Todd Viegut Issue: Asia-Pacific II 2015
Article no.: 2
Topic: Focus on user experience, and you might just solve
the smart TV problem
Author: Todd Viegut
Title: CEO
Organisation: Kannuu
PDF size: 221KB

About author

Todd Viegut is a well-known leader in the technology of online video content business, focusing on content discovery and user experience. As the CEO of Kannuu, Viegut is responsible for charting the company’s product development initiatives and orchestrating Kannuu’s growth strategy. A seasoned veteran and successful serial entrepreneur with a strong focus on disruptive technologies in emerging, high-growth markets, Viegut has a proven track record for growing small to midsize technology companies and leading numerous, successful acquisitions.

Article abstract

Today, viewers have access to hundreds upon hundreds of television channels on cable or satellite, video on demand and streaming services – and they all require a separate user interface. Each individual service—be it Netflix or DirectTV—has made some progress within their own system when it comes to helping viewers manage the vast amount of available content, but the user has to repeat the search and discovery process across multiple platforms every time they want to see what’s on. There are no comprehensive devices or services right now that act as an umbrella to allow viewers to search, discover and access television content through one central interface. 

Full Article

So-called “smart” technology is supposed to make our lives easier by connecting our electronic devices to the Internet and providing an intelligent, easy-to-navigate user interface that allows access to curated, relevant content instantly. In some smart product areas, such as phones, for example, hardware manufacturers, service providers and technological developers work hand-in-hand. While not completely seamless, it’s relatively easy to watch a video or access content from your phone.

In other spaces, however, those three technology providers have yet to learn to work together. In particular, the television industry has made little progress when compared with smartphones. Watching television should be all about the user experience. It’s what drives the usage of a wider range of content and future development of more personalized TV features and benefits to attract a larger and longer retained viewing audience.

But the process of actually accessing content on a television often feels the like user experience is the last consideration. Between cable services, VOD, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and so forth, the amount of content viewers must wade through just to find something to watch is overwhelming. Plus, none of those content providers’ apps talk to each other; you can’t watch a regular cable show from your Netflix account, for example, or vice versa. Users have to constantly switch applications to access the content they want. There are over-the-top (OTT) devices consumers can purchase to help them manage the problem, but none of them communicate with other devices. Your Roku won’t communicate with your cable box.

For an industry that’s supposed to be all about the customer experience, why is the user interface for television so slow to improve?

In an age when people can access any information or content they want from their pocket-sized phone, the television industry is acting far from “smart.” The future of the smart TV is all about delivering content to the viewer on their terms: where, how and when they want it.

The devolution of television

Once upon a time, the television remote was the only interface viewers had to deal with. If you wanted to change between the eight available channels, turn the volume up and down or turn the television on or off, it was easy. The system was never more streamlined than when it first debuted. But then we started getting more channels, so our remotes got bigger. Soon, you could hook video players and game systems up to your television – but they ran on their own remotes, so viewers then had multiple interfaces to juggle while attempting to access their content. Then add cable television into the mix; this was TV, but it required its own remote and interface, too. As the television manufacturers and cable providers began to offer more options and channels, the remotes became more and more complicated.

Today, viewers have access to hundreds upon hundreds of television channels on cable or satellite, video on demand and streaming services – and they all require a separate user interface. Each individual service—be it Netflix or DirectTV—has made some progress within their own system when it comes to helping viewers manage the vast amount of available content, but the user has to repeat the search and discovery process across multiple platforms every time they want to see what’s on. There are no comprehensive devices or services right now that act as an umbrella to allow viewers to search, discover and access television content through one central interface.

It’s as if, while the rest of the technological world advances in user experience, the television industry has devolved. It’s become incredibly complicated and frustrating to watch TV, and user experience seems to not be a priority. In order for the industry to have a robust future, the consumer experience has to be the primary consideration.

Hardware manufacturers and content service providers are equally disappointing

It isn’t hard to pinpoint what consumers want. They want access to any content they wish to see, whenever they wish to see it, wherever they wish to see it. Today’s viewers are a demanding bunch, and smartphones have gotten everyone used to instant, easy access. Users want the same from their televisions. They don’t care how they get the content, and they don’t care who provides the hardware. They just want an easy-to-use system that lets them access their integrated content from across multiple platforms through one interface. Is that so much to ask?

Apparently, it is. There have been some attempts at providing a truly “smart” television with these capabilities, but despite years of analyst predictions of an Apple-like company developing the hardware that would solve these problems, it hasn’t been introduced yet. Companies like Samsung have experimented with equipping their televisions with smart technology, but so far, none have survived to become part of the mainstream market. A manufacturer-led answer doesn’t look likely.

Content service providers, too, have fallen short, proving incapable (or unwilling) to disrupt the home viewing industry as much as would be required to provide a true solution. The Holy Grail here could be a single web-based service with one search and discovery interface through which viewers could access all of their VOD, subscription cable, EPG and streaming services. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it probably is. Interface challenges aside, such a system would face challenging obstacles in the form of working out licensing agreements, getting competitors to work together and, in essence, consolidating all of the power held over television viewers into one new source.

Instead, what we’re beginning to see are examples of OTT providers partnering with television manufacturers to integrate their search and discovery functionality into the hardware itself. Streaming media devices like Chromecast, Amazon Fire and Roku TV are trying to solve the problem. These devices connect to the television via a USB or HDMI cord, then stream a user’s content via Wi-Fi directly from multiple platforms to the television. A viewer can access their Netflix, Hulu, Amazon prime, HBO Go, Pandora, YouTube and other streaming accounts through one user interface. As big of a step for user experience as that may be, it doesn’t mean the viewer only has to deal with one interface. Each OTT service has an app that the user must sign in and out of each time. Plus, this still doesn’t solve the problem of personalization.

It’s time to get smart

Content providers and television manufacturers alike need to provide their consumers with a quality user interface; one that is intuitively easy to use and provides an element of personalization so that users can find exactly what they’re looking for and get recommendations based off of previous viewing behavior.

Today, viewers have to use one search and discovery method on one platform, and a completely different one on the next. History isn’t curated across systems, so the recommended content is specific only to the individual platform. Not only is it irritating to switch back and forth, the quality and relevance of the content that’s being generated for the user is far below where it could be.

The market is waiting for a solution that provides the consumer an integrated system with the ability to shape the search experience across all platforms, provide recommended content based on comprehensive viewing activity and reduce the necessary interface to one. Smart television manufacturers need to look toward search and discovery technology providers for user interface inspiration. These solutions allow users to search through massive amounts of content from multiple sources without having to exit, and provides more personalized recommended content with one easy-to-use interface. If the television manufacturers are truly smart, they’ll work with the technology companies that can provide solutions that actually make the television experience a source of pleasure instead of frustration.