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By André Christensen

Three decades on since “500 channels and nothing to watch” and two months into #StreaminginQuarantine the TV question isn’t much different than as it was in 1992: “What should we watch tonight?”

So do we have a content problem, or do we have a discovery problem?

Although viewing has shifted from pay-TV to streamed SVOD, AVOD and TVOD services, viewing experiences often can be less than satisfactory. Last year Nielsen reported that the average viewer spent seven minutes deciding what to watch and that 21% will give up watching if they can’t decide on what to watch. Deloitte’s digital media trends survey noted that consumers know what they want to watch two thirds of the time but will give up on their search if they can’t find the desired title in a few minutes.

COVID-19 has compounded the “what to watch” issue by pulling the content rug out from under us. The sports and major live events that have been the backbone of our viewing for years have been put on hold or eliminated from the schedule altogether. Quarantines have slammed the door on TV and film production, eliminating the torrent of new shows that feeds our video jones. And, of course, when people are at home more, they watch more – which means less fresh content.

On April 4 alone, the United States watched 27 billion minutes – 50,000 years – of content in a single day. With hundreds of thousands of titles available that shouldn’t be a problem; even 5% of that content should keep us glued to the screen for the rest of 2020.   But more and more the question of “what’s next?” is rapidly turning into “what’s left?”

To take full advantage of the surge in viewing, the industry needs to make it easier for viewers to find the content they have, to leverage partnerships to ensure that the content pipeline remains open, and to find ways to tap into social outlets to create new content opportunities. As we see it, that means creating opportunities in three key areas:


  • Personalization – Viewers are replacing sports and live events – often with reality TV, game shows and binge viewing of scripted shows – but after two months of isolation are beginning to see the well as running dry. Improved personalization that reaches beyond basic recommendations to understand viewer engagement at the micro level could unlock discovery of longtail content that could rejuvenate the viewing experience.
  • Syndication – If viewer satisfaction with streaming catalogs is nearing “empty,” it’s unlikely to be a phenomenon that’s unique to a single service. OTT providers can jump start interest by negotiating rights to pull in content from partners or to share their own content with a larger audience.
  • Social Integration – Let’s be honest: viewers already are spending lots of time outside of the OTT and pay-TV ecosystems. Partnerships with Super YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and similar social sites could unlock the door to short form user generated content that draws more individual views than any individual TV show, keeps those viewers engaged.

As #StreaminginQuarantine continues, the surge in viewing is helping providers understand the technology gaps that are hobbling consumer satisfaction. Market share will be captured by those whose platform partners have the flexibility, technological imagination and scale to create engagement models that optimize subscriber value.

Do we have a content problem, or do we have a discovery problem? The real answer is “both.”  What are you doing to correct that?


André Christensen