TV Apps Aim to Channel the Flood of Online Video

TV Apps Aim to Channel the Flood of Online Video

A telling moment for the future of 9×9.tv, a video discovery startup headquartered in Silicon Valley, came in January. That’s when chief operating officer Jack Chang bumped into a YouTube product manager inside the Samsung pavilion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The employee was running a YouTube kiosk inside the Samsung booth, showing off the YouTube apps on Samsung mobile gadgets, and he and Chang fell into a conversation about the overwhelming volume of videos the site attracts. “He says, ‘I work for YouTube but I don’t even know where to start, not only because of the sheer amount of content out there but because of all the fresh content being uploaded every second,’” Chang recounts. “He clearly has a problem. I explain our dayparting algorithm in 30 seconds. He immediately gets it and says, ‘Now I have a reason to watch YouTube!’ I thought that was very enlightening.”

You may never have heard of “dayparting,” but you know very well what it is. It’s the traditional practice in broadcast television of rotating through different types of content as the day progresses: news shows in the early morning, game shows and soap operas during the day, more newscasts at the dinner hour, prime-time dramas in the evening, and finally late-night comedy and talk. The comfortingly familiar pattern is as old as television itself—in fact, it’s an invention of the radio era.

What’s On? A Dozen Video Discovery Sites and Apps
Blinkx www.blinkx.com
Chill www.chill.com
Fayve www.fayve.com
NextGuide www.dijit.com
9×9.tv 9×9.tv
ShowYou www.showyou.com
Shufflr shufflr.tv
Sidereel www.sidereel.com
Squrl squrl.com
StumbleUpon video.stumbleupon.com
Telly telly.com
TV.com tv.com

Up to now, there has been no similar routine for regulating the world of online video. And that’s obviously part of the point: videos on YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, Vevo, and other sites are available for viewing on demand, at 3 pm or 3 am. There’s no network executive telling you when you can watch Gangnam Style, Nora the piano-playing cat, or Charlie bit my finger again. Which is a wonderful thing—it’s part of the reason so many people are gleefully cutting the cord and scrapping their cable TV subscriptions.

But there’s a downside to this lack of structure. As scholars in psychology, business, and behavioral economics have been pointing out over the last few years—and as the YouTube product manager at CES noted—too much choice can lead to paralysis. Sometimes you just want turn on the tube—or the YouTube, as the case may be—and be entertained, without having to spend time searching for good content.

And that’s where 9×9.tv comes in. In December, the company introduced an app for Android smartphones and tablets that uses old-fashioned dayparting to organize YouTube content into daily cycle resembling the television of yore. (The app also works on Google TV, the search giant’s set-top box.)

At any given moment, 9×9 shows nine YouTube channels suited to the time of day in the users’ time zone. That might mean CNN’s YouTube channel in the morning, Ellen DeGeneres at mid-day, The Travel Channel in the late afternoon, the PBS News Hour over dinner, America’s Got Talent during prime time, and Comedy Central before bed (see the sample schedule on page 2).

9×9.tv is betting that people filling fragments of time by watching videos on their mobile gadgets will welcome the predictability the app provides. “These are decades-old habits,” says Chang. “The concept we are trying to execute toward is ‘less is more.’”

Santa Clara, CA-based 9×9.tv is just one of many companies stepping forward to help consumers get a grip on the exploding world of online video, whether that means user-generated clips like David After the Dentist or network-produced shows. We’ve told you in the past about social-discovery apps like ShowYou that highlight videos mentioned by your Facebook and Twitter friends, apps like Sidereel and NextGuide that tell you where your favorite shows are playing, and pure search sites like Blinkx that are doing their best to index the hundreds of millions of hours of content now available online. What’s new is that a few companies like 9×9.tv—and YouTube itself, to a large extent—are shifting back toward the venerable idea of channels and schedules to help consumers navigate the sea of viewing options.

9x9.tv's discovery app runs on Android smartphones and tablets and Google TV.

9x9.tv's discovery app runs on Android smartphones and tablets and Google TV.

9×9.tv is one of the first video-discovery apps to focus on the Android ecosystem before turning to Apple—the app isn’t yet available for iOS devices, though Chang says the company would like to make that happen. It’s also one of the first to introduce a significant element of algorithmic filtering. In other words, the app is telling you what you should watch, rather than making you do a search, or sifting through your social-media feeds to see what your friends are watching.

9×9’s parent company TelTel, which has offices in Silicon Valley, Taiwan, and Beijing, was founded in 2005 by telecom entrepreneur Sherman Tuan, and it’s a relative latecomer to the online video business. The company started out offering … Next Page »

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The Author

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy.

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