Following on from my previous blog about why service providers should look at the User Interface (UI),instead of content, as a differentiator,in this post I’ll be looking at some of the concepts for a new TV UI.
Viewing habits have changed beyond the linear broadcast channels. With more content now available via applications and on-demand services, we’re seeing a shift away from the confines of broadcasters’ schedules and in turn, the static standardised EPG centric interfaces of TV services today. Viewers are now creating their own “channels” made-up of the content they want to watch, when they want to watch it, from a variety of different means – whether recorded, on-demand or streamed. So service providers need a new way of presenting this variety of content to their viewers that’s in-line with their new viewing habits.
There are several options currently being explored, such as grid-based content menus, and some services already offer recommendations based on previously watched programmes, which has the potential to increase discovery of new content. The challenge with content is that it is often confined to the channel or service it is distributed through, which requires navigating through lengthy and often non-intuitive menus. But instead, should be presented to the viewer based on interests or themes – regardless of channel.
By putting the UI back at the centre of the user experience, a service provider can make it a key element of their brand. For multi-play providers, using the same design across different service offerings and devices will also create a sense of continuity for the user, reducing the chances of churn.
This is something we can already see with Portuguese service provider, ZON TV, which does just that. Nuno Sanches, Television Product Director at ZON TV presented the company’s universal UI at this year’s IP&TV World Forum in London. “Content has an interesting characteristic which is to become completely irrelevant in competitive environments. In most markets that I know of, very few players compete on content exclusivity. The need for content to be distributed everywhere to be effectively monetised will overcome traditional business models where exclusivities are put at a premium. So content isn’t going to be my unique asset to compete. So we’ve reduced the list [of unique selling points] to a single asset, the utilization experience, which has a problem of being highly intangible. Let’s assume we’ve removed anything with a negative connotation. What’s left is how the user interacts with us, interacts with the content, interacts with the service,” he explained during his presentation at the event. “If user experience is actually what matters, how do I actually control user experience in this environment? You get back to the UI and the remote control. These are the two more material aspects of what the user’s relationship with you is. What we [ZON TV] decided was to take over all these roles from the traditional al a carte shopping. If you were an operator you’d go to a vendor, buy a CPE, put your sticker on the CPE. Buy a UI, put your sticker and colour on a UI and put them together and sell it. It was irrelevant that five other operators had it [the same UI]. That doesn’t work for the simple reason that guys we’re competing with in the long run [Over-the-top providers] are all about the utilization experience. They take the fact that their gate-keeping to the customer is more efficient than ours, to the extreme. That’s where they deliver the value, where they drive the stickiness, where they drive the elasticity of purchases and services.”
You can watch Nuno Sanches must see presentation on IP&TV World Forum
Addressing the dumb pipe
The phrase “dumb pipe” is arguably one of the most overused to describe TV service providers, but one that remains true due to the current shift in the relationship between customers and their providers, and the applied pressure from increased competition in the market. We have seen it happen in the mobile telecoms space, with operators getting caught off-guard by manufacturers and third parties marketing directly to subscribers, often with services that specifically circumvent the standard network revenue model . This has led to operators struggling to not only generate additional sources of revenue, but even having their previously ‘safe’ streams undermined (e.g. SMS being superseded by email or IM). While mobile operators have had to work reactively and defensively, TV service providers still have an opportunity to proactively develop new revenue models before over-the-top (OTT) providers make significant inroads.
As Nuno alludes to, the OTT players breaking into TV markets are businesses with strong communities and customer bases such as Google, Apple and Amazon. These companies built on understanding, and monetising, the customer experience, and are celebrated for it. They have money, power and influence and they’re not tied to physical infrastructure, which allows them to deploy services quickly. They can use existing relationships with customers, many of them customers of existing providers, to build a compelling and successful TV service. For example, Apple currently has over 315 million iTunes Store accounts – these are customers that are already purchasing apps and premium content, such as movies, on a daily basis. Its UI is also broadly similar across the range of supported devices, which makes it familiar and easy to pick-up. Together this creates a very compelling and attractive proposition. Why would the consumer want to jump through hoops to create a new account for competing service?
The challenge for providers is retaining their customers when these world-renowned brands come knocking. The opportunity therefore, is to make their own TV services sticky, that their customers think twice, if at all, about leaving, and this all starts with the UI.