Why Cable Needs New Navigation Now


Video-on-demand and other advanced services are vital features that will allow cable to support its premium price and minimize subscriber erosion in the face of unprecedented competition.

If consumers are to derive the intended value of these services, however, it is imperative that they can quickly and easily find something they want to watch. As Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research wrote recently, “Cable and satellite operators pitch their services based on advanced content features like VOD, but if consumers can’t find it, they can’t use it.” (“Solving TV’s Navigation Bottleneck,” May 23, 2005).

If consumers don’t derive value — because they can’t find that perfect VOD show nine layers deep in the menu hierarchy — they will, in time, simply downgrade or disconnect their service.

Navigation Must Change

Textual, grid-based program guides originated in an era when viewers’ television choices were minimal. The first national issue of TV Guide, in April 1953, showed listings for just three broadcasters: ABC, CBS and NBC. As programming choices expanded to number in the hundreds, guides evolved into electronic versions of the grid format.

Now, VOD provides access to thousands — and soon tens of thousands — of entertainment choices, and traditional electronic programming guides are woefully inadequate. Josh Bernoff echoed this by saying: “As channels and VOD programs multiply, TV faces a navigation bottleneck. Today’s program guides, buttons and menus can’t cope.”

Furthermore, studies have shown that consumers want one system to manage and display entertainment choices beyond TV shows and movies on the television — ranging from interactive games to personal digital content such as photos, music and home videos.

The competitive risk to cable is that new players — namely consumer electronics and computer companies — are currently selling products that address this need today, aiming to use them as a wedge to gain an entrée into the digital living room. Going forward, their intent is to leverage broadband penetration to offer additional services on top of cable’s product.

It is imperative that cable pre-empt these competitors by deploying navigation technology that not only optimizes the customers’ VOD experience but also extends functionality to manage the host of new digital content in the home (e.g. personal photos, music).

So What’s Needed?

The ideal navigation system for television must deliver on the following requirements:

Simple and Intuitive. It must leverage instinctive (versus learned) human behaviors, to allow consumers to master it within minutes of picking up the remote (ideally with fewer — versus more — buttons).

Scalable. It must easily accommodate tens of thousands of content choices, from a variety of sources (i.e. service provider and consumer’s owned or created content).

Consistent. It must use a consistent process by which the consumer seeks out what they want, regardless of whether the desired content is a VOD movie, a favorite network sitcom, personal photos or personal music.

Versatile. It must make it easy for consumers to find entertainment content, regardless of how they choose to go about it. In some cases consumers want to search for something specific, but the majority of the time they just want to browse a general category or even the entire library of available content.

Nets Should Weigh In

Established programmers face significant brand dilution from the staggering increase in available on-demand content, delivered via both cable and the web. Existing program guides offer little opportunity for programmers to brand their content.

Program providers must lobby for the adoption of new navigation technology that provides a heavily branded consumer experience … or risk seeing their brands rendered less relevant over time.

Navigation Will Drive ROI

As Craig Moffett of Sanford Bernstein recently explained, “A good IPG is fast, easy to use, and helps promote trial and discovery. Perhaps more than any other feature, the IPG user interface defines the user experience of watching television. As such, the IPG has an incalculable impact on customer satisfaction (and, no doubt, churn).” (“Cable and Satellite: Search versus Browse,” July 14, 2005).

A new method of content navigation is vital to ensure a customer experience worthy of an $80 monthly bill. This is not about “a cool UI,” but rather about realizing sufficient economic return on the investment cable has made to deploy VOD and other advanced services.

Clearly the time is now for cable to embrace new navigation technology to fully leverage the services it offers today, and also to effectively merchandise future services so they achieve their full potential.