It’s Time to Transform the VOD UX

Today’s viewers can enjoy a wide variety of new digital services offered on a range of different platforms. Unfortunately, the typical user interface (UX) remains much the same as it was 25 years ago. To effectively engage viewers, content and service providers benefit by offering different UX options, according to the individual’s preferences.

TV viewing has transformed drastically over recent years, with consumers moving away from the lean-back experience of linear TV. Smart TVs burst onto the market place and very quickly gave consumers a much more interactive experience. That has continued to evolve to the position we are at today with masses of content, applications, and services filling up our TV sets.

However, Smart TVs have always assumed that more is better. Rather than evolving the television experience, TV makers have simply added to it, heaping more and more streams, services, and more content onto our sets, without taking time to rethink the interfaces for accessing them. The same problem plagues the services that power those smart TVs. Take Netflix, for example, with thousands of options of what to watch. However, instead of giving you a chance to skip through and sample them, it makes you evaluate each one, like a title on a video store shelf.

The TV experience has become more about selecting a piece of content than simply watching TV. The result? More ends up feeling like a lot less.

User Behaviour

There is undeniably a wide gap in the user experience and behaviour between traditional linear TV and video on demand services. Linear TV gives users instant access to content and low friction. The only interaction point where the user has to make an active decision is changing channels.

Video on demand offers an experience where the user needs to take a more active role. The user will either need to know what they want to watch, and then browse the content catalogue until they find it, or they need to simply browse to see if they can discover something they want to watch. Remembering preferences so that recommendations can be made does make that a little easier, but there is generally still a vast catalogue of content to scroll through.

With linear TV, it is often something that is put on in the background, with consumers only keeping half an eye on the TV. That is not often the case with VOD services, mostly because the effort to put something on is so much greater than with linear TV.

Content Discovery

The way in which content is presented to the user is very different in these two scenarios. In linear TV, the user will browse actual content, skipping through the channels. This means of course that the user is thrown into the middle of playing content and quickly able to get an idea of whether it is something appealing or not.

In the VOD world, it is more like browsing movie posters, with a title, short synopsis, and ratings. Even when you go to the cinema to watch a film, you will most likely have already watched the trailer. With VOD content, you are basing your assumptions and decisions entirely on static information. If you then select a piece of content, start watching and decide it isn't for you, the whole process has to be repeated for the next piece of content.

This does also have an impact on what the user deems as “good enough” to watch. With linear TV, where the investment to get content is low, the content bar is also generally pretty low, with consumers happy to watch something they find moderately entertaining. In the VOD scenario, where the user is having to actively seek out content, the bar is considerably higher. 

Users don’t select “channels”, they select video content. Note the multiple frames of video available on this content provider.

Users don’t select “channels”, they select video content. Note the multiple frames of video available on this content provider.

Digital Natives and Digital Newcomers

We are hearing a lot of talk about the differences between Digital Natives (those born after 1995, having grown up with technology) and Digital Newcomers (those born before 1980, before a lot of today’s technology was around). One area where this has not been discussed in any detail is in the TV User Experience. However, the way in which these different find and consumer content is very different and it is something that content providers need to bear in mind.

During the summer, we spent some time researching these different user groups and from that research we have defined three very separate video consumer profiles, two digital natives (one a young child and one a young adult), and the digital newcomer. The young child will have a limit on time using a tablet, but will want to have a huge selection of videos to choose from. The young adult wants to be able to access content with limited concentration and is often multitasking whilst watching. The digital newcomer wants to relax, enjoy, and be social with others on the sofa, and not spend hours trying to find the perfect movie.

Finding the Sweet Spot

There is no doubt that VOD services offer something more that linear TV simply cannot achieve. For many, being able to browse and consume a much bigger catalogue, and have recommendations based on viewing preferences, is a great feature. However, I believe there is a sweet spot somewhere between the traditional linear TV services and the full scale VOD services.

By combining the simple, elegant user interface of traditional linear TV with the power of choice and personalisation of VOD, we can create an altogether different experience. Video should be a dominant part of the User Experience, enabling consumers to browse video channels, rather than static posters. If we also limit the distractions and make the interaction much more intuitive, content discovery suddenly becomes much easier and quicker for the consumer.

Personalisation is an important factor, something which has been recognised in terms of recommending content. However, a list of assets presented by a recommendation engine on the front page is simply not enough. As we discovered in our research, the way in which consumers want to engage with and discover content is also different and content and service providers who give them different interfaces according to those preferences, will be able to create a truly personalised experience.

Niklas Björkén,  Technical Director, Innovations at

Niklas Björkén, Technical Director, Innovations at

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