Rules of Success – The Path of Least Resistance

I just read a note in CableWorld by
Paul Kagan
referring to George Gilders “vision”
that in the future TV will die, regardless of delivery medium simply because
people will watch only what they want to watch.

How wrong he is. Why he is wrong is a lesson in basic business.

It was Aaron Spelling I believe who said that “TV is the path of least resistance from complete boredom”. Which
is another way of saying that its easier to watch TV, than to sit there and do nothing.

Which describes exactly how people make most of their choices in life. They take the easy way. They take the path of
least resistance.

There are certain things in life we all have to do. There are certain things in life we choose to do. Then
there is everything else. The things we do to kill time.

In every case, all things being equal, we choose the path of least resistance.

Understanding this concept is key to making good business decisions.

When Broadcast.com was around, we understood that our strength came from being the path of least resistance for out
of market sports that weren’t available on national TV. If we had the option of offering a football game that was
going to be on nationalTV in the evening, it wouldnt matter how good the game was, no one was going to
choose to listen online because it was easier to watch on TV.

If that same game was on during a weekday afternoon when most people were at work, we knew that we would get a great
audience because it was easier for people stuck in their offices to listen on their PCs than it was to try to sneak
out of the office and get to a TV. Offering content for which the path of least resistance was watching or listening
online was a key to our building an audience.

The Path of Least Resistance is a key to why HDNet Films is offering our slate of films in a variety of day and date
options.

For the couple who wants to go on a date, going to a theater is often the path of least resistance to making an easy,
relatively inexpensive choice to spend the evening together.

For the family who wants to see the movie, but can’t make it out of the house for whatever reason, offering it on
HDNet Movies or through day and date delivery of a DVD is the path of least
resistance for them to see the movie. We feel that people will pay a premium to be able to stay at home and
watch those movies, either by subscribing to HDNet, or by paying more than the traditional retail price of a DVD.
It’s easier to pay a premium for access to the movie than to deal with the kids screaming about not being able to
go. It’s this reason that we gear the movies we make to an adult audience. Enough can get out of the house to
see the movie, preferably in a Landmark Theater. Enough have kids,can’t get out and have disposal income, so
they are more likely to order the DVD or subscribe to HDNet Movies in order to see the movies they want to see. We
want to offer our movies in the path of least resistance for our target demo.

The path of least resistance is why I think Amazon.com, IPod and Google have been so successful.

I buy everything from books to electronics to toiletries on Amazon because it’s easier than schlepping to the
store. They show up in the mail as quickly as I am willing to pay to have them show up.

I got my Ipod, gave Itunes my credit card, and it takes me seconds to sample and download music. To the extreme
that I even downloaded songs from the Wiggles so that my daughter could listen to them while I was working. It
was the path of least resistance to keeping her occupied so I could get my work done.

Google one upped Yahoo a few years ago by making it simple and easy to plug in a search and get results. Yahoo
made us scan through their home page to make a search and often took us to directories and other intermediaries.
Google was the path of least resistance for simple searches.

TiVo has been successful because it has made it so
easy to record the shows we want to see. The show comes on, you hit a button. You decide if it’s just this
show, or you want to subscribe for the season. The path of least resistance for timeshifting.

In business, one of the challenges is making sure that your product is the easiest to experience and complete a
sale.

I will give you another example. I buy a lot of consumer electronics. When I have a good idea whatI want, or
if it’s big and I don’t want to have to drag it from the store,I buy through Amazon.

Other times I like to shop and kill time and see what’s happening in the consumer electronics world. Two of the
places I shop will let me take the product right to the checkout counter. That’s easy. Another, thatI used to
shop at, made me tell a clerk what I wanted, who in turn went to the inventory room. I then had to go to the sales
line where they would meet me with the merchandise. Two lines. One or both was usually more than a few people deep. I
don’t go back there any more. It might have been easier for them, but it was slow and painful for me.

Moral of the story, make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you will find your customers buying
from them, not you.

Which brings me back to George Gilder
and a topic I think will be fascinating to watch play out.

George and others seem to think that unlimited choice is the holy grail of TV. It’s not.

The reason it’s not, is that it’s too much work to page through an unlimited number of options. It’s too
much work to have to think of what it is we might like to watch. We are afraid we might miss something that we really
did want to watch. Put another way, its way too hard to shop for shows in a store where the aisles are endless.
Its stressful and a lot of work. Which is exactly why when we channel surf, or when we surf the net, we all end
up surfing the same 10, 15,20 channels/sites over and over again. It’s the path of least resistance.

