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Battle Of The Video Interfaces

There are two competing systems that allow people to discover media, be it music, video or books. We’ve named them the Record Store model and the Radio model. Which you prefer is largely a function of personality, but which one the media companies of the world ultimately choose will be instrumental in the way that content creators of all sizes are able to distribute and monetize their output.

The Record Store Model

The Record Store model allows users to browse through endless libraries, finding and discovering things on their own. There are helpful suggestions along the way, but ultimately the user has complete control over their path and can consume or browse at will. This system allows the user multiple options ranging from the quick hit (they know exactly what they’re looking for) to the endless afternoon (hours spent flitting from place to place, discovering new things along the way.)  It’s akin to visiting a Virgin megastore back in the early 90s or a Barnes and Noble megastore today.

The Radio Model

The Radio model operates like a favorite radio station. The user is served up linear feeds, created by an algorithm and chooses from a among these feeds, each of which promises a certain type of experience based on a specific mood or genre. But once that choice is made, it’s a complete lean-back experience. The user is no longer in control, the algorithm is. So the user just gets to sit back and enjoy, no picking and choosing necessary.

YouTube vs. Facebook

The two competing models can be seen in the video interfaces of the two largest internet video companies, YouTube and Facebook.  YouTube of course, has the Record Store model, while Facebook uses the Radio model.

At first glance, the Record Store model seems superior. It’s got a built-in long tail, better discovery, gives users freedom of choice, and allows for a high level of serendipity, something that’s woefully absent from most digital experiences.

The Spotify Lesson

But people are lazy. They don’t like making decisions. They like having things served up for them. That’s a lesson Spotify actually learned a few years back.

Spotify had been following the Record Store model but found that users preferred having music served up to them. So Spotify rejiggered the interface to put Spotify-created playlists up front and user-created playlists further back. That worked, and so they rolled out a more personalized weekly playlist called Discover, that was a surprise hit—people liked seeing the curated weekly list and often found new music that way. More recently, Spotify rolled out something called Daily Mix, which are six different never-ending radio stations based on different genres of music the user has listened to. These have proven to be quite popular too.

The Hybrid Model

Before we declare the Radio model the winner however, Spotify has something that Facebook doesn’t: access to libraries. So that a user who discovers a band via their Daily Mix can go to that band’s page and listen to all their music. They can even make their own playlists from it. So while the Radio-like features provide an avenue for discovery, the Record Store-like features provide stickiness.

We think this is right model for video as well. Under Facebook’s current interface, the Mighty Algorithm serves you up video in a Radio format, but then fails to provide a way to follow through on. That’s not ideal, as viewers want to use the Radio format to explore, but once they discover something, they want to spend time with it in a Record Store type setting.

It’s All About Personalization

The key to any future video interface will be personalization. It’s what makes Spotify’s Daily Mix work so well—they provide a combination of the familiar and the new. Video playlists that can do this too, provide viewers with clearly defined genre buckets that allow them to discover new content will be the key to success, particularly around short-form video (seven minutes or less.)

Library functions are also important in order to enable the long tail, which gives video creators a way to make money on a recurring basis—audiences find one of  their videos, fall in love, and then go and watch all of them, often multiple times, sharing their find with their friends.

The Future Is Hybrid

This combo option is likely where both platforms will end up too. YouTube needs to plus up their Radio functionality—they already offer playlists based on what you are currently viewing, but they need to do a better job of tracking users and offering more top level discovery options.

And Facebook needs to create a library function, so that users aren’t just limited to what the Algorithm is showing them at the moment, combined with a couple of (autoplay!) videos from creators they’ve liked.

If they can both take a step towards this hybrid system, everyone will benefit—the platforms, creators and, more importantly, the consumer.