Getting Viewers Into VOD’s Tent


In the “olden” days, before movie theaters, TV and the Internet, great entertainment was found at the carnival and the traveling circus. In that world, the critical marketing role fell to the barker, whose job was to drum up a crowd of potential customers outside a tent by promoting the multiple “acts” to be experienced just on the other side of the flaps.

It was only after the barker proclaimed that wonders — sometimes unimaginably exotic or grotesque — lie just steps away, that audience members would set aside their indecision, part with their hard-earned money and step inside.

In more recent times, cable operators have invested tens of billions of dollars to roll out new technologies and create a world of unprecedented entertainment choices. TV viewers now have an abundance of “acts” like movies, sports, news and family-entertainment programming at their fingertips, twenty-four hours a day. And with VOD, they not only have the capability of picking the film or video program, but also choosing when to view it. In this world of nearly overwhelming choice, consumers must overcome confusion and indecision, or we risk having them tune out completely.

With the help of Lieberman Research Worldwide, TVN recently conducted an extensive research project to get a better understanding of how consumers view, value, and use barker channels to make their viewing choices. The two-part study began with focus groups of men and women, aged 18 to 54 years old, as well as one group each of teen girls and teen boys (15 to 17.) The second phase of the study consisted of a nationwide online survey of on-demand users, aged 15 to 54.

So what do VOD users think about barker channels? In both the focus groups and surveys, respondents were much more positive about the barker immediately after watching our sample video than they were from recalling it. In fact, the impact of the barker on deciding what to watch on VOD went up 43% after exposure.

The heavy VOD buyers of movies, sports and other content were among the heaviest watchers of the barker channel, with 32% clearly identifying the barker as their primary reason for deciding to purchase programming. As for free VOD content, nearly 53% of all viewing choices were influenced by watching the barker.

Not surprisingly, consumers told us they watch the barker to find out what is playing on demand or what’s “coming soon,” and because something in it catches their eye. Perhaps more constructive is finding out that very few use the barker to learn how to use VOD and complaints of “too much advertising” is one of the biggest reasons for not watching the barker or paying more attention to it. In fact, nearly a quarter cited too much advertising as a reason for not paying better attention to the barker.

The VOD consumers of today are a sophisticated group, savvy in both technology and entertainment and a far cry from sideshow tent crowds of the turn of the century. While they are engaging in an entertainment platform that requires action on their part, they resent any hint of programming being “pushed” at them. The barker need not bark. This is entertainment we’re selling, after all, and if you let it, it will sell itself.

The barker channel has become a very valuable piece of marketing real estate on which most operators and programmers are only beginning to focus. It is underutilized, underpromoted and capable of achieving a whole lot more.

As an industry we spend a lot of time complaining about the electronic programming guides. They aren’t good-enough, intuitive-enough, fast-enough, functional-enough, or pretty enough. It was very surprising to hear (especially from our teenage groups) that they find the guides easy to use. In fact, in our survey, only 4% felt that the On Demand guide was difficult to use. On the other hand, in nearly all of our focus groups, people wondered why you couldn’t click from the Barker video embedded it the guide directly to the program. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could resize the barker window — expanding it when there was something of particular interest to see. And, it would be really helpful if we could focus the barker so it shows only the content in the category the customer is exploring. Based on comments like these, it is clear that the barker merits some attention as guides are improved upon and expanded.

The circus barker may be a thing of the past, but the role the VOD barker is, like on-demand itself, in its infancy. And it will continue to evolve and define the experience. The ever-evolving, ever-improving barker channel will continue to become a more dominant and essential viewing experience that will get customers in the on-demand tent, where they will stay to discover the many wonders of the VOD world.