Monday, 5 June 2017

Justification for the EPG grid.

No-one watches linear TV any more, so why have an EPG? This post looks at why they still exist in an on-demand world.

I hate Electronic Programme Guides. The spreadsheet representation is more suited to accountants than to people wanting to be entertained. Understanding one requires too much learning to be useful. You have to know which channel your programme is on, and when, before you can find it. And if you don’t know what you want to watch, you have to scroll around aimlessly until happy coincidence highlights a programme of interest. So I’m starting a campaign to get rid of them. Except I might be wrong.

The EPG only exists because the broadcast schedule exists. So to do away with the former, we need to look more closely at the latter. A recent presentation at the DTG Summit gave me a perspective of why the broadcast schedule is still important.

The assertion made by Adam MacDonald, Director of Sky 1, was that broadcast schedule (and by extension the EPG) gives context and therefore meaning to on-demand content. His analogy was: you only know you’re going off road, if there’s a road in the first place. To illustrate his point, let’s look more closely at how the schedule is influences and is influenced by viewing behaviours for on-demand.

The majority of pre-peak viewing is live. It may well be true that the post-peak viewers are the most valuable, but there’s still a sizeable audience for whom the EPG is the most relevant content discovery point.

Even for the most heavily non-linearly-viewed content on Sky 1, significant numbers still view non-linearly in relation to the schedule. In other words, they will watch the programme on demand, after its transmission date. Is this because the transmission is the expiry of the spoiler embargo? This seems to be the case for reviewers and social media.

There is an emerging content consumption behaviour of the mini binge, especially relevant for content not available in box sets. Viewers wait 3 transmission weeks, store up 3-4 episodes, then watch them all in one go. This too is only made possible by the broadcast schedule.

In acknowledgement of these insights, Sky 1 now markets to the mini binge, and schedules a “gap” on Saturday evenings – because this is peak on-demand viewing time. The schedule shapes behaviour which shapes the schedule.

I’m not convinced by all this. It strikes me that the broadcast schedule is an organisation paradigm that sits very comfortably with the current generation of bill-paying viewers. I’ve lived with schedules and EPGs for so long that I can work around their limitations. I also accept that behaviours like mini binges and spoiler-free water cooler moments only exist because of the context of the schedule. However, I think these behaviours are short-lived, and won’t be the behaviours of the future bill-paying viewer. The schedule isn’t relevant my children.

The EPG is simply the most efficient way of presenting left-to-right schedule information. Nonetheless, a spreadsheet is not the most efficient way of discovering content, nor even making judgement about content. The poster image is still the best signal for a content watching judgement.

So let’s do away with the broadcast schedule, and the EPG – but perhaps after I’ve set my series recordings.


  1. There is a big difference between a good EPG and a bad EPG, not all companies know what that difference is. Well designed EPGs are great for linear TV, they show you what is on now and in the future hopefully in a clear layout. Linear TV still holds the lion's share and what we in the industry have to remember is that we are not typical viewers. Most viewers are not consuming the way we are and so we shouldn't dismiss what came before so quickly.
    If you don't like EPGs then you've been using the wrong ones.

  2. Great point, Bob. Whilst linear TV is the dominant form of viewing, the EPG will retain usefulness. I wonder what will come next, when inevitably, on-demand becomes the dominant form of viewing?

  3. Nicely said. I've always been frustrated with the inaccuracy of DVR start/end times driven by the EPG and time of day. I'm looking forward to the day when the linear channels to the home have the in-band metadata markers (like SCTE 35) that frame-accurately mark the start and end of programs. That way my DVR will always record the programs I want regardless of the time they actually "air".

  4. Thanks for your comment, Roger. I think I'd take your comment one stage further: I'd like not to bother needing to set my DVR, and instead be able to watch any programme I want streamed from the cloud. I appreciate that the blocker here isn't technical, but rights. But I find that the über-VCR skeumorphism is not what content consumption should be turning into.

  5. Agreed. Automated Live-to-VOD for all content is ideal, perhaps with a notification when your "favorite" shows are available for viewing - 2 minutes after they air.


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