The Future of the TV Guide

The Future of the TV Guide

By Lorena O'Neil



Sick of wading through an ocean of content in search of a TV show you want to watch? Prepare for the future, where that’s all going to change.

By Lorena O'Neil

You know how you can be staring at a mountain of clothes in your closet and still have nothing to wear? It’s beginning to feel like that in TV Land these days.

We now have a seemingly endless amount of content to watch, be it via 500 old-school-style cable channels or courtesy of streaming, on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video. With so many options, how do you find that TV series or movie that is right for you? Welcome to the problem everyone in the television and video industry is racing to solve: content discovery.

Some of this frenzy is driven directly by consumer needs for accurate searching and personalization. See if you find any of these frustrating scenarios familiar: You want to watch a movie but you don’t know which provider is streaming it, so you jump from Netflix to Amazon Instant Video to HBO to iTunes in an attempt to find it. Or you want to find a new TV series to binge-watch, but the recommendations you are getting aren’t squaring with your personal tastes. 

The electronic programming guide is going through literally a rapid evolution right now.

The host of companies and apps clamoring to dominate content discovery are also catering to TV service providers, who are anxious to recapture the growing ranks of customers who’ve cut the cable cord and are consuming content exclusively via the Internet. “The electronic programming guide is going through literally a rapid evolution right now,” says Jesse Redniss, a former TV executive who is now chief strategy officer at Spredfast, a social marketing platform for media and brands. Redniss says we are moving toward a more personalized guide that serves up recommendations based on your interests and what you consume.

He points to NextGuide, a second-screen app that acts as a big, visual programming guide and is already working with companies like DirecTV, Dish, Comcast and Fox. It isn’t like a traditional guide, with all the channels listed in order, explains Redness, nor is it restricted to just shows on live television. You can connect your social networks like Facebook and Twitter to it so it can comb through what shows you like, comment on and have watched in the past, and what your friends like as well. You can also set reminders and alerts that will tell you when shows are available to watch on providers like Netflix and Hulu.

Moviefone is also jumping into the discovery game, in an attempt to become a “one-stop navigator for television information” by providing times and on-demand viewing options for both movies and television. Apple’s December acquisition of social media analytics company Topsy has people wondering whether they, too, are thinking about using social data for content recommendations, be it for movies or iPhone apps.

Let’s not forget Twitter and Facebook, which aren’t thought of as primary content discovery tools, but may nonetheless be the most successful at it. Have you ever been tempted to watch a show because all of your friends were talking about it on social platforms and you felt left out? (Hello, Orange Is the New Black.) Twitter has added a “Trending TV Shows” section, and it’s common to see TV shows pop up in Facebook’s new “Trending” module. Comcast has already taken advantage by partnering with Twitter to produce See It, a feature that allows Twitter users to click directly on a tweet to watch the show — soon, even beyond Comcast’s own cable boxes — that is being commented on. “I think these major social platforms are becoming major discovery guides for all sorts of content,” says Redniss.

The catch to all of these new discovery apps is making them seamless with viewing habits. Most people aren’t flipping channels or browsing streaming services and thinking, “Hey, what is a great app to discover content?” If it’s too much work, consumers are unlikely to take the extra step of going to an app to search and get recommendations, and then going elsewhere to watch their show or movie — even if the “extra work” is just a few more clicks. It’s why Twitter and Facebook have a built-in content discovery advantage: We use them daily anyway. 

The feature allows Twitter users to click directly on a tweet to watch the show being commented on…

“I think that the challenge for any second-screen app is going to be getting enough users to make their efforts worthwhile,” says Erin Copple Smith, an assistant professor of media studies at Austin College. “There could be 15 different apps that are functioning more or less as the contemporary TV Guide, but if nobody knows about them, it’s just not going to work. What we really need to see is for one of these to gain a lot of traction and for people to say, ‘Oh, my God, you have to have this app — it’s life-changing.’ So far, I haven’t seen that happen.” Smith adds that we shouldn’t discount some traditional discovery techniques that are still working, like using hit TV shows to promote a new series.

Whatever the perfect mix of content discovery is — be it traditional techniques merged with social data and a scraping together of all content providers — it seems like the number of hours we spend on our couch, being ever-so-productive with our televisions, is about to increase.