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Universal Search: TV’s Most Aggravating Problem Demands a Total Solution

Nintendo blew a big opportunity with the closure of TVii

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of TVii.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve never even heard of the deceased. It stems from the fact that Nintendo never really got any market traction when this feature was introduced to its Wii gaming console nearly three years ago. Which is why it came as no surprise last month when Nintendo announced TVii would be discontinued on Aug. 11.

But as with so many who die young, the loss is amplified by a sense of what could have been. Had TVii come anywhere close to realizing its potential, Nintendo very well could have plugged a huge hole in the TV landscape — one that is growing larger by the minute.

TVii was primarily intended to be a one-stop shop for users navigating the many viewing options available on the TV screen to which Wii is connected, encompassing both the linear TV schedule and streaming apps.

Type a movie title, for instance, into a Wii tablet controller called GamePad, and a user could see if the film was going to be viewable anywhere from HBO to Hulu.

Known within the industry as either universal or cross-platform search, it’s a functionality whose need is becoming more crucial as video options multiply at a seemingly exponential pace.

Outside of piracy, a show or movie can exist in at least one of the following places: 1) linear TV schedule; 2) pay-TV VOD; 3) DVR; 4) pay-TV provider’s app; 5) network’s app; 6) download-to-own platforms (e.g., iTunes); 7) subscription VOD brands (e.g., Netflix); 8) ad-supported VOD brands (e.g., Crackle).

Cheyne Gateley for Variety

It is sheer lunacy that a viewer has to tick down a mental checklist that easily can grow into the double digits to figure out which platform carries a particular program.

In an annual study released by Hub Entertainment Research last December, the absence of a universal search was ranked as the biggest frustration among video consumers, a distinction the shortcoming has held for several years running.

The problem isn’t so much the technical complexity of cross-platform search as it is that companies don’t want to help monetize content in which they don’t have a vested interest. But that philosophy obstructs what should be a seamless process. To mix a few botanical metaphors, they’re tending their walled gardens so closely that they’re missing the forest for the trees.

Instead, there’s too much attention on algorithm-driven content discovery. That’s all well and good, but suggesting to users what they don’t know they want isn’t as important as giving users what they actually know they want.

Nintendo was far from alone trying to meet that need. Comcast’s X1 set-top box, Tivo Online, Roku, Rabbit TV Plus and Amazon’s Fire TV are just a few that offer some degree of cross-platform search, but all have significant gaps. There are also websites like CanIStreamIt.com trying to do the same online, but the sites are difficult to use, and incomplete.

TVii itself launched without the ability to search DVR and VOD, though Nintendo execs said they were trying to add that capability. But more than a year before TVii’s death, Nintendo practically put the service in a vegetative state by stripping out its half-assed universal search capability, leaving little reason to use it at all.

It might seem strange to be annoyed with TVii, because while gaming consoles are a popular source of streaming video, Nintendo isn’t exactly a company you’d expect to be a force in the TV industry. But when you consider that nobody within the industry seems willing to get everyone together to make this work, you realize that an outsider is going to have to take the lead. Chalk this up as an opportunity missed.

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