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There’s everything on TV tonight.

I’m looking for something to watch on TV, but the business model has changed. The home entertainment industry has been disrupted. Corporate strategies have evolved. How do people decide on their (not entirely) nightly visual home entertainment?

This consumer wants to understand shopping for content by looking at1 the evolution of the industry:

  • In the beginning (of her experience), there were a handful of TV stations (called networks) offering programs at fixed times. Programs included television series, news, documentaries, sporting events and old movies. Stations competed on the content, much of which they created themselves and made money through advertising sales. 
  • Later, there were many channels that offered programs, still at fixed times. The choice of content increased but remained on the station’s schedule. A weekly childhood highlight was scouring the ‘TV guide’, planning what to watch. 
  • Cable came next, enhancing the business model. Without cable, a few channels were available for free (with commercials to support the enterprise), while premium cable service avoided commercials, provided an abundance of choice and high quality delivery.
  • Technology brought along the possibility of the customer choosing the show to watch, at a time convenient to them. First through movies on VHS, then on DVD. Later, serial TV shows became available for rent. Then, purchasing boxed sets of ‘TV series’ increased the options.
  • Enter streaming services and unlimited control by the customer of when, where and what media they consume. Witness the birth of binge watching. And yet, there remain vestiges of early programming. It’s still a thing to see the final episode/season premier/new release on the first day. While ultimate control of where and when has value, so does viewing at the first possible time, to keep up with friends.
  • Recently, more industry players have filtered into the streaming space, differentiating themselves through the content they offer (sometimes by producing it themselves), their accessibility, price and name.

It’s interesting that business models and viewing habits have been added to, rather than replaced, over time.

The current state of home-based entertainment media (a mouthful to replace TV) makes me wonder: what are the key success factors in the industry2 and how does a person identify something to watch that amuses them and then chose where to watch it?

It’s not just me that’s confused by all the choices. There’s apps to locate the content a person wants to see.3 If it needs apps, it takes more than a moment to figure out. There’s also apps to answer: what should I watch if I don’t know what I want to watch?4 This is progress. In the past you’d either randomly channel surf until something caught your eye, or read reviews.

There’s more to selecting content than a simple suggestion. No point in the app telling you to watch something on Disney, if you don’t have a Disney account or don’t want to pay for a Disney account because you already subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime and can get free content from other providers.5

There remain many free sources, primarily existing on the old business model – monetization by inserting ads before, during and after the show. But not exactly the same, as the on-demand aspect of modern business models has infiltrated traditional networks. Examples of content providers in this category are the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), and NBC (Peacock).

YouTube has a related business model, providing non-corporate creators (individuals) a platform where they can share their content and use the old-fashion advertisement approach to commercial sustainability. 

YouTube also has a pay per view service, which brings up another feature of the competitive environment. Some content is the same, some is different. You can go to Netflix, Apple TV, or YouTube to get a certain show, but Disney, Hulu, HBO, BritBox and others have specific content you can’t get anywhere else.

There are so many choices, this excellent article rates various services and identifies ‘bests’ in many different categories: original content, variety, free TV, family movies, indie, horror, international and more. 

From my perusal of the industry so far, I see the key success factors:

  • price
  • number of concurrent streams (so the whole family can watch different things at the same time)
  • lots of titles to chose from
  • specific content
  • device compatibility, included download capability
  • quality such as delivery of high definition for really big screens
  • accessibility

For different subsegments of the market, the weight put on each of the above will vary. For some, price will be the primary factor. For heavy consumers, variety may be critical, while others require access to particular shows. 

A survey from 20196 asking people how they choose what to watch reported that 67% of people select something they are familiar with – the next episode, part or season, or a show they want to see again. Suggestions from friends and family are also very influential. Interestingly, curated content – i.e. suggestions of ‘what you might like’ – ranks behind familiarity, friends and family suggestions, browsing your existing subscriptions, new shows and reviews. Other factors may be important such as ratings, or familiarity with some component of the show – actors, director, genre, setting. 

The simple answer seems to be, there is no simple answer. It’s been reported that Canadian adults spend an average of 24 hours a week watching TV7. That’s a lot of content. With that much consumption, people use all available avenues, their favs, recommendations, reviews, apps and more, to find new content to watch. 

In my childhood, a common lament was ‘there’s nothing on TV tonight. Now, it’s the opposite, nearly everything in movies, shows, documentaries and more is available for home viewing.

I’m still looking for something to watch tonight. I’ll browse my free service for something that looks amusing. Tomorrow, perhaps another approach will help me find ‘something on TV’.

1 This is a pun, but unlikely to resonate with your unless you’re close to 100 years old. This is how my grandparents described watching shows. You ‘looked at’ them.

2 Business strategy talk for: what do consumers want that they are willing to pay for in the home-based entertainment media services industry.


4 By inputting a number of favourites and preferences, an algorithm makes suggestions of what you might like.

5 In business strategy, we call these switching costs, meaning financially, socially and/or logistically, changing consumption patterns is a pain in the butt.

6 Reported in this article: and this one


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