Originally published at Digiday on May 13, 2015
Verizon’s recent posturing around the need for smaller, slightly less expensive bundles is a classic case of treating the symptoms not the cause. Because the real threat that Big TV is facing is the disconnect between the monthly cost and the perceived value of the customer experience they’re delivering. Right now, that experience, to put it mildly, stinks.
The bad experience starts when you turn on the TV to find something to watch. You go to the program guide, which has no rhyme or reason any sane person could figure out. Thanks to byzantine legacy deals, TV providers need to do things like make sure that CBS is Channel 2 (or 502 or 902) on the lineup because they were Channel 2 on the circa 1975 dial … and then make sure that’s the default home screen.
There are many ways to make the experience better — Comcast’s X1 system has managed to bring the set-top box interface into the 2010s— but unfortunately none of the other providers seem to realize how important this is. It stems, at some level, from the fact that they are in either a monopoly or duopoly situation and thus don’t have a whole lot of impetus to create a positive customer experience either on the set-top box or off: If you live in their region and you need video-capable broadband and/or pay TV, you don’t have any other options.
But imagine what consumer reaction to paying over $100 per month for pay TV plus broadband would be if they were actually given an elegant solution, something that felt like 2017 not 1997. Would they be complaining about too many channels … or not enough? What if the entire system (including video on demand and the DVR) was seamlessly integrated into their mobile apps the way Netflix is so they could move from room to room, device to device, without skipping a beat. What if customer service was a positive experience rather than a mine field filled with missed appointments, phone trees and hostile reps?
Or go one step further: what if discovery wasn’t limited to a wild goose chase around an antiquated program guide, enabled by hunt-and-peck typing with the remote control. What if there was a system that recommended shows based on prior behavior, that created a Watch List like the one on HBO Go, even sent out reminders when a new episode of a favorite show was available. (There are companies like Yidio, Jinni, ThinkAnalytics and NextGuide that are already doing some or all of this— the technology is out there, it just needs to be adopted.)
People would find the aforementioned system (and the responsive customer service that would need to go along with it) to be worth a fairly hefty price tag because it would feel like a high-end luxury service, one that many consumers could easily afford, one that touched their daily lives far more than other luxury good or service. It would dovetail nicely with the renewed emphasis on quality programming, where well-written, well-cast, well-reviewed shows are starting to outshine the morass of reality programming that has dominated the industry for the last 10 or 15 years. In short, it would feel like the medium was finally keeping up with the message and the second golden age of television would actually have a delivery system worthy of the content.