It’s also why websites do anything they can to game the system on search engines to get top ranking. They know that
no one is going to page through the thousands of results the search returned. Users will pick from the first
page or they will pick one of the sponsored ads long before they choose to browse through even a couple
pages.

So when Gilder thinks we will only watch exactly what we want to watch, he is dead wrong because we don’t know what
we want to watch as often, if not more often than we do know.

When we get to a point that there are thousands of on demandTV choices, we won’t approachTV programming
guides like we do a search engine, looking for a specific target. That’s too much work. The smart on
demand providers will present their programming guides more like Amazon.com. or Netflix.com. Both of which do a great
job of “suggestive programming.”

We will get a personalized page with options that it thinks we might like based on our previous viewing decisions.
Then different categories of shows, within each we will see best rated, most viewed and newest added, along with
“play lists” suggested by branded guides who make recommendations. All of these simple options will make it easy for
us to make a choice with some level of confidence. We won’t feel like we are missing something and we
will know that if we don’t like the show, we can quickly go back to a point that makes it easy to find another
selection.

Aaron Spelling was exactly right when he said that TV is the best alternative to boredom, future providers of on
demand content will hopefully remember this when devising their user interfaces, and every business should remember
it as well.

Everyone follows the path of least resistance.

29 thoughts on “Rules of Success – The Path of Least Resistance

  1. Pingback: Amazon Kindle and the Path of Least Resistance « Amazon Kindle, Books & Amazon News Blog

  2. Imagine TV and Movie content that was organized and delivered like the internet. I can click and choose which news stories I want you to tell me about and skip over the ones I don’t care about. I can select the shows I want to see…when I want to see it. On Demand TV is a step in the right direction…

    Comment by runescape money -

  3. Another case in point: I wish I could hear two ordinary Iraqi citizens with differing views debate the future of their country. I wish I could have them answer the questions that I want to ask, unfiltered and uncensored.

    Comment by wow powerleveling -

  4. I have to concur with the path of least resistence and the movies on demand statements.

    I have the big “super sized” cable & cable modem package from my local service provider and it happened to come with a handy-dandy “Video On Demand (VOD)” section that lists free movies that I can start and stop like a DVD whenever I choose and they are even broken down by category (of course there’s the pay for movie on demand section too. This service has become a life saver when it comes to my niece and nephew’s visits and inclement weather. Also, personally, I would rather watch a movie in the comfort of my own home (be it alone or on a date) than have to drive to a theatre and sit in a chair in the dark with oodles of strangers. For the first month, I ate up the ability to watch movies when and as I chose (I still do! – even the pay on demand section). For those that do not believe this type of service is seriously in demand, take a look at how many TiVos flew off the shelf when they came out. Also, for those gamers out there, what about on-line gaming? Who would have thought that years ago, you could go online and join in a quick game of cards or shoot’em up with people all over the globe in a matter of minutes? It’s not only the interactivity that draws gamers to the net, but also, the instant gratification of besting scores more people than just your friends and neighbors in on fell swoop.

    Our society is inheriently lazy and we have all grown up ID based, we want what we want, now, not later. Fewer and fewer people are growing up with the work long and hard to achieve a goal mentality and more are growing up with an instant gratification mindset.

    Just don’t make the mistake of under estimating the demand of “on-demand”, like my cable provider did, because they weren’t even prepared for the response numbers to their nifty new VOD service. Once implemented the demand numbers shot through the roof, so much so, that they were causing thier entire system to crash and the cable company had to run out to Japan and buy a brand new $3M server to pick up the slack. I bet they later wished they had not listed any “free” movies, but had charged for the VOD service since its inception, because they would have made a fortune. But now that everyone knows how to access their system, it’s easy for a user to skip over the pay-on-demand movies and go straight to the free-on-demand movies to check out those listings first and only after not finding anything of interest, visit the pay-on-demand section.

    Instant gratification and ease of use, has always been around to some degree (think drive in burger joints), it is now only becoming more apparent how throughly ingrained into our social make-up it has become.

    I mean really, are we all so busy and important that we can’t even be bothered to punch the numbers on a telephone anymore (a mobile one at that), so now we have been forced to take technology to the point where you just speak the name of the person you wish to talk with and the phone number auto-dials!

