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Viewpoint: Remoting is futile

The knobby paradox of choices

The knobby paradox of choices

(Graphic by Charles Benaiah via unCharles/Substack)
(Graphic by Charles Benaiah via unCharles/Substack)

This guest column originally appeared on Substack.

Somewhat ironically, as a kid, I used a round knob to navigate linear TV. Today, neat rows of uniform boxes portal me to a vast curvilinear TV universe. Owning what’s on is big media, big tech, big data, and big money. Who’s up to TV’s next big challenge — Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix… Nope. It’s Bill Gates.

In 1973, New Yorkers had seven channels. SEVEN. Each week a 100+ page digest listed all the programs on television in chronological order. TV Listing was too generic. No one knew what a Googleplex was. So, they called it TV Guide. It was search before Google and your calendar before iPhone. The week’s issue lived in your most hallowed place — the arm of your comfiest chair. Inhabitants of the house fought over it like the last piece of white meat at Thanksgiving.

Today, descendants of those very same New Yorkers, can watch 2.7 million unique titles. They can watch any one of them any time. Instead of spending very happy hours perusing and circling the listings, callouts, and features presented in TV Guide, we spend 10.5 pointless minutes per session pointing a remote at the screen and clicking the down button.

Remoting is futile. Twenty percent of the time, we just give up.

There’s a psychological reason for this. All that choice makes us anxious. Since my psych experts aren’t here, I’ll try to explain. Anxiety has a curvilinear relationship with focus. Yes, that’s the actual word. It means a little anxiety makes us focus. A lot of anxiety freaks us out.

In one way, this matters — a little. Maybe some streaming or FAST service will lose a viewer. That might mean an ad or two goes unseen. Slightly more worrisome is that a person who gives up too often might quit the service altogether.

Neither of those represent the kind of big meaty problem with a large total addressable market that makes venture types salivate.

This is the real reason choice matters. When there’s a hill of choice, a guide is fine. When there’s a big mountain of choice, you need a Tenzing Norgay.

For proof, I offer exhibit A. In the Internet’s hilly youth, Yahoo was fine. It had a search bar. Really, it was a guide. It organized links. You clicked links down a path to a result. The operative word being, YOU. Google is a sherpa. If you want to find something, you use Google. Google can divine what mean and narrow billions of choices to a few of interest.

Now, to be fair, I trash Google for a lot of things. But, it’s hard to minimize the sheer volume of information they sift through and how remarkably effective they are at what they bring back. The fact we complain about too many ads or gaming search to optimize it attest to what a great service they provide.

It’s OK to be a Google fan when this is not a story about Google. Here Google stands in for what a company can become if they become the tame choice.

People have been talking about AI replacing search. I don’t think that will happen.

For proof, I offer an example from AdWeek reporter Trishla Ostwal. She typed, “israel hamas conflict 2023.” AI told her, “There has been no conflict between Israel and Hamas in October 2023.” This despite, Google training BARD on current news. Yes, it will get better. But it underlies the bigger issue: Input.

TV Guide was the right tool for the time. Yahoo was right for its time. Google for now. Beyond the function of listing options, they are NOT the same. So, No. I don’t think that plugging Bard into Google will make search better.

This is where Pix comes in. You can text Pix. You can talk to Pix. Pix chats with your friends. Pix consolidates (it says) 600 million inputs to personalize what you watch, what you listen to, and what you read. Pix is an AI service that Bill Gates just invested in.

The key part of the story is not that it’s AI. Like the lineage of TV Guide to Google, Pix just uses more data and more horsepower to organize more stuff. Here’s the phrase to hold on to, “I knew I had just seen the most important advance in technology since the graphical user interface.”

To think, I had to make do with a dial.

The opinion reflected in this article is the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of or its parent company, Solano Media LLC.

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About the Author:

Charles Benaiah

Charles Benaiah is the CEO of Watzan, a techy company for medical media. When he’s not running a media company, he reads about media, thinks about it, pull out what’s left of his hair dealing with it, and then he writes about it over on <a href="">unCharles</a>. Follow him on LinkedIn by <a href="">clicking or tapping here</a>. 
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