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Do European OTT platforms need a design facelift in the ATSC 3.0 uprising?

Greg Jarvis, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Fincons US
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While Europe has been developing with Hybrid broadcast and broadband TV (HbbTV) standards for over a decade, the USA has been slow to follow suit with its own equivalent standard, ATSC 3.0. The advantage of a later adoption for U.S. broadcasters is that they have been able to learn from the mistakes and achievements of the European experience and develop new platforms with consumer interfaces that respond to current viewer demands. Today, the tables have turned, as European broadcasters look across the ocean to gain insight from U.S. broadcasters and the success of interactive TV through OTT services. This article looks at the specific cutting-edge trends and innovations emerging in the U.S. that European broadcasters can use to redesign and upgrade their HbbTV and OTT solutions. The aim is to help European broadcasters benefit from innovative trends being rolled out across the pond and provide a guide for revamping their systems, so they are more competitive in a global market and ready to take on future market demands.

The recent developments of ATSC 3.0 have highlighted the need for aging European OTT platforms to be revamped, particularly in terms of user interface.  As standards of user-friendliness evolve, so too must user interfaces. Yet, many first-generation European interfaces are in need of a long-overdue UX design facelift.  With ‘ease of use’ standing high in the list of deciding factors for consumers, broadcasters would do well to invest in the functionality of their platforms. Key to providing an optimal user experience to viewers are the following interactive TV-enabled interface designs and functionalities, which European broadcasters would be well-advised to implement:

  1. Striking the right content balance

With so many more options for TV content than ever before, endless scrolling has become a common issue for today’s viewers. While it would be possible to offer millions of movies and TV shows, it is crucial not to saturate consumers with never-ending catalogues of content. This is the primary intent of viewer recommendations through editorially or automatically generated lists – with an example that 80% of the TV shows people watch on Netflix being discovered through the platform’s recommendation system [see reference 1]. By integrating recommendation and prediction systems into their broadband platforms, broadcasters are able to refine the selection for each user and display an optimal amount of options.

  1. Favoring a ‘kick-back’ experience

While the ‘living room’ experience has undergone a lot of change since its inception, the underlying principle that turning on the TV will cause content to start playing has remained constant. This expectation can be fulfilled through auto-play features for broadband content. For instance, the trailer for The Rise of Skywalker might be automatically triggered after the final credits for The Last Jedi. Similarly, the next episode of NCIS may set off all by itself shortly after the previous one ends. These features allow for a certain continuity of experience – one that is free of interruptions – and which supports viewer familiarity with traditional TV viewing. Initially typical of OTT services like Netflix, these content-activating techniques which improve channel stickiness are now available to next-generation broadcasters too.

  1. Creating an intuitive interface

Interfaces should not be too heavy on on-screen instructions, and no manual should be required for users to easily navigate the commands. Lower-third instructions can be made available to viewers if not intuitively obvious what to do next.  Informative snipes or messages are used to display additional information on-demand, such as the local breaking news alerts, current game statistics for an ongoing baseball game or even the release dates for the upcoming season of The Voice.

  1. Furnishing a personal touch

It is important to recognize that TVs tend to be shared devices, used by different members of one household. Integrating the option for some level of personalization is therefore attractive, for instance, in the shape of different interface colors. Swapping from one profile to another should be very simple though, presented as multiple identities within just one account rather than requiring separate logins for each user. Behavior-centric content personalization should be available but not mandatory or even by default. While this deeper level of personalization tends to improve the experience based on viewing habits, solutions will also need to be cognizant of a viewer’s privacy by allowing them to determine their level of comfort in sharing and receiving information. A good starting point is to offer the option for users to create lists of shows of interest and to be alerted when more episodes of these programs are released.

In the same way that Europe lead the way for the ATSC 3.0 standard and related broadcaster applications, the latest standard in the US has repaid the favour by unearthing new potential developments for HbbTV applications. To remain competitive on the global and internal market, European broadcasters should look towards ATSC 3.0 apps and popular US based OTT services and follow its evolution. Guided by the latest best-practice developments in the US, European platforms should work on improving the user experience element of their interface. By adopting these key trends in UX design, broadcasters can keep up with evolving consumer demands, and be more inclined to continue meeting them in the future.

[1] MobileSyrup, 80 percent of Netflix shows discovered with recommendation, 22nd August 2017

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