Thursday, July 19, 2012

Raising the Bar of Expectations for Pay-TV Design


The world was a much simpler place for pay-TV providers when all their competitor user interfaces (UI) had the same unintuitive design, set-top box remote controls had dozens of tiny buttons, channel guides were not interactive and nobody cared to change the status-quo of perpetual mediocrity.

Then unwelcome outsiders introduced alternative offerings and the bar of UI design expectations was raised off the ground. The result? The legacy pay-TV companies are now struggling to keep up with the superior video experiences enabled by connected TVs, smartphones and media tablets.

Their apparent situation, caused by an apathetic slow-moving business model, as well as serving less technically savvy consumers, is exacerbated by suffering a significant hardware disadvantage -- as they typically rely upon cheap set-top boxes that are based upon a 5-7 year-old technology.

Meanwhile, the savvy consumers are looking at video content from a much wider selection of choices -- including more channels, a vast array of video on demand (VOD) options, DVR recordings and even internet delivered streaming video content.

"To meet this demand, pay-TV operators are adopting search, recommendation, and discovery technologies that can help viewers find the right content at the right time," said Sam Rosen, practice director of TV & video at ABI Research.

These enhanced systems typically leverage cloud-based technologies to compensate for the older set-top box technology in the home.

According to the latest market study by ABI Research, over 50 percent of the savvy consumers are already watching video content while on connected TV platforms (including Blu-ray players, Smart set-top boxes, Connected TVs, and Connected Game Console).

Between 31 percent and 52 percent of those enabled consumers are using these devices for access to internet delivered video content (depending on device type).

This sets a new high-bar for designing video entertainment experiences. HBO Go offers beautiful graphics, simple navigation, and responsiveness while Netflix has started to offer multiple user interfaces -- including one optimized for children.

Established digital media companies such as Rovi and Technicolor, TV middleware companies (notably, Viaccess Orca with its COMPASS recommendation technology), together with a set of innovating companies, including DigitalSmiths, APRICO, and Gravity R&D (winners of the Netflix prize for improving search algorithms) are all competing to offer the core technologies rolled out by cable, satellite, and IPTV pay-TV operators.

In addition, second screen experiences that are designed to use on a tablet while in front of the TV, are gaining more attention from the legacy pay-TV service providers.

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