    Comment by Bonnie Buchanan -

  5. One day the networks’ analog signals will be switched off, all will be digital, and then the consumer is really going to have a lot more power….

    Comment by Stephen Covey 7 Habits -

  6. I seem to remember that in England you can actually watch different angles at Wimbledon on Tivo….

    Comment by Ellis' REBT Cognitive Therapy -

  7. your thesis on the path of least resistance, though an insight into the complexity of your reasoning, is simply put a definition of convenience, timing and laziness.

    the sad part is that you describe the mindset that hollywood takes when marketing and creating new television and movies for the american consumer. you laude mr spelling’s comment as though it were a good thing–rather than a sad degradation of our society. why not use that time for more educational programming–wouldnt lazy americans be forced to watch it? according to your theory they would. that would be a greater service.

    and your path of least resistance thesis regarding an approach to business is common sense to some, or page 54 of sun tzu’s art of war for those with 15 bucks. deep stuff.

    Comment by Jeramy -

  8. TV definitely assists in the path of least
    resistance.
    Val U. Barrutia

    Comment by val u. barrutia -

  9. The point isn’t that I personally need to know exactly what I want to watch at any given point. The point is that someone, somewhere needs to.

    The internet is an intractable problem because there’s so much out there that we can’t possibly know about all the things we’d like to surf to. Except that it isn’t really an intractable problem at all. Anyone who really surfs the web much has a list of places they start, whether they are blogs or they are professional sites like ESPN or My Yahoo (or, more likely, a combination). You learn to trust these sites to point you to specific content, whether it be business news, funny things from around the web, or box scores from last night’s ballgames.

    So for the hypothetical world of near-infinite programming choice, the key ingredient for success is the ability to have places that serve the same function.

    Perhaps you navigate over to some intelligent aggregator of links to sports programming that makes it easy to find out who the Mavs, Spurs, and Rockets are playing tonight and then navigate there.

    Or you navigate to a movie site that helpfully suggests that if you like old westerns, here are a few that you can watch on demand right now — and by the way, The Searchers is really good.

    Or you want to redo your kitchen, so you navigate to a site about home renovation programming that gives links to (in their opinion) the 5 best kitchen redesign episodes among 5000 episodes in the Trading Spaces on-demand library.

    Assuming a reasonable interface, all of the above would be only slightly more complicated than wading through a normal set of 500-channel cable listings looking for something that’s on.

    Comment by Andrew Norris -

  10. You hit it on the head! That is why I would never shop at a place like Service Merchandise (are they still around?)or Circuit City. One too many lines.

    Comment by Josh -

  11. The future is Mind Demand. Sifting knowledge from TV viewing profiles, collected by the set-top, & forwarded to the Cable Company, then to a Mind Reader Database & Mining enterprise. Watch TV, click the remote and over time, the TV will deliver programming & advertising, that fits your viewer profile, knowing exactly what you want. Eventually databses like Google will be connected to, deepen the intelligence by combining searching and viewing. Clearly, making the viewer experience even more lazy, but laser acurate in intenisty. chrishorn@gmail.com

    Comment by Christopher -

  12. Mark, I’d appreciate your take on the big, flat screen TV’s. I just bought a new 14 inch TV and love it, but noticed the picture isn’t as good as the one I had for the previous 25 years (but was talking a long time to warm up over the last year or so). I don’t see that the typical consumer is willing to pay thousands for a big screen – why not just sit closer to the one you have? CRT’s have a better picture anyway. It seems we all need a big screen like we all need a Humvee. It doesn’t make sense to me to market what appears to be a “specialty” item to everybody.

    Comment by Brian -

  13. Regarding Gilder thinking “we will only watch exactly what we want to watch, and his being dead wrong because we don’t know what we want to watch”, if we knew exactly what we wanted to do, we probably wouldn’t be watching TV in the first place.

    Comment by Brian -

  14. With all the progress in broadcasting technology, is it still possible to have a ‘technology in transition’ device that, let’s say, lets you choose stations you want to watch from a list of channels a cable service provider offers?

    Think of it as a programmable channel lineup to make channel surfing easier.

    Path of least resistance, eh?

    Comment by jp -

  15. oh, another thing. if the future brings us download tv only, the whole world will be watching the show at the same time, cause everyone will be downloading desperate housewives on sundays at 9pm, all over the world.

