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Preserving linear TV in an evolving video industry

Linear TV is not dead, but it is changing.

That was the consensus at an Oct. 10 panel discussion at the Digital Hollywood conference in Los Angeles. Though the video industry is evolving, people still want a reliable linear stream, which they will get however they can.

Jason Friedlander, product and technology evangelist for Verizon Communications Inc. noted during the panel that its customers are accessing content using products from Sony Corp.'s Xbox, Roku Inc. or Alphabet Inc.'s Android operating system, including Chromecast products.

While linear consumption is alive and well, the delivery is changing, and this is where Friedlander said content providers and distributors need to keep pace. For instance, he pointed to a product called Smartplay, an over-the-top curation tool that can curate personalized digital streams that allows active one-on-one management between the user and the content, as having tangential benefits.

"Now that it's all [application program interface]-based, the content provider can experiment with what the user may want," he said. That experimentation provides more data and more monetization opportunities.

But if that is the case, why are there no video playlists similar to music playlists on music streaming services curated by content creators, critics, celebrities and other industry professionals, asked Albhy Galuten, vice president of media technology strategy at Sony.

"What's Steven Spielberg watching this week?" he mused.

Each of the members of the panel, comprised of platform owners, data analysts and video technologists, actually said they do have a playlist strategy. The idea, while not yet widely available over content platforms, is rapidly gaining steam in fact.

Stefan Van Engen, senior vice president of partnerships and programming at Xumo, said his platform's curated streaming tool is one of the most popular features. While today it can only aggregate content from a single provider, like Tastemade, he said it is quickly moving in the direction of custom playlists from the user, the user's social circle or the user's favorite content creators and celebrities.

One of the biggest problems that such playlists attempt to solve is discovery, panelists agreed. While traditional linear TV streams have various guides and scheduling tools, internet TV is still a very fragmented landscape. Discovery only works very well for pre-recorded material, not live, and inside individual apps. While some interfaces offer global search and discovery, like Roku or Inc.'s Fire TV, the user experience is like "pogo sticking" around missing content, as Friedlander put it.

"People are going to have to bundle things back together, or someone is going to have to figure out that discoverability," he said.