1,762 channels and nothing on

Bruce Springsteen's 1992 track '57 Channels and Nothing On' painted a picture of a channel-surfing tv viewer unable to find anything to watch. Fourteen years later it's even worse: there are so many great programs out there, but with dozens of channels on any digital tv platform, it's becoming harder and harder for viewers to find what they want to watch.
April 1, 2006

Bruce Springsteen’s 1992 track ’57 Channels and Nothing On’ painted a picture of a channel-surfing TV viewer unable to find anything to watch. Fourteen years later it’s even worse: there are so many great programs out there, but with dozens of channels on any digital TV platform, it’s becoming harder and harder for viewers to find what they want to watch.

Throw DVDs, IPTV, broadband video, mobile phones and ‘sync and go’ mobile devices into the mix and it’s enough to make most TV viewers give up and snuggle into the sofa with a good book.

Speaking of good books – remember the confusion you felt as a child when you walked into the library and were faced with rack after rack of books, and you had no idea which one was worth reading? Well that’s the way most TV viewers feel now when faced with an electronic program guide (EPG).

This is a huge issue for content owners and advertisers. How do they generate revenue from programs and commercials if no one can pick them out from the noise? The capability to effectively ‘push’ relevant content to consumers through great promotions, media planning and epg listings has become even more important.

However, consumers are increasingly demanding to be in control in a vod world. With content available on multiple devices and platforms, they want the capability to search across all platforms, and to receive content recommendations and ratings from brands and communities they trust.

The good news is there is new technology that enables promotions to be more targeted than ever before. Many vod services enable data on viewers’ interests to be collected. (Red Bee Media currently does this for Telewest’s Subscription vod service, Teleport, and uses the data to decide which programs should be promoted.) Digital technology is enabling trails to be produced quickly and to be specifically tailored using templates, so it’s easy to react to consumers’ behavior and promote what we know they are looking for.

This opens up a whole range of opportunities. Just imagine if content owners reacted quickly to world events and current issues, leveraging the wide-spread interest in a topic to attract consumers to their programs.

Another way of making content stand out is to provide incentives for consumers to share their favorite programs, images and games with friends. The 3 mobile network recently announced that it has managed to generate £1.3 million (US$2.3 million) revenue from ‘See Me TV,’ which allows people to upload films they’ve made with their phones onto 3′s platform. The incentive for consumers to participate is that they can easily share their favorite clips with friends, and they can also make a bit of money if their films are popular. This just demonstrates the power of suggestion when it comes to making content stand out.

Programs like BBC4′s documentary Meltdown – A Global Warning have been able to leverage promotional opportunities by giving viewers a reason to talk about them with their friends. Meltdown devoted the last 15 minutes of the one-hour program to explaining why viewers should donate their computer downtime to a study that could predict the effects of global warming. The researchers said they would need the power of 10,000 computers to create a reliable prediction, and at last count over 100,000 computers had been donated to the cause. The program gave its audience the opportunity to get involved and make a difference, allowing it to cut through the clutter and stick in viewers’ minds.

There is always a way to get to consumers – content owners just need to use more creative methods to make sure their programs stand out.


About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.