HolidayBuyer's Guide

Fighting for 'share of thumb'

Next to the television, the remote control ranks up there in importance for TV watchers.

Photo by John Filo/CBS

For marketers of television programming, after the TV itself, what's the next most important home entertainment device? The remote control. Every day and night we literally fight for the viewers' "share of thumb!" Think about it.

The remote control device has gone through many changes. My first remote control was my younger brother, Peter. "Louder, please!" I would command, and Peter would get up and adjust the volume. Same for channel up and down. One could say it was actually voice-activated.

Today, Peter has his own remote. From a simple up, down, left, right, and select, one can operate cable, satellite, DVR, guides, and so on. The remote has put viewers in the driver's seat: they can scan, surf, and select as fast as they can press the button. Simple as that sounds, it's still not simple enough. Many cable companies report they still get the majority of their customer service calls on how to operate the remotes. That's a problem.

At a recent TV of Tomorrow conference, a panel of program guide designers waxed on about a terrific new remote with a keyboard and some other bells and whistles. One exec from a large cable company said he didn't think today's remote is simple enough. At a conference like this or on a site like CNET, it's often populated by early adopters, engineers and designers, but in the real world, people want it easy and simple. And ultimately, that's what the marketers of programming want, too. We want it to be an easy find. We don't want people to give up the search.

Easy navigation is the key. As technology brings us more and more choices, it also has created a game of "high-tech hide and seek" between an ever-growing amount of programming and a navigation-challenged viewing public. So we look at all the ways people navigate and what they do when they turn on their sets. We work back from that behavior and try to see what triggers their media decision-making. Look for those elements in an upcoming column. Until then: keep your thumb on CNET TV and CBS.

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