For most people, the EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) is the main access point for television content discovery and is likely something you will use in some form or other every day.
Yet the days of it simply providing an on-screen listing of upcoming programming or an alternative to the printed TV guides of old are well and truly gone.
Evolution was initially very slow; the basic grid-style listing of channels, broadcast times and programme titles remained the standard set-up for many years, with little more than the addition of brief programme synopses and a few visual updates as the graphic capabilities of TV’s and set-top boxes improved.
However, the scope of television content and services has changed dramatically since the early days of EPG: An explosion of TV channels, video-on-demand, digital video recording, catch-up services, stand-alone subscription platforms etc. – each with their own interface for the user to find and select the content they wanted to watch.
The growing accessibility and affordability of these platforms along with the wealth of programming generated as each vied for our attention, made it necessary for the EPG to become less about “seeing what’s on” and more about content discovery and promotion.
The EPG has become the interface or access point to the majority of our long-form video consumption. We can go back in time through linear listings to select content we’ve missed and access it directly from catch-up services. We can search for particular actors or programmes, with all related content returned and directly accessible, no matter which of our services it is available through: future linear episodes, catch-up, VOD box sets, pay-per-view, Netflix, YouTube etc. – and maybe even services to which we aren’t yet subscribed, but might then be tempted to sign up for.
Recommendation engines give us suggestions based on the genre and category of a selected piece of content or the actors in it; some even learning from our viewing habits to further refine the suggested content. EPG home screens can promote new and premium content through banners and widgets alongside in-screen promotions and trailers as we search and browse what is available.
But none of this is new and it doesn’t end there.
Voice control – as offered by some TiVo services and the likes of Sky Q – provides an altogether simpler and more accessible user experience. While integrated apps give us multi-screen access and the flexibility to browse versions of the EPG on mobile devices, then select content to view directly on the main TV – will our mobiles eventually replace the traditional remote completely?
Ultimately though, this becomes less about what it provides the user or viewer, and more about what it can offer the provider. With the advent of Big Data, and through content-recommendation engines, machine learning, AI (artificial intelligence), interactive applications, advertising platforms, and more; the EPG can become a route to understanding consumers, reaching out to them and influencing them. Could the humble EPG become a true gateway to the living room and a way to “own” the consumer at home?
Our mobiles could be key to this; systems might easily identify who’s mobile has searched for what or chosen which types of content and then show results and suggestions based on their personal usage – or equally filter out or restrict content that is not appropriate.
Social media giants including Facebook and Twitter are becoming more video-centric and looking to provide more professionally created content as well as the short form clips we are currently more familiar with. They will want to get their content “in the shop window” too.
More choice and more content for us often equals more information for our providers – but does it matter if we get easier access to the type of content that we want to watch?
News, information, entertainment and commerce could all be combined and targeted through such systems – could the old EPG literally become our personal window to the world?
While that might not be as far-fetched a theory as we once might have thought, we don’t think it’s imminent, but without a doubt, as we move toward the future the EPG will become more universal, more integrated and even more sophisticated.
It’s likely though that the EPG and broadcast television will maintain their central roles in content discovery, and after a period of time where TV innovation seemed to drive people away from linear broadcast, these types of innovation could well start to drive them back there again.
As with all things, new must replace the old and user behaviour will inform all.