Content Discovery Needs Art - Not Just Algorithms


Is it just me or does working in TV these days require mastery of an ever-increasing barrage of new technical concepts?

I turned to good old Wikipedia for clarity: “as operators compete to be the gateway to home entertainment, personalised television is a key service differentiator”.

That sums it up nicely, along with the neat observation from C21’s Jonathan Webdale after the recent Consumer Electronics Show that “if there was one thing that stood out…it was the fact that the internet and television are becoming one”.

As the content discovery gold rush intensifies (and, to declare an interest, Red Bee Media has just launched its own set of services in this space), I believe the key question is this:

To what extent will the consumer experience be shaped by an artful blend of innovative technologists and brilliant designers?

In a typically enlightening session recently, Decipher's MD Nigel Walley made the point that a few years ago UK broadcasters and platforms tended to abdicate responsibility for innovation in this area to “future media” or VOD teams, with the artists responsible for creativity and brands becoming a bit detached.

As we rapidly reach the point at which all producers, broadcasters, platforms and device manufacturers need their own strategies and solutions to help viewers search, get recommendations and find their content, the balance needs to be readdressed. In the words of Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, we “need to bring art and science back together”.

I believe that the winners in content discovery will not just be those with the whizziest algorithms but those who recognise the importance of what Jane Cunningham and Phillippa Roberts call The Aesthetic Code. Writing about female motivation and what it means for marketing (which is, perhaps, a helpful antidote to the traditionally male-dominated world of technology), they say: “the aesthetics of something have a profound appeal that goes way beyond the systematic and the conscious”.

The market is in its infancy but, for inspiration, iPad users can already turn to Fanhattan and the elegant way it leads you deeper and deeper into layers of entertainment discovery without ever feeling lost, and the social TV guide Yap.TV, with its visually rich EPG. iPad magazines like Wired, GQ and Flipboard also have a lot to teach us about the fusion of interactive functionality with beautiful design.

Returning to Wikipedia’s description of content discovery, the “key service differentiator” will not just be the technically ingenious personalisation underpinning the new gateways to entertainment but the brand understanding, creativity and design artistry applied to the user experience.

Who do you think is combining algorithms with aesthetics most successfully? What are the best current user experiences that help consumers to discover content? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Andy Bryant, Director, Creative