    Comment by Henrik -

  16. I agree, I have caught myself many times watching a movie on TV, with commercial breaks and all, for maybe the 5th time, despite owning the DVD. Instead of choosing the time I want to see the movie, instead of watching it in great quality with 5.1 sound, I still watch it on TV, when it’s broadcast, with not that good quality, and terrible sound. And commercial breaks.

    Just too lazy to go put that DVD in…

    Comment by Henrik -

  17. Take a look at Blinkx TV (http://www.blinkx.tv/) and Google’s BETA Video Search. I think it would be an under-estimation of technology to say that something will never catch on because it is too difficult to use. Those people who were technology shy (case in point – my Dad) are today typing up web addresses like it was “Dear John”. One could have easily written off the World Wide Web for such an awkward and clumsy way to access something.

    There are many ways to make technology popular or acceptable (and more importantly, to make money off of selling technology). The genius is in, in your own words, providing the “path of least resistance” to the user from a “usability” point of view, and inventing a way to deliver this experience in a reasonably profitable manner with some consistency. In this regard, Convergence is the name of the game. Telephone, Video, News, Movies and Games all in one. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the Ringtones! With apologies to 50cent, I sign off here with “i don’t know what you heard about me…”

    Chomp

    Comment by Pankaj Shroff -

  18. Take a look at Blinkx TV (http://www.blinkx.tv/) and Google’s BETA Video Search. I think it would be an under-estimation of technology to say that something will never catch on because it is too difficult to use. Those people who were technology shy (case in point – my Dad) are today typing up web addresses like it was “Dear John”. One could have easily written off the World Wide Web for such an awkward and clumsy way to access something.

    There are many ways to make technology popular or acceptable (and more importantly, to make money off of selling technology). The genius is in, in your own words, providing the “path of least resistance” to the user from a “usability” point of view, and inventing a way to deliver this experience in a reasonably profitable manner with some consistency. In this regard, Convergence is the name of the game. Telephone, Video, News, Movies and Games all in one. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the Ringtones! With apologies to 50cent, I sign off here with “i don’t know what you heard about me…”

    Chomp

    Comment by Pankaj Shroff -

  19. A great point. Easier! It defines UI goal.
    .V

    Comment by Vic Cekvenich -

  20. I agree only the few have the time and willingness to page through endless amount of shows (though there will be those that do). Regardless, SHOWS WILL BE LISTED IN ORDER OF POPULARITY – how popular they become is ofcourse very much dependant on either the “marketing” of the show/movie or dare I say the content of the show/movie. Perhaps a suggestion “sidebar” aswell for those that would pay for the listing. Also, on demand shows/movies are just a given for this type of system. I suspect this will be the beginning of a huge content delivery market with a host of providers doing something hopefully similar to the digg.com concept of consumer driven listings.

    Comment by atomi -

  21. What doesn’t get discussed all that much, is, in the movie business, if a guy like me decides to make a low-budget film, and deliver it over the internet, and my movie does well, causing others to follow, isn’t that going to be something the studios will want to try and kill?

    I know that the company that manages all of the content, and assists the consumer in selecting a good movie, will be in a good position when all of this happens. But I would think it would create all kinds of aches and pains for studios, not to mention Hollywood big-name actors and their oh so powerful agents.

    Whether than can get in the middle of it or not, I don’t know… but with all of their financial assets and considerable business connections, I’m sure they will find a way. I want to jump in before that and see what I can reap, in any event.

    Comment by Shawn -

  22. Mark,

    Great points. We all know the proper way to run our business, but sometimes we need to be told again to reinforce it. I will certainly evaluate my business to make sure that I am offering the path of least resistance to my customers.

    Thanks again for the great advice.

    Comment by Glen Wilson -

  23. How true, how true. It must be the aim of any enterprise to allow easy understanding and handling, to generally accomodate clients and users. That is user- and customer-centered design, and it of course paves the way to the least resistance.

    Comment by Jens Meiert -

  24. I have icontrol in Houston with time warner. If it had every episode of every show I liked. I would only use icontrol. I think there should be a suggestive directory on there so I could learn about the new shows.
    But sometimes I want that feeling of a cosmic oneness of everyone listening or watching the same program at the same time. Can u dig it?

    Comment by Dirty Muffin -

  25. First of all, free market advocates might prefer the term “efficiency” over “path of least resistance”. =)

    Nevertheless, I agree that the broadcasting of information/entertainment – much like fast food chains serving burgers – will always fill the needs of those who don’t want to work too hard to satisfy their appetites.

    But it’s not that quite simple with the media industry. There are far more fundamental implications at stake.

