I haven’t owned a TV for 8 years. Since the start of college, I have moved 8 times across 3 continents and the thought of lugging around a large black box, optimized for one purpose always had a whiff of anachronism. Don’t get me wrong, I still watched plenty of TV. But it was all delivered via the internet, via both illicit & later, licit means. I cast myself as the new generation of media consumers, untethered from both schedule and selection. Homo media superioris if you will. In Veetle, I discovered my mea culpa.
It is hard to sell Veetle. I doubt I could sell it to myself. The pitch would go something like “It’s like everything crappy about TV, brought to the Internet”. Even Veetle doesn’t seem to quite know how to sell itself. Their about page describes it as “provid[ing] the next generation live broadcasting platform that can deliver extremely cost-effective streams at a massive scale with unprecedented quality”.
What this really means is that they’ve built a custom Peer-to-Peer video plugin that allows for the streaming of extremely high quality content without having to pay for expensive servers or bandwidth costs. What this also means is that, being a stream, you cannot pause, you cannot fast forward & you cannot do a thing if the broadcaster decides to take the stream off the air for whatever reason. As it turns out, it is what Veetle cannot do, rather than what it can do, that makes it such a compelling service.
I first discovered Veetle about 2 months ago and, after grumbling about the absurdity of a site that required you to install a plugin to experience it, clicked around for a little bit and landed halfway in an episode of The Big Bang Theory which I hadn’t yet watched. I then proceeded to spend the next 5 hours catching up on the rest of Season 2 of The Big Bang Theory.
Since then, I’ve noticed an increasing amount of my entertainment hours gravitating to Veetle. I have unwatched videos languishing on my hard drive, I have TV shows on Hulu that look super interesting, there are videos on YouTube bookmarked that I’m sure are very funny… but instead, I was watching the last half of Die Hard 4, that really epic scene in Superbad where they destroyed the police car, 3 episodes of the Ali G show and half an hour of many, many random movies, most of which I don’t even know the name of because the broadcaster didn’t bother to fill out a program guide.
This was not good content. This was not even good, bad content. If you had asked me to construct a recommendation engine that would deliver me excellent content, the last half of Die Hard 4 would be pretty far down on the list.
I think, in our desire for optimality, we sometimes lose track of the burden of being optimal. I acquire plenty of content I’m sure will be optimal for me but then, when it comes time for me to consume it, it’s all so overwhelming. I have 465 items in my RSS reader right now that I need to clear by the end of the weekend, I have 8 books stacked by my bedside table that are all 30 pages read, Facebook is an irresistible & unrelenting stream of personally tailored to me content. In this ocean of optimality, Veetle slips up to me and whispers in my ear, “Don’t choose. Let the content come to you and, more importantly, when it slips away, don’t feel guilty for not optimizing away your time”. As it turns out, even as Homo media superioris, I still need to veg out once in a while.
The biggest risk Veetle faces is doing things “right”. Any competent product manager could walk in and immediately spot all of the obvious deficiencies in the product and aim to fix them: encourage people to fill in a schedule for their streams, add the “now showing” info to the browsing panel, build a faceted, tagged search engine, integrate with your calendar to remind you when a movie you particularly want to watch is about to come on, even, god forbid, a recommendation engine. Any competent product manager would ruin Veetle.
To be sure, the service is still very new and there are plenty of rough edges around the product that could be smoothed down. The AJAX breaks how URLs should work, comments don’t live update & you lose your place in the channel selector after you switch channels. But these are all minor annoyances.
For Veetle to be successful, it needs to recognize and fiercely stick to it’s core value proposition and avoid imitating any of it’s competitors. It needs to avoid overcomplicating the interface, adding features or anything which gives people more control over their viewing experience. If I wanted the Hulu experience, I go to Hulu. If I wanted the YouTube experience, I go to YouTube. Veetle awoke in me an experience that had lay dormant in my for 8 years and I hope to god that, in 8 years time, if I want the Veetle experience, I can still go to Veetle.