Discovering a Search and Searching for Discovery

At EMA’s recent Digital Media Pipeline conference, we had a vibrant discussion about the variety of services and devices available for the digital delivery of movies, TV shows, and video games, and the overwhelming amount of content that’s available. Yet two questions kept nagging at me: first, how does the consumer discover new content, and second, how does the consumer wade through the clutter to find the programming they are looking for?

“Discovery” isn’t a new opportunity. In the early days of video rental stores, store clerks were the source of suggesting alternative titles when the “hits” were all out of stock on a Saturday night. As the business has become more sophisticated, IT-based predictive heuristic models have helped retailers (both in-store and online) to offer suggestions to consumers. One differentiating factor between digital retailers today is how well their GUI allows for satisfying consumer discovery.

Yet, Russ Crupnick of NPD Group reported at Digital Media Pipeline that only 28% of video EST purchases are impulse buys, compared with 56% of physical sell-through. (He noted, however, that internet video on demand windows may play a role in the low rate of EST impulse buys, as the digital consumer who wants a title immediately after release will seek it out.) The five most important drivers for EST movie purchase are: they are a fan; browsing; online trailer; TV ad/commercial; and on sale. Interestingly, social media is not much of a factor in discovery.

Clearly, the industry needs to do a better job helping consumers discover new content.

Just as discovery is a knotty matter, the related issue of “search,” or the ability for the consumer to find what they are looking for online, poses what I believe is one of the biggest frustrations our prospective digital consumers face. Consumers don’t understand release windows; they don’t understand that some studios have deals with certain retailers or distributors and not with others; they don’t understand that only some retailers/services are available on each platform or device. They just want to see a movie or television show.

The movie watcher used to know that if they went into a video rental store, it’s likely that they’d find pretty much any movie they wanted to rent for the night, and if they went into a video specialist or a mass merchant, or if they went online retailer, they’d be able to find nearly any movie they’d want available for purchase. 

While streaming or downloading a digital copy of a movie may be a lot more convenient (the consumer doesn’t have to leave home), the search process is a lot more cumbersome and vexing. First, the consumer needs to figure out which digital retailers/distributors, if any, have the title available. Then, they need to determine if it is available for rental, SVOD, or EST. And then, they have to figure out which, if any, of their devices allows access to that retailer/distributor. (For me, at home, this then forces a decision about what room I’m going to watch the movie/show in.)

It shouldn’t be this complicated!! The industry needs to remove consumer friction if we want to hasten adoption. There are some devices and platforms and software that help. And one retailer even sends consumers to competitive digital retailers/distributors that carry titles that they don’t have available.

“Search” and “discovery” present both challenges and opportunities for us as an industry to find better ways to serve the consumer. How we respond to these challenges will have a tremendous impact on just how rapidly the digital home entertainment market will grow.

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