Open Source Reporting::Designing an On-Demand TV Service That Beats DVDs

    by Mark Glaser
    June 19, 2006

    i-201ea0aede442c2f6050d786e3117341-RCN Impulse On-Demand.JPG
    We are a culture that thrives on immediate satisfaction. We want what we want when we want it. So the idea that we can order any TV show or movie we want — for a small fee or with advertising — appeals to us immensely. Slowly, but surely, the cable and satellite operators are starting to offer “on-demand video,” programming that we can watch on our timetable and pause, rewind and fast-forward like a DVD player.

    What used to be pay-per-view, where you had to watch the movies on the schedule of the cable provider, is now on-demand at any time of day or night. Through my cable service with RCN, I can order a variety of films for $3.99 each or watch various free entertainment options, including PBS Sprout’s kids shows. That means I don’t have to visit the video store as much, and can feel good about canceling my NetFlix account (despite the various attacks I’ve received in the blogosphere).

    Still, this is far from a perfect system. Without paying attention to the charges for on-demand movies, they can add up quickly. Plus, the amount of information you get for each movie or show isn’t really enough to decide on how good it might be. You end up having to go online to find movie reviews or more information. And the selection is still rudimentary at best, and nowhere near the variety you’d get on Netflix or other DVD rental services.


    Perhaps together we can help design a more perfect on-demand video service. The following are some features and payment schemes that I think would help improve the service and make for a real DVD-killer.

    1. Include all the DVD extras such as deleted scenes, director’s commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, etc. (RCN does offer some of these with its on-demand service.)

    2. Make an online component where we can get more movie reviews, or get more details on who made the film, who is acting in the film and more.


    3. Add sports on-demand for after an event. How many times have you forgotten to tape a game and wished you could have watched it? It would be fantastic to have an archive of sports contests for people to watch after the fact. There would be a big market for exciting games that no one predicted would be interesting beforehand. Highlights on-demand would be even better.

    4. For TV shows, we are willing to pay a small fee such as 50 cents per show without advertisements, or they can contain ads that are shorter and placed at the beginning of the program.

    5. Give us more user-generated content options, so we can watch the best video clips from services such as iFilm and YouTube on TV.

    6. Create interactive learning experiences for kids, where they can answer questions via a remote control. This might give them more interaction than just staring at the screen.

    7. Provide more flexible payment options. Rather than having to pay per movie or show, perhaps there could be an all-you-can-watch option with a monthly fee. If you subscribe to premium channels such as HBO, you can already get free on-demand shows on some services. It would be great to open that up to other channels and programming.

    8. Give us a five-minute money-back guarantee where we don’t have to pay if we decide the movie is horrible and have buyer’s remorse.

    Now it’s your turn. How would you design a better on-demand video service? What features do you want, and how much would you pay for such a service? Share your thoughts below, and I’ll return to the subject and include your ideas in a future blog post. You can also feel free to defend DVDs and tell us why you think on-demand services will never fly.

    • Wolfgang Reuther

      Fine ideas! I myself suggest personalized accounts, where you can place items that you’ve just heard of, wouldn’t want to watch immediately, but pick from later, when there’s more time.

    • Dan Carnese

      I’d like to see a topic-based personalized news service, collecting segments from national news programs and cable channels specifically about stories of a viewer’s specific interest.

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