    Case in point: In my business, publications/services like pubsub and tvpredictions are far more valuable to me than CNET or Wired, even though the reputations of the latter are much more entrenched.

    pubsub allows me to zero in on the topics/news that people like me care about, in a very constant and timely fashion. and tvpredictions’ editorials/aggregates target my particular interests more directly than a more encompassing site like CNET.

    And believe me, if I find some other publication/service that fits me even better, I’ll gravitate to it.

    Another case in point: I wish I could hear two ordinary Iraqi citizens with differing views debate the future of their country. I wish I could have them answer the questions that I want to ask, unfiltered and uncensored. Obviously, CNN would never set this up for me, nor would I expect them to.

    But at the same time, why would I even bother contacting CNN if I could set up this debate on my own? Surely there have to be, somewhere out there, two Iraqi citizens with differing views, who want to discuss the future of their country in the presence of an ordinary American citizen?

    And in our burgeoning instantaneous broadband digital world, I can, at least, in theory, make my wishes come true.

    I use the above examples in my personal life to illuminate what I view as the true crux of this discussion: This endless splitting of niche markets. It’s very revolutionary, and it DOES bring into question the nature of broadcasting as we know it.

    Let us not forget that the ONLY reason we are SO comfortable with “broadcasting” is because infinitessimal niche-casting is so much more difficult to achieve. Otherwise, we would probably ALWAYS choose the niche that fits us best, kinda like we do with our taste buds.

    We’re very accustomed to experts from established media outlets telling us “what’s news”, “what’s in”, “what’s out”, “what’s good/bad”, etc., even though these so-called experts are oftentimes better described as gatekeepers. But imagine our lives if these guys weren’t filtering through or pre-determining our information and entertainment? Wouldn’t we be listening to some other artist that we’ve never even heard of?

    So, the question for future media, I think, isn’t so much “How do broadcasters become better ‘recommenders’?”, but, “How do they create a system that will best empower individuals to get what they want on their own terms?”

    Because in the end, I’m not so sure that most of us want to be told what to watch or what to listen to. We just want the simplest way to get what we want.

    Comment by Charles -

  26. It’s also another reason why the internet has been so successful. We have everything we need at our fingertips…why go out and search for a news story when I can (God Forbid) flip through all the sites to find it..or..more likely…just Google it. Imagine TV and Movie content that was organized and delivered like the internet. I can click and choose which news stories I want you to tell me about and skip over the ones I don’t care about. I can select the shows I want to see…when I want to see it. On Demand TV is a step in the right direction…it just needs a better interface and more content. Imagine complete custom programming…you program what you want to see…we’ll leave it up to you and your significant other to fight for control of what you watch, not the networks.

    Comment by Stacey -

  27. Mark – how exactly does one explain TiVo? Or 900-channel cable? Or VoD? VoD is growing now, and frankly, the user experience and technology behind it just blows, but that’s the pent-up demand for control.

    TiVo alone is enough to disprove your theory. People want to watch what they want to watch; they just need it to be fairly easy.

    The other half of this is: look at video games. People who play video games – a growing segment compared to the shrinking number of hours people spend watching TV – cite the interactivity and greater control over the experience a game provides. Think on that before you dismiss the future of VoD. Full control VoD is the only future TV has.

    Comment by MattW -

  28. I’ve recently spent some time contemplating my next career move. Yesterday, I wrote down three fields that interest me and that I’ll likely pursue in one form or another. Those fields are usability, information architecture and digital content management & delivery (knowledge, film, tv, music).

    These interests have evolved from a number of things, including:

    (1) My experiences as a user. (For example, GOOD: Tivo; BAD: a local public library web site. Look. You’ll see what I mean.)

    (2) My experience in product marketing and management for a tech vendor that did not value the user experience.

    Your words are quite timely for me and have helped give me confidence that such pursuits do indeed have some value. Thanks…and perhaps we will discuss these subjects further some day!

    Comment by Debbie Spalding -

  29. But what if, rather than the network providing the program lineup and schedule, the content was just ‘out there’. Sort of like a Seachange server, but everyone and anyone can get to it (adverts preinserted of course).
    Then in a manner similar to podcasting, any Schmoe could syndicate a collection of content, and create his own channel. His lazy friends that think he is cool can take the path of least resistance, and then subscribe to his channel. Think of this as a ‘streaming video blog’.
    Game over CBS.

    Comment by Bill Paul -

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