28 May 2008

Some interactive TV thoughts

Attended Use8's seminar, Broadband TV 2.0. These are the things I took away:

From Matthew Huntington, Open TV
On the interface for interactive TV. Showed a clever idea to help people navigate the huge number of channels available, where traditional EPGs fail to deliver the kind of support needed: a menu of thumbnails under the main picture, which allows people to discover new content while watching something else. Viewers can then drill down from the menu to get more information about programmes and their timing. The thumbnail idea was extended to arrays that could be brought up to the sides and above the main screen for searching for specific items, getting recommendations, organising personal content. Basically the interactions themselves were fairly simple, but the model of what could be done with the system was complex, and it was questionable how many people would really take the time to familiarise themselves with it initially, and then use it (particularly when Huntington himself noted that people enter a near vegetative state when watching TV)
Questions covered what was really social (i.e. 2.0) about that - well, the recommendations could be.
Also became apparent that set top boxes don't yet have the processing power to handle this sort of interaction.
Good meta data (standardised) would be needed for recommendations to work (e.g. films on similar theme, same actors, people who liked etc...)

Paula Byrne, Pushbutton TV
Showed examples of Pushbutton's work, designing TV applications for computer. Noted two different philosophies in her clients: everything about making money immediately (traditional advertising funded TV); or building a relationship that will extend to the future, promoting their programmes (e.g. National Geographic). She noted key features of the user experience being: video plays straight away (no delays), programme is current (updated several times a day so users see new material on each exposure), quick browsing and free-to-view content, browsing without interrupting the main thing being viewed. To help people navigate the range of content, they 'package up' e.g. 'The latest' 'Top ten'.
Byrne was very pragmatic about the compromises in standard usability that are made to accommodate brands/advertising 'working with brands you have to make room for everybody' and indeed this pragmatism involves relegating search to the bottom left hand corner of the screen, reserving more dominant positions for advertising, dimming all activity apart from advertising (including blinking displays in the periphery) while customers make payments, showing ad clips before people get to see the clip of their choice!
Web TV on computer has the advantage over interactive TV on household screens that users are likely to understand basic computer interactions. (Although this may be optimistic.)
No particular focus on the sharing experience (other than sending clips) and how this could be made an interesting interaction.

Panel discussion
Nick Timon (Brightcove), David Wray (Global Digital Broadcast), Owen Daly-Jones (Serco Usability), Emmanuel Tseklevesis (Brunel), Richard Griffiths (University of Brighton).
Topics covered were:
Challenge of presenting video within context of a web page
Most users not ready to engage with interactive TV 'we're trying to teach them'!
Remote controls still limited, often an afterthought in design
TV is in family, comfy area - PC often (still) tucked away in corner - domestic aspirations and architecture are slow to change
Most interactive TV use is in office or at home (i.e. relatively stable environments, where there are often already TVs) rather than on the move.
Oxford user trial found use on phone in the bathroom while shaving, and Mum giving kids phone TV as pacifier.
Mobisodes: special episodes of TV programmes for phone consumption, shorter, shot differently for phone screen
Use of iTV extends beyond entertainment, to education, product reviews. Some interesting use by housing trusts.
Need to see proper connection between TV and computer (see notes on Apple, today)
BBC's iPlayer is having an impact on TV consumption, e.g. making it possible for people to catch up on missed episodes

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