Go system, I see value in it. I can watch all kinds of shows—both new and old—on demand without the need for the "live" presentation. If we could use this kind of service overall, some networks might find that their usual re-runs will be rediscovered by another generation and enjoy a second life.

There is something about what I'll dub "YouTube presentation" that works better in the long run. You always get interested in the recommended videos and spend more time on the site. Maybe this will provide actual television channels with a better way to market themselves. Instead of obnoxious commercials, they can logically recommend that if you like Show A on one of their channels and Show B on another, you might also enjoy Show C (maybe even on a different network). They can do this non-invasively by constantly appearing in the recommended show list. This way, when curiosity wins over, your customer decided to watch your show on their own volition. 

Another added layer of (free) advertising could come in the form of "friends." No matter what you believe or like, social networks dominate all aspects of everyday life. If your friends all have a specific network of television shows, and you all watch the same show, you will naturally be more inclined to subscribe to a network's channels. This is even more likely if you can see that your friends like specific channels and shows. Add in "viewer profiles" to this mix and you will have enough data about a given user to suggest they try an episode (maybe three at the most) of Show A to whet their appetite. Then, a la app-style, viewers can then choose to seamlessly subscribe to that channel if it was intriguing enough to interest them in the rest of the series. It's better than being stuck with a product that you do not enjoy. Unlike actual items, you cannot sell television choices to other people when you no longer want them. Instead, you're stuck with your bundle of whatever (especially with the current one size fits most model).

It's probably a lot more complex to change the current style of networks, but if television is going to survive, I think networks will need to make some new decisions. Cable/Satellite dish providers will also have to rethink the pricing for their offerings. Obviously internet gives a much higher return than cable, so perhaps the bundled pricing of cable deters a lot of potential customers. What I've outlined above is a system that requires some give and take on the side of creators, consumers, and providers, but that's what business is after all.

This whole conversation will continue in the next Future Consumption series titled Unmarketing. All of these topics are based upon my own opinion and are meant more as brainstorming than go to market ideas. However, if you'd like me to take a shot at a future version of any current system, or if you have remarks about this particular post, please leave a comment below.

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