Even for a generation brought up on multi-channel TV such as that offered by Sky TV or Freeview, internet television can seem daunting. It is perhaps little wonder, then, that helping viewers navigate their way around this maze of new content is a priority for broadcasters and internet video services seeking to build a brand in the internet television market.
Web video search engine blinkx decided it would branch out from its beginnings as an online video search tool (sort of a Google for video) to offer a line-up of themed channels, including education and entertainment, in its new video service, BBTV, launched in May.
"The problem is there's just so much stuff out there and we're only human beings, there's only so much we can take in," says blinkx chief executive, Suranga Chandratillake. "The brands that are going to succeed will be those that act as a filter for all this new information, as well as allow people to search for content themselves."
"People watch TV in two ways. There are times when you want to watch something in particular, but most of the time people will come in from work and channel surf for five minutes. That's why it's going to be so important to be the brand that allows people to discover great content they weren't necessarily aware of through our own channel line-up - but always with the power of search behind it when people are looking for something in particular," says Chandratillake.
IPTV services such as BT Vision and Tiscali TV believe their "closed wall" systems give them an advantage over video on the open internet because they have more control over the viewer experience. For example, Orange plans to begin offering a set-top-delivered IPTV service to its broadband customers later this year and believes that the user interface and branding design will be a crucial differentiator.
"Orange is giving each part of its service unique animated characters that are designed to sum up what content is available on that part of the service," says Lucy Amortegui, head of digital media for Red Bee Media, which designed the onscreen look for Orange. "The idea is to give each section a personality."
Jonathan Sykes, managing director of content strategy at Tiscali TV, says that good navigation is very important when there is such a wealth of content available. "We know that to succeed we have to make our managed service easy to use and fun."
"The beauty of an IPTV service is that we can segment content not just as you would normally expect like sports, movies, drama and so on," says Sykes. "We can also take the feedback from what people are watching and have charts of top 'feel-good movies' for example. It makes navigating the service so much simpler and it's a lot more fun than a conventional programme guide."
Online video aggregation services, such as Bablegum, are adding Facebook-like personalisation tools to attract users. Personalisation is also key at Zattoo, a web service which offers live streams from the UK's five terrestrial channels. Zattoo's latest version allows users to create a personal electronic programme guide (EPG), giving them a tool to drag and drop channels so they are in the order they prefer - channels they are not interested in can be deleted. The company believes users will respond well to a level of control conventional television does not offer.
John Gilles, vice-president of media and entertainment at digital agency Method, believes that people will soon realise the power of online television and how it should operate. "I think search is over-estimated, particularly in television," he says. "In real life people find out about shows from one another. We've helped Comcast produce its Fancast site where people can talk about shows to one another. It's going to be so important in the future of television. When there is so much content out there, people are going to be turned off by search, because they don't necessarily know what they're looking for, so they'll increasingly rely on recommendation."
This idea of a programme guide supplemented by communal recommendations is also at the heart of Sky's future plans, says Brian Lenz, Sky's head of product design. "The real question in finding your way around IPTV is: how do you make an informed choice? And we believe the brand that allows people to do this easily and has the best content will be the winner."
Sky already offers a recommendation service on its recently rebranded web television service, Sky Player. The technology works a lot like the Amazon recommendation engine, basing the new titles it recommends on a user's past viewing.
"We plan to link our set-top boxes to broadband, which will mean there will be scope for more community around programme watching," explains Lenz. "People can find out about great content from one another and select these shows directly, rather than going through a conventional EPG."
Sky is also developing "widgets" which users will be able to place on social networks, such as Bebo and Facebook, to say what they have been watching and what they plan to watch.