In the digital age, content providers have been forced to adapt to the increasingly on-the-go lifestyles of consumers. This industry shift is demonstrated by the rise of Over-The-Top (OTT) and Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) services. As the density of online content increases, consumers are consequently overloaded with choice, and as a result of that they are struggling to find appealing content with ease.

In the 2016 Ericsson ConsumerLab TV and Media Report, it was revealed that the average person will spend 1.3 years of their life perusing the on-screen electronic program guide (EPG) in an effort to locate TV and entertainment content. The same report also found that Video on Demand (VOD) consumers spend a “frustrating” 45 percent more time searching for programming, in comparison to their linear TV viewing counterparts. In tandem, 57% of consumers in this study say content discovery is critical when choosing a pay-TV service. 49% also say the mobility factor is important.

From these findings, it’s clear that not only is a better content discovery process needed across the board, the ability to find and access content across the multitude of mobile devices is key.

In the first of this two-part blog series, we will explore the methods that content providers can use to help consumers find the content they want, whenever they want it and on any device.

Enter universal search; a foundation for unifying content together from multiple, linear, and over the top (OTT) services.

Viewers’ frustrations are partly attributed to the inconvenience of switching between SVOD apps, such as Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube, to find content. In contrast, universal search provides a single point of entry.  The ability to quickly search across all available television content – live linear, OTT and VOD – paired with the ability to do that on any device, enables viewers to find suitable programming from many services in a single instance. But what if you only wanted to see services you were subscribed to? Theoretically, universal search should allow viewers to personalize content searches, which would then enable the option to see user-subscribed services only.

Universal search should also cut content search times significantly. But how could such a service be feasibly adjusted for mainstream suitability? From our perspective, this could include a time window, SD or HD quality, and pricing. Whether or not the content is free (which it could be on one service but not another), or has a price fixed to it, is certainly pertinent to the viewer.

The major dilemma for universal search platforms is the need to convince SVOD providers and content owners to become involved in such a vast project. Those who are adapting by developing OTT services (such as HBO, Sky, and CBS) will have to make some critical decisions – like whether or not they will open up their private data library to a universal search platform. Agreeing to be a part of a universal search platform could potentially lead to increased viewership and additional exposure. Otherwise, failure to leverage a historic opportunity like this might result in simply fading away. We must ask ourselves, is it worth the risk to keep the searchable content under lock and key, when a larger share of viewers could lead to great revenue streams and greater investment in content.

With this in mind, what exactly is available (and possible) in terms of universal search today?

There is actually a lot that we can do with unified content already. For example, a consumer can search for a program and instantly obtain where that program can be found across every platform be that live or on demand. If they look for the 2008 movie “Iron Man” on AT&T U-Verse, the exact time, date and channel should be displayed (e.g. 8 p.m., December 19 on STARZ). Additionally, potential streaming locations for “Iron Man” (Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, AT&T VOD, etc.), with availability and pricing, can also be shown. And with a simple click-through, the content is then easily accessible.

In the second part of this blog, we’ll look at some the limitations associated with universal search, and they can be resolved.

Olcay Buyan, Technical Product Management, Content Discovery