Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Tuesday, November 23rd, 2021

The strange return of Buddy TV & the theory of perceived value.

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Tuesday, November 23rd, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities, where AllYourScreens HQ is in downtown Minneapolis today to do some business and hang out at the coolest-looking co-working space I've ever seen: The Fueled Collective space at the old Minneapolis Grain Exchange.

HOW MUCH DOES UI/UX MATTER IMPACT THE SUCCESS OF A STREAMING SERVICE?
Recode Media's Peter Kafka and Andrew Rosen (of the Parqor newsletter) had an extended discussion about streaming service user interfaces and experiences on Twitter yesterday and of course I was all in, given that I am a bit of a UX/UI geek. But it's also a discussion that touches on a subject that affects all streaming subscribers: how much of an impact does a bad (or good) user experience have on subscriber numbers and retention?

It's an issue that doesn't get a lot of press coverage, in part because it's often seen as a proprietary matter. While I've had a number of discussions with people off-the-record or on background about the subject, it's difficult to get people to to talk on the record. But it's also a challenge to discuss because the issue of user experience cuts across a lot of different conflicting business interests and no one is eager to get into a turf war with other parts of their company.

For instance, take Amazon's notoriously terrible streaming interface. It's clunky, it's busy and it can be nearly impossible to find what you want. Some of the problem is structural - despite a lot of effort, the search functions remain inconsistent. But some of the problems are also related to rival internal goals. Amazon Channels, the rental/purchase division, Prime Video and IMDb TV all want to be highlighted on an interface that only has so much prime real estate. The result is an interface that is difficult to navigate and hard to use. But subscribers put up with it because for the most part they aren't paying for the streaming service directly. It's a component of their Amazon Prime account and I suspect most subscribers grumble a lot, but decide they'll put up with the aggravation because the service is essentially "free."

Kafka argues that a streaming service UI/UX matters less than the content and to a great extent that's true. If you want to watch Star Trek: Discovery, you'll deal with the challenges of the Paramount+ UX.  But I think where a difficult UI/UX has an impact is with the subscribers who are less interested in specific content and more just interested in the overall service. That's the issue that Peacock also struggles with (and to a lesser extent, HBO Max). It's not that Peacock doesn't have some great programming, but if you are someone looking for another streaming service to add to your collection, then absent of some "must-have" content, factors such as cost and the experience of using the service have an impact. 

No streaming service is perfect. Netflix might be a market leader in subscriber experience, but you still can't do things such as manually remove titles from the "keep watching" horizontal bar. Every streaming service can improve. But some of the second tier services have a much farther way to go, especially when it comes to things such as arranging content in a way that is intuitive. And the industry in general has a long way to go when it comes to improving content discovery. Especially when it comes to surfacing content that you might like, even if it's not similar to programming you've previously viewed.

This all ties into a subject I've written about a lot over the past few years: the concept of perceived value. A streaming service is worth what a consumer feels like it's worth, and that perception is based on a mix of facts and emotions:

The lesson from all of this is that the temptation is to look at some ideal monthly subscription fee charged by a streaming service & use that as a benchmark for a service's "value." But in reality, what a service is worth in the real world is a concept called "perceived value." This is how it's described in the business dictionary:

A customer's opinion of a product's value to him or her. It may have little or nothing to do with the product's market price, and depends on the product's ability to satisfy his or her needs or requirements.

Media industry analysts and reporters often parrot the argument that "content is king." And while content is important, a bigger factor in the success of a media business is perceived value to the customer. How valuable is the content to the customers you're targeting? Is your user interface friendly enough that it doesn't lessen the value of your content in the eyes of frustrated users? There are a lot of factors that go into how customers perceive the value of a streaming service. And because it's all a bit squishy & difficult to quantify on a spreadsheet, it's often overlooked by industry analysts.

For instance, subscribers numbers are important. But to a certain extent, subscriber numbers are also a lagging indicator of perceived value. The customers subscribe in large BECAUSE the price matches or is lower than their perceived value of the service. It's why the cost of Amazon Prime Video is rolled into a package that includes everything from free music to free shipping. That's the customer's perceived value of the Amazon content. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, so reply to this newsletter or email me at rick@allyourscreens.com.

NETFLIX TURNS ITS ATTENTION TO MOVIES AUDIENCES WANT TO SEE
There is an interview with Netflix global film chief Scott Stuber and he provides a bit of insight into his current approach towards original film production for the streaming service:

"I think one of the fair criticisms has been we make too much and not enough is great,” Mr. Stuber said in an interview, adding, “I think what we want to do is refine and make a little less better and more great.”

