VOD-ville

Apple’s disastrous launch of its iPhone Maps app is now a famous SNAFU, albeit a rare one for a company that usually gets it right (or at least right enough) when launching new goodies. In iOS6, Apple replaced the rather accurate and battle-tested Google Maps with its own software that recently guided me to a charming bungalow in Larchmont. Unfortunately, I was looking for the coffee shop a block away. On another occasion, Maps sent me to a nearby UPS Store that was actually some kind of mom-and-pop business center. UPS-like didn’t really cut it. And just this week, my attempt to find walking directions a few blocks from a location in Hollywood prompted Maps to suggest a 370-mile trek to Arizona. The potential calorie-shaving workout was tempting, but I declined. Other times Maps has basically worked. But it’s impossible to rely on something that, well… isn’t reliable. As Apple’s Tim Cook has admitted, Apple screwed up and must fix this thing. So what can we learn from this?
 
For cable, the lesson is clear and probably somewhat familiar: Technology is hard. Apple simply put something out that wasn’t ready for primetime, partly because it felt it had no choice as rival Google continued to use iPhone customers to improve its own mapping product. Apple made a strategic decision. It knew its mapping app wouldn’t work as well as Google’s, but it launched it anyway out of competitive necessity. Cable long ago made a similar calculation with VOD. Sure, it tops DBS operators’ “near VOD” offerings, but as rising broadband speeds have spurred streaming services like Hulu, Netflix and YouTube, cable VOD guides are starting to look like something out of a 1980s sci-fi movie compared to slick search-and-discovery widgets on the Internet. It’s like The Running Man vs. Minority Report.
 
Cable understands VOD’s limitations. And it’s working to improve all aspects of the VOD experience, as its recent focus on authentication, OTT and tablet apps suggests. But while cable does a lot of cutting-edge stuff behind the scenes, consumer perceptions hinge on those front-facing interfaces on the TV. Meanwhile, VOD hasn’t exactly wowed advertisers either, although that’s starting to change. Canoe Ventures, which last year shut down its iTV business, is now among vendors focusing on dynamic ad insertion, which allows advertisers to more easily switch out traditional spots in the VOD environment. Meanwhile, several MSOs are working on better navigation and discovery techniques. The use of the cloud—which is less reliant on the processing power of each set-top box—is showing a lot of promise already, with Comcast’s X1 platform a prime example.
 
Some believe it will take Apple a year or more to bring Maps up to the company’s high standards—and perhaps even longer before it catches up to Google. Similarly, VOD may never match the Internet in terms of functionality and usability. But when it comes to the living room, people aren’t necessarily looking for the best experience available in the world; they’re looking for the most convenient experience at that moment, and the most comprehensive content choices. Cable has a lot of opportunities to remain the primary source of VOD content for most consumers, even if their eyeballs constantly dart between their mobile devices and the TV screen. But time’s running out.  
 
[FYI… We’ll explore more about VOD and where it’s going in a Webinar on Nov. 7. More info HERE]
 
 

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