Despite the wide availability of VOD, most viewers are still happy to stumble across a good film on linear TV. We heard Channel 4 explain once how they always get several million viewers when they broadcast The Shawshank Redemption, despite the likelihood that most will have seen it before. Accedo, the UX and apps management provider, carried out research recently with digital natives and digital adopters about their attitudes to television and found the digital adopters enjoy catching the last 30 minutes of of an old movie favourite, like Ghost Busters, on linear TV despite having seen it several times. It is a good way to fill some time.
From its research into user experience expectations across different age groups, Accedo has concluded that there is a sizeable part of the population that still likes to have TV handed to them on a plate. They still watch linear TV for this reason, but sometimes linear is the fallback option after they have failed to find anything better in a VOD store. The problem is that they are impatient, they do not want to scroll through pages of an extensive VOD catalogue, and they find it hard to decide which title to pick.
So how can you encourage people who fit this particular user profile to consume more VOD? The answer, according to Accedo, is to make VOD more like linear TV.
The company’s new Cream UX concept is designed to achieve this in a multiscreen environment or in a traditional set-top box user interface. It presents VOD movies without you having to work for them. Crucially, Cream presents you with rolling movie content instantly, dropping you into the middle of the action rather than the opening credits, and then lets you effectively ‘change channels’ to another VOD movie if you don’t like the look of the first film you see.
So imagine having 100 linear movie channels and you can switch from one to another by swiping left or right on the tablet screen or clicking left/right on a remote control. Every channel has a different movie playing. Accedo is trying to create this experience using VOD infrastructure, so you are delivering unicast content to the home and the movies can be streamed over IP. Broadcast infrastructure is not necessary.
In order to make this a good user experience, the ‘channel change’ needs to be fast, so the expectation is that a Pay TV operator (or online provider) would start to cache content from the movies you might swipe to next. This is an old trick – set-top boxes can achieve ultra-fast channel change by beginning to decode the broadcast channels that are immediately above or below the currently viewed channel in an EPG. When you press ‘programme up’ on these STBs you move to the adjacent broadcast channel and the content is already there.
With Cream, you are switching from one unicast VOD session into another unicast VOD session when you ‘change channels’. It is a virtual linear VOD experience, using on-demand infrastructure.
Service providers can decide exactly how they present this concept. If you choose VOD from the user interface menu you could be offered your linear-style movie ‘channel’ as an option within the VOD environment. A braver operator might launch you straight into the virtual linear VOD channel when you go into VOD.
At IBC, Accedo was demonstrating Cream on a tablet. When you selected VOD you immediately saw a film that was already in progress. There was programme information at the bottom of the screen. At IBC this metadata was sparse but it can be expanded (like everything, operators decide how they configure it). You could keep swiping (left, left, left, e.g.) to see more new movies, each one already playing.
Accedo then showed what happens if you swipe up or down on a tablet. This process takes you into different genre-defined virtual channels, where you can swipe left/right between assets of different categories.
With the genre-defined ‘channels’ the user has had some input into what they will see. This input could be active – so they have stated that they want romantic comedy and comedy on this ‘channel’, or that a channel should be formed from all films featuring certain actors and directors. The input could be passive, where you allow a recommendations engine to make choices. Guided by these rules, the UX and VOD system populate each virtual channel with the films needed.
Once again, the key principle of Cream is that when you swipe up or down into one of these self-certified, genre-defined virtual VOD channels, a movie will start playing and you will go straight into a movie scene, not into the credits. Ultimately you can decide if you want to watch the film from the start (with a restart function), keep watching from where you have landed, or switch to another channel (to a self-certified virtual channel or to a randomly scheduled virtual channel).
Accedo is not suggesting that this is the future of VOD viewing, nor trying to start a counter-revolution to take us back to the glory days of linear-style consumption. But this is part of a wider strategy at the company to identify consumer groups and their behaviours more precisely and stop imposing a one-size-fits-all UX on the world. The company is convinced that we will see more UI/UX variety and has already talked about the principle of a completely dynamic UX (read more here).