This is a case study in why it’s important to focus on the problem rather than what you think you want. Perhaps you remember griping about how expensive your cable bill was, and how you only watched a small subset of the channels offered and wondered why couldn’t you just pay for just those channels. Well guess what? Now that Disney is launching it’s own streaming service (Disney Play), we’re approaching that future. Unfortunately, it’s a future that comes after we’ve already seen the promise of a future with aggregated digital content like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu.
The real problem with cable is that we were paying a ton of money per month and didn’t feel like we were getting any real value from it. Silly us, we thought the issue was the number of channels. But if there was anything we could pick up from the popular streaming sites, it was that amount of content was never the problem – discovery was. At any given instant there’s more to watch on any video streaming service than there ever is on any of the cable packages, yet we don’t care. That’s because the video streaming services made it really easy to find things we want to watch, so we don’t have the painful user experience of digging through crap that we don’t care about like we have to with over-the-air TV.
Now that content owners like Disney are starting to realize how much money can be made from owning a streaming service, it seems like only a matter of time before everyone else with a content library tries to get in on the “we have our own exclusive streaming service” action (in fact, Comcast has been trying to cheat its way into that business for years).
That brings us to the issue at hand – we were so focused on what we thought the solution should be (let us just pay for channels a la carte), that we ignored an even better solution that was being offered to us, and now there’s a very real prospect of us getting nickel and dimed by every content owner out there because we’re about to get exactly what we said we wanted.
What we should have done
Instead of asking for a solution we thought we wanted, we should have been focusing on describing exactly what the problem was. With cable (and satellite too), it was that we were paying a lot of money every month and not seeing commiserate value for that money. In addition, with cable/satellite you’re committed to watching shows at a certain date/time or pay extra for DVR service (which doesn’t help the perceived overpriced nature of live TV packages).
Streaming services solved a lot of these problems for us. They’re affordable (even if you’ve signed up for more than 1), the sheer volume of content doesn’t feel problematic thanks to making it searchable and an emphasis on recommendations vs. a “live now” schedule, and content being available on demand vs. on at a specific time without having to pay extra for a recording service.
The success of all these various streaming services illustrated just how well they solved the problems with live TV. That’s why all these content providers want to build their own. The thing they don’t seem to realize is that a large part of the value is based on the fact that existing streaming services aggregate content from everywhere. $X per month gets you content from multiple TV and movie studios. If every individual cable network or studio wants to have their own streaming service, people are going to start realizing they’re not that big a fan of that particular studio or channel. Disney is an outlier here (and thus not good as a case study) because they own Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars – 3 of the biggest franchises on the planet. Nobody else is going to that kind of firepower to put behind their service, so other content owners are banking on loyalty to their movie studio (which doesn’t exist), or that there are people who only watch a specific set of channels that 1 company happens to own all of, and loves those channels so much they’ll trade their cable subscription for a subscription to just that set of content (as opposed to paying for a bigger collection of content from more sources).
Henry Ford was absolutely right when he said that if he had asked his customers what they wanted they would have just told him “faster horses.” When people focus on features rather than defining the problem, they’re limiting themselves to whatever context they’re used to. By defining the problem instead of asking what features users want, you can approach the situation from scratch and put yourself in a position to define a whole new way of doing things going forward. Feature requests are useless, but well-defined and well-articulated problems are the birthplace of innovation.