Expertise Zone

TV Connect 2015: Innovating the user experience

Chloe Davies,  head of product,  Freesat

Chloe Davies,
head of product,

A guest post from TV Connect keynote Chloe Davies, head of product, Freesat

We’ve come a long way since the first cathode-ray TVs that featured an impressive two channels!  But what has driven this? Arguably it’s a result of what TV audiences have wanted, and these needs fall broadly into two categories, improving the volume and quality of programmes (colour TV, more channels, digital TV, HD); and making it easier for the viewer to find and watch those programmes (the remote control, VCR, EPGs, PVR, VOD, multiscreen). To help ensure this innovation continues, we in the industry need to think about what we want to experience when we go home each evening.

So both as a TV viewer, and someone who works to make the experience of Freesat viewers better, here are some TV-related areas that I think need to continue to innovate:

The interface

While some may think the user interface is not as important as the content, it’s the first thing that viewers see when they turn on the TV, and they interact with it every day.

Live TV should be the starting point for any TV user interface, for the simple reason that TV viewing starts with live.  Although on demand is increasingly popular (50 percent of UK adults now use it according to Ofcom), research by Thinkbox shows that live still accounts for 88 percent of TV viewing in the UK. A great TV Guide is therefore key, with on demand and other services fully integrated into the experience.

There is a lot of scope to innovate with an integrated user interface that mixes live and on demand. The trick is to be simple and intuitive to use, even when there is sophisticated metadata driving it. And it needs to be engaging. Images are great for two reasons, they make it easier to browse content, and they invoke a more emotional response in viewers. So, while images play a central role in most on demand services these days, I’d like to see them used more widely in linear TV interfaces too.

Remote functionality

The remote control is often the unsung hero of the TV and set-top box (STB) world. It’s the bit of the product we hold in our hands every day, so needs to be both aesthetically and ergonomically sound. But it does have one draw-back in our busy world – we can’t use it when we’re out and about. It’s great to see a growing trend where operators are dealing with this by creating mobile apps that can be used to set recordings while on the go, so viewers don’t miss out on TV shows. And it’s not just dedicated apps. The same technology can be used to enable viewers to remote record directly from an email or a social media post. Not only is this a great product feature, it also adds value to marketing messages and helps keep viewers engaged. The next step is to offer viewers recommendations too, taking advantage of the fact that mobiles (particularly phones) are personal devices and can therefore be more easily tailored to the individual.

Research by global mobile trade body MEF shows that over 70 percent of people look at a second screen while they’re watching TV, making this an area where operators can add real value by developing apps that are fully integrated with the STB. Browsing is a much more natural experience on touchscreens, so why not move content discovery to the mobile app, and leave the TV for what it does best – playing video on a big screen in glorious HD (and soon Ultra HD). Whether it’s live TV, a recording or an on demand programme, the app can launch it on the TV with a simple tap. This isn’t to say we should get rid of the traditional remote, we just need to make the most of mobile devices and app development to make viewers’ lives easier for those who want it.

Make the content relevant

The more content that is available, the more important it is to be able to filter, group and order content to help the viewer to discover the things they want to watch. Really great aggregation services are currently a rarity in the TV environment, so this is an interesting area to watch. As operators start to get access to more detailed usage data, personalised recommendations become possible, and this is likely to become a standard feature in the next few years. But there is no need to wait for this; editorial recommendations are a great place to start and will continue to play an important role in content discovery. This is because they take into account the human-touch, and tap into the ‘fear of missing out’.


OTT is great way to offer viewers the opportunity to ‘top-up’, should they wish to. And the range and quality of original content being produced by the likes of Netflix and Amazon can only be a good thing for viewers. This could be seen as a challenge to TV operators, but for me, despite the increase in viewing on mobile devices, use of TV applications and casting devices shows that there is still a big appetite to watch on the main screen.

The TV industry is one that’s continuously developing, and the biggest wins will come from tapping in to real user needs. Innovations driven by technology alone won’t go mainstream (hello, 3D TV).  By thinking about what the viewer actually wants out of their TV viewing experience, operators can evolve their services to live up to changing expectations of consumers.

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