Is more video on demand (VOD) than you can imagine – and then some – too much of a good thing?

As an industry, cable has put into place an embarrassment of riches through its hard-fought commitment to VOD. A whopping 37 million homes, according to SNL Kagan, can delight in anytime access to thousands of hours of the finest video the world has to offer, on the best screen in the house.

Forrester Research calculates that by 2013, on-demand will be the leading metric in global video consumption. The long tail is being tackled, more and better studio and network distribution deals are being cut, and Web content – be it user-generated or professional material – is starting creep in.

This all begs the question: Is there such a thing as too much VOD?

As long as subscribers are able to plumb the depths of VOD with increasing ease and native intuition, the answer is no. But how do you improve today’s subscriber interface? Let’s turn to the speed and richness of the Web for inspiration and answers.

In time, tru2Way and unicast will enable richer subscriber experience through greater flexibility and two-way communication. But it is possible to introduce a more personalized VOD service in the near term. Small steps work well as defensive maneuvers and are advisable given the need to address fundamental challenges of VOD operations today, such as adding storage, streams and high definition (HD) content.

By leveraging the installed infrastructure and the existing set-top box, cable operators can take interim steps that help create a more personalized subscriber experience more akin to the increasingly rich multimedia environments on the Web.

Many cable operators already are turning their own Web portals into means for subscribers to plan their evening viewing. These are now designed to help people find the content they want to watch and plan out how they want to engage. But a piece is missing.

What is needed is something that is as easy and as intuitive as Google for subscribers to find and manage the content they have and have it ready and waiting for them in the couch potato zone – where they’re least inclined to navigate through constrained menus.

Choice isn’t the issue. It’s finding what is truly relevant not just for the folks who pay the cable bill, but also for Generation Y, the 16- to 24-year-olds who are the most underwhelmed by today’s user interfaces. To them, VOD titles are the result of some faceless entity’s choice and taste. What they want are recommendations from friends and family and the ability to reciprocate. Content may remain the same, but usage will rise because the recommendations are trusted.

Generation Y isn’t getting any younger. A large segment of the population is becoming more and more accustomed to consuming video on the Web. Taking steps now, such as introducing personalized services and applications – or at least laying the groundwork – will help ensure that such consumption doesn’t come entirely at cable’s expense.

Competitors recognize this dynamic and are taking action. The realm of AppleTV and media center PCs is enjoying more bandwidth, an influx of dollars pegged to development and all the learning that comes with it.

Yes, Nielsen’s latest viewership reports show that a rising tide to date actually benefits everyone. Whether an alternative Web-based player emerges as a price-point winner in the future depends in large part on the industry deploying the kind of user interfaces that will prevent more VOD from becoming too much of a good thing.

Alan Hoff is senior director of on-demand solutions for SeaChange International. Reach him at alan.hoff@schange.com.

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