Mr. Stuber, who was a senior film executive at Universal Pictures and an independent producer making films like “Central Intelligence” and “Ted” before coming to Netflix, is satisfied that most of the resistance to Netflix’s decision to essentially abandon the exclusive theatrical window has been quashed. (The company puts some films into theaters ahead of release, but rarely for longer than about three weeks.) And that has broadened the number of stars and filmmakers willing to work on films that will largely bypass multiplexes.

One point that comes up in the piece is that Hollywood is still skeptical of the effectiveness of Netflix's marketing and publicity efforts and that has long been a criticism of the service. I wrote last year about this issue and while I did receive some strong feedback from Netflix, it's also worth noting that today I received pitches from three different outside PR firms regarding an upcoming Netflix release. Which seems to be an indication the streamer has a ways to go before it convinces producers and other talent it can build the cultural awareness needed to successfully launch a project in such a crowded streaming market:

“I think they can be a little louder and more strategic in how they tell the world something’s coming,” Mr. Levy, who is also a producer of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” said in an interview. “I think increasingly there’s an awareness that filmmakers, actors and those of us who make movies want our work seen, but we also want our work known. And I think we’re going to see an evolution of how Netflix markets and publicizes its movies in order to keep the creative community doing repeat business with Netflix.”

The service has had success with the way it markets its TV shows, with “Squid Game” prompting a run on green jumpsuits for Halloween costumes and “Stranger Things” causing Eggo waffles to sell out. But its films have had a harder time breaking into the broader cultural conversation.

I would disagree with this premise. Netflix did very little pre-launch of Squid Game and it seemed to have been caught a bit off-guard by its success. I'd argue the success of the show was driven more by the strong response from viewers rather than some sophisticated marketing plan.

This paragraph ends the piece and it's likely to be the one most quoted, since it serves as both an aspiration for Netflix bulls and a criticism for Netflix bears:

“If you have the budget to make 14 movies and you only have 11 great ones, let’s just make 11,” he said. “That is what we need to aim toward because you really are in a deeply competitive world now and you want to make sure that you’re delivering at a pace that people see greatness consistently instead of randomly.”

BUDDY TV HAS RETURNED...SORT OF
Over the past 10 years, there have been a number of medium-sized entertainment web sites that have shut down. Each site had its own specific story of woe, but the cause of the shutdown tends to be a combination of mismanagement and financial problems.

BuddyTV.com was founded by Andy Liu and David Niu in 2004 and by 2008 it had raised two rounds of funding totaling $9 million, including $2.8 million from Gemstar-TV Guide International. In December 2014, Smart TV manufacturer Vizio acquired BuddyTV's parent Advanced Media Research Group, Inc. and the site Seattle Post-Intelligencer. But the site shut down in May 2018, with a letter from the editor blaming a weak ad market and increased competition.

The site remained shut down until early this year, when a company called Aprospectus LLC apparently bought the site's domain and what appears to be some portion of the content that had been previously published on the site. The site seems to have relaunched several months ago and so far the site's return is more perplexing than inspirational. The site doesn't have much original content and what new posts that are on the site focus on DC and Marvel TV shows and movies. The writing is vague and amateurish and seems to be the type of material you'd get if you purchased it from one of those content mills that promises original pieces for $10 a pop.

Even with those low standards, very little has been posted since the relaunch. The "news" section has a piece from early November, and the second newest piece is from mid-September. 

Even stranger, someone at the site has been contacting writers who had previously worked for Buddy TV, asking them for pitches that will "drive traffic." But so far no one has been able to determine what they are willing to pay for new pieces. It's an extremely strange situation, especially since Aprospectus LLC itself is a bit of mystery. 

The BuddyTV web site describes Aprospectus LLC as a "web content company" and the contact page says the company's physical address is 848 N. Rainbow Blvd, Unit 4835, Las Vegas, NV 89017. Which turns out to be the address of a Mail Link mailbox rental store.

It's also worth noting that address is also the one used by a number of other vaguely-webby companies, many of them that don't seem to be connected to an actual successful business.

The more I've tried to figure out what is going on with this new incarnation of BuddyTV, the more perplexed I've become. I thought it first this was just an effort to use the SEO juice of the former version of the site to sell some advertising. But the new BuddyTV.com doesn't appear to have any ads at all. So I remain confused by the entire enterprise.

I've reached out to BuddyTV through its vaguely generic email contact address and I'll let you if I get an answer.

ODDS AND SODS
Guy Fieri is giving one chef the keys to their own Chicken Guy! restaurant franchise in the new Food Network series Guy's Chance Of A Lifetime, which premieres Sunday, January 2nd.

SEE YOU WEDNESDAY! 

If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.