Have it Your Way: Personalized Video Viewing

 Today’s fast food isn’t just fast; it’s instantly customized based on your personal preference between the time you speak your order into the mouth of the giant fiberglass clown and when you arrive at the pickup window. You can get a #2 combo with no mustard and extra pickles, substitute onion rings for fries and select a shake instead of a soft drink. You can order a kids meals with fruit instead of fries. Back in the day, Burger King had a national ad campaign that was driven by the fact that you could “have it your way” at their restaurants. Remember the jingle? “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce special orders don’t upset us.” At the time, that was a big deal. Everywhere else, people just ate their hamburgers the way the restaurant made them. If a person did not like their hamburger that way, they went to another restaurant.

Customizing the Viewing Experience

Today, having it our way is the only way. We expect everything to be negotiable, customizable and flexible, based on our personal preferences. Who would accept anything less? It’s centered around pleasing me, and I like that. I bet you do, too. As consumers, we all like to have things our way. My hope is that it won’t be long before we see this kind of personal-preference flexibility as part of the video viewing experience as well. 

Imagine if you could provide a deeply personal and customizable experience for your viewers that changes in real-time based on their choices. As producers, we face a dilemma when it comes to distributing our programs. There just isn’t a good way to create and present a video in a modular format that can be customized by the viewer during playback. We edit our videos in a nonlinear, random-access fashion, but with very few exceptions our viewers still watch our productions as linear presentations. They begin at the beginning and then have to watch the middle before ending at the end. In my opinion, that’s too rigid for today’s busy, fast-food content consumers.

There just isn’t a good way to create and present a video in a modular format that can be customized by the viewer during playback.

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could watch your own custom-created edit of a video, rather than being forced to settle for the one-size-fits-all option created for a mass audience? As a video producer, I’d like to be able to offer my viewers optional 2-minute, 5-minute and 10-minute versions of a show and let them choose which version they’d like to watch. Sure, I could edit and distribute three or four versions of a show on DVD or post four versions to the web, but that’s way too time consuming and bandwidth intensive. It’s not practical. What I want is a way to create one edit, the full-length version, and then embed invisible markers into the file to assign commands that would re-direct or re-sequence the show on the fly during playback based on the viewer’s individual level of interest in the episode.

QuickTime, Flash and Blu-ray can all sort of do this, but none of them is intended to do it by design for this purpose, and none makes it a fast and easy process for the producer.

Looking Ahead

In the future, the way we distribute video will have to change to become more viewer-customizable. Our shows will need to become modular and scalable. Viewers want to watch videos on their own terms; they just don’t know it yet because they have not yet experienced it. Until that day comes, they’ll just have to watch what we give them, or exercise their right to turn us off.

Chuck Peters is a 3-time Emmy award winning writer and producer. He is currently VP of Production at KIDMO/Rivet Productions.

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Chuck Peters
Chuck Peters is a 3-time Emmy award winning writer and producer. He is currently Director of Operation for LifeWay Kids in Nashville, TN.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This is a great idea. As a documentary editor/videographer, I always grapple with the choice between leaving something in or something out. A longer version always adds more flavour, but shorter versions grab more audience. Your suggestions of special markers inside the NLE would go a long way to realizing content for all audiences.