Having a multiplicity of sources will make content discovery difficult,
so guides will grow in importance.
In the long term, whoever ends up controlling the program guide wins.
It's a theory. It's based on a few obvious expectations:
1) There will continue to be multiple, ever-richer sources for video – subscription-based and free
("free" via a broadband connection or connections).
2) All video sources will have to compete for viewers across multiple devices.
3) Having a multiplicity of sources will make content discovery difficult, so guides will grow in importance.
4) Advertising is still going to be one of the largest sources of revenue for everyone.
Cable, DBS and IPTV all have program guides that subscribers are familiar with. Can providers rely on consumer habit? No. Extant guides pretty much all suck. Guides – in set-tops, on the Web, in TVs themselves – are all going to get more sophisticated. Expect superior utility to trump familiarity pretty darn quickly, especially with younger subscribers.
People will probably use multiple guides, but if one guide offers greater utility, it will become the default guide. Yahoo and Ask Jeeves still exist, but then there's Google.
And Google is the model here, isn't it? Make it easier for people to find stuff and people will use the service, and the ad opportunities come with.
TV folk seem confident that viewers do not want the Web experience on their TVs, based on the different behavior sets – active engagement versus passive reception, respectively. Maybe, maybe not, but that's an assumption that ought to be consistently tested. I can easily imagine viewers going with Web/engagement for content search, and then going passive for content viewing.
Cable people smarter than me have chewed on this theory, and though no one's ready to make it an article of faith, they're not sure it's wrong, either. What do you think?