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How to stop blaming the Millennials and help them watch your content instead

The TV industry is in crisis and the Millennials are to blame. The cord-cutters, cord-nevers, thanks-but-no-thanks cable defectors don’t want to watch your content, not to mention pay for it. That’s more or less what you can hear at any industry conference or read in any and every study about TV viewing habits nowadays.

It’s also completely false. Millennials want to watch TV and they (I should really say — we) are more than happy to pay for it. Even if not in the form of a cable bundle, between the cost of internet service and the wealth of OTT services those TV-rejecting millennials subscribe to, we are probably shelling out similar sums for access to content that we really care about. And we watch a lot. We also care a lot, tweet a lot, share a lot, compile playlists of our favorite tracks, and try to score clothes from the TV characters’ fictional closets (hello, Cookie Lyon). A lot.

So why is streaming of pirated content on the rise? Maybe (in part) because it’s so much easier to find the stuff you want to watch! Apparently a lot of people who stream pirated content online have legal access to it in an ocean of their media subscriptions — they just can’t find what they’re looking for!

Here is a true story: A friend of mine recommended a show* she’s been watching, so I decided to check it out. Said show is currently on Season 2, but naturally I wanted to start from the beginning. So I visit the website of its parent network. It does mention two seasons, and even has some recaps, but no full episodes. On to my Roku (that device, at least, has a version of a universal search). Turns out I have two options to catch up on Season 1 — Amazon Prime at $2 an episode and Netflix, for free. I choose Netflix. Here we go, season 1 episode 1. The video starts with “Previously on the show you believe you’re watching from the beginning.” Hold on, that doesn’t seem right. How is there a “previously”? (Also, thank god there was!). Let’s go back to Amazon Prime. Wait, Netflix and Prime have a different number of episodes? In the same season of the same show…? Back to the network’s website, which doesn’t even have a full list of Season 1 episodes… Sigh.

Let me Google it.

… 15 minutes later …

Alright, so apparently a few months before the first season started, the network aired a mini-movie/kind-of-like-a-double-episode-season-premiere-but-not-really, also known on some websites as Season 1 Episode 0. I think it may correspond to Season 1 Episode 1 on Prime. Let me buy it and see what happens…

Why was this so hard???

I was ready to throw my TV out the window (or just give up on watching) and I am the opposite of unsophisticated with my digital video content. After all, I do it for a living.

Apart from Millennial-blaming, the industry also often talks about the burning need for a universal search. A fully integrated, cross-device, cross-content, and cross-provider search, preferably one with perfectly clean metadata. Except building one in the world of complex (and varying!) digital supply systems, rivaling providers, constantly evolving devices and standards, would be a herculean task, time-consuming and expensive. Not that we — as an industry — shouldn’t strive to make it happen. But there is still something that could be done today, and cheaply.

What failed on my very determined quest to not just stream the show illegally was not really the confusing episode numbering nor the fact that Netflix doesn’t actually have the whole Season 1 bundle. It was the network’s website that didn’t rise to the occasion. It was my first destination, as it should be, the one place devoted to converting me from potential viewer to die-hard fan and it couldn’t even tell me how many episodes are in Season 1?! What a waste…

“If we point them to Season 1, chances are they’ll come back for Season 2” should not be an epiphany waiting to happen.

So, dear content providers, rather than focusing on the layout of the menu, or a new color scheme, or why the cord-nevers don’t want to pay for cable, please just tell the Millennials how and where to watch your content. And we’ll show up to watch, and love, and tweet, and make you a lot of money.

*The show is “Being Mary Jane” on BET, but this problem is widespread in the industry and in no way specific to the network. In fact, kudos BET for an awesome piece of TV!