Looking at Cable Network Web Sites through a 2.0 Looking Glass

I was recently asked to do a survey of cable network websites and their attributes in comparison to web 2.0 web properties. The results were not surprising as the business models of these cable sites was to serve as a marketing vehicle for the cable programming. Consequently they lacked the budget, focus or motivation to make them interesting destinations in their own right. The result was that they were nothing more than multimedia brochures for the cable channels..

Among my observations:

  • User experiences are partially unique as users only interact with content they want but much content is static (“brochureware”).
  • Top-down (i.e., producer/editor created) content creation/selection/delivery.
  • Adjunct to the cable network (largely to promote network shows) and careful to not upset primary business model.
  • User participation limited to moderated forums. Community secondary to repurposed content.
  • Little communication or no communication between users (limited to dueling forum comments).
  • Very little user control of content (maybe a poll) and no rating, ranking, or modifying content as producers want to maintain 100% control.
  • Look/feel/structure generally static and then changes with periodic redesigns.
  • Do not leverage ‘long tail’ possibilities since they mirror the cable network’s programming (generally a dozen or so shows) and thus inherit their limitations.
  • No “network effect” in that the user-experience does not become richer as number of users increases.
  • No content syndication (i.e., no RSS), users must go to the site to access site content.
  • No common pattern for programming but generally previews and repurposed content from network.

As more and more users move online for their media consumption and advertisers follow them it is going to be very dangerous for cable networks to be caught flat-footed with a 1.0-era web site. Right now cable networks have an enormous advantage over pure web properties in that they have their network audiences to drive traffic to their sites, but if there is very little original content/functionality to distinguish it from competing sites, users will not return thereby creating an enormous lost opportunity.

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