An App Per TV Show? I Don’t Know…

There is a local Calgary company called Mobovivo that is a success story in the mobile content delivery business. Originally, they provided apps that acted as media libraries for Canadian broadcasters, offering a mechanism to stream TV programming before they became available via Apple. An editorial piece on Streaming Media Magazine quotes Trevor Doerksen as saying he wants to create an app for every TV show (and presumably movie). Trevor believes in this so much that he has reshaped the company, focusing on that goal.

App != DVD

One comment on the Streaming Media piece tries to bolster the argument. The commenter tries to draw an analogy, saying that, because each TV show or movie has its own DVD, that it deserves its own app as well. In my mind, this analogy is flawed, because it presumes that an app has the same “weight” or “cost” as a DVD. This simply isn’t true.

Each app is more like a room in a house. It is a dedicated space. It shares or uses certain common resources (input, screen, sound, network, etc), but when you are in the app, the other parts of the “house” on your mobile device are elsewhere. Switching apps is similar to switching rooms: you have to leave one app and interact with another. If each TV show gets its own app, then that would be similar to having a room dedicated to the TV show. You have to go to that room to watch the show, and that room is only used for that TV show.

I don’t have a room for each TV show and movie in my DVD/Blu-ray library. I have a single place where all the content is available. I take that content off the shelf, go to the location I want to view it in (TV room, laptop when travelling) and view it there. I augment a single instance of a media playback system by adding content. With iTunes home sharing, the process is even more lightweight. I stream content from my iTunes library to my AppleTV or my iPad. When I travel, using a single interface into a unified library, I pick and choose the TV shows (individual episodes, entire seasons) and movies I want to take with me. When I travel, I want them in local storage, because I may not have a reliable Internet connection (or a connection at all) to be able to stream from a cloud-based server. But I got into one place to view and manage this content, and it is managed within the specific context of the content, not in the general context of a bunch of apps. Adding and removing content is a trivial exercise.

Apps Are Not Cheap (And I Don’t Mean $$$)

Putting a TV show (or worse, a single season of a TV show) in an app becomes expensive. An app will take up more space, because it comes with extra baggage (the binary, supporting data file). Yes, the Videos app on the iPad has that same overhead, but I have it once. If I want 3 different TV seasons, then I have 3 apps instead of just the one, and 3x in terms of the overhead. The app also takes up space on the launch screen. I have a few hundred apps that are already organized. Adding and removing apps at will means I have to take the time to organize those apps as they are added or deleted. Reclaiming storage space is now more work. I either have to start the app, deleting the content I don’t want, or delete the app entirely. Sure, the process isn’t exactly onerous, but it isn’t trivial.

Don’t think this is a big deal? Consider that the typical iPad user has about 60 apps on their device. Without using app grouping, that is 3 full screens of apps, and I’m surprised how many iPad users I see that don’t group their apps. On my iPad, I have about 6 movies and 3 seasons of TV shows, and they are different shows. That would add 9 more icons to the launchpad. Icons that need to be placed, organized and eventually found. Apps that have expanded the number of screens (without grouping) to 4 for a typical user. That’s an increase of 1/3rd. But, if I put those same movies and TV shows in the Videos app (where they are now), I haven’t increased the use of storage beyond the content itself, and I haven’t added anything to my launchpad. And, instead of having to find something using a truncated name (or acronym of the name) or small-ish icon, I can browse my movies and TV shows viewing  miniatures of the poster/box art.

For some classes of users (like me), this gets worse. I have, in my iTunes library, almost 400 hundred movies nearly 170 TV seasons (which in turn have nearly 2,500 episodes). Even accounting for multiple seasons of the same show, we are talking an extra 30 or 40 icons on the launchpad for TV shows, and hundreds for movies. That’s expensive. It means having to have space for all of those apps over and above the actual content. In a unified app like Videos, the space is cheap, much like the minimal space a DVD case takes on a shelf. The “cost” for an app in terms of space is considerably higher.

The next “expense” is the inevitable customization that the individual content creators will want for their apps. This is more than the logo on the launchpad. I expect some will want to experiment with the controls and interactive behaviour. That means that each app will likely behave in a slightly different way, and in some cases different enough to cause frustration and annoyance. People are used to certain metaphors and behaviours. Changing them “to be different” isn’t an improvement.

Content > Content Delivery

I’m concerned that this new approach is putting too much focus on the content delivery system. The important bit is the content. That’s what people ultimately want. They want content delivery to be simple, lightweight, efficient and unobtrusive. Ideally, they want the delivery system to be “free”, or at least with minimal “cost”. I’m not talking about dollars here. I’m talking about the “cost” of taking up space on the mobile device’s launchpad/home screen, space in storage, and the perceived cognitive cost of having to remember where the app is, how to use the app, and event remembering it is there in the first place.

Don’t misunderstand me on this point. The content delivery system is important. It is what enables the content to be available and consumed. The content delivery system has to be well-designed and well-executed. A poorly built or poorly designed content delivery system will detract from the content. But the content delivery isn’t ultimately what the consumer cares about. It’s the content they want.

Don’t Think Apps, Think Kindle Direct Publishing

Okay, so I don’t like the idea. But I do think that Mobovivo is on the right track when it comes to their intention: providing a platform or vehicle for independent producers to get their productions in front of people. Much like the self-publishing that Amazon fosters with Kindle Direct Publishing, Mobovivo could provide the interface (a single interface, not one per production) and the content management for independent producers. Think Kindle, not “one app per book” (which I’ve avoided like the plague. Again, hundreds of books in my Kindle library. I don’t want hundreds of extra icons to add, delete and manage).

Why wouldn’t they use Youtube? Well, they could, but they now have to deal with the ads and the size limits under certain circumstances. Youtube is certainly a great option. But charging money isn’t easy through Youtube, and it depends entirely on having a live Internet connection for the consumer to get the content. Believe it or not, there are still plenty of places where you can’t get Internet access (or reliable Internet access. Try some of the motels in Wendover, Utah some time). So, having a means for people to buy or rent content from independent studios, and be able to either stream them or store them locally, opens up options that Youtube doesn’t offer right now. Mobovivo is in a position where they can support that kind of effort, and I think a single, unified combined storefront/player is a better way to go.

It won’t be perfect: in-app purchases on iOS devices will have to pay the 30% Apple Tax, and circumventing it isn’t something to contemplate. But on Android, there would be no such tax, and it is a large market. And the Kindle model (where you can’t buy books from inside Kindle on iOS any more), where you go to a web site to make your purchase, isn’t totally horrible. It can work (it’s working for Amazon and Kindle, that’s for sure). But I do think this is something that the talented folks at Mobovivo can find a solution to.