Much like the rest of the pay-TV industry, user interfaces are in a state of flux.
After Apple CEO Tim Cook claimed that the "future of TV is apps", the industry initially followed suit by making many interfaces (UIs) app-based. But with so many UIs now resembling smartphones, users are finding it increasingly difficult to navigate the converged TV landscape. Wading through multiple services and content sources on one UI can be confusing and even frustrating.
An alternative to the app-based UI is the more traditional electronic programming guide (EPG) format – an interface familiar to many who still consume content in a linear fashion. But for pay-TV providers looking to develop a UI that creates a happy medium and satisfies every user that might pick up the TV remote, there are two elements they need to consider.
First of all, UIs need to create effortless, stress-free consumption.
Consider this: The average user is confronted with myriad services when they switch on – from Netflix and linear broadcasting to VoD services and YouTube. All of this combines to create a labyrinth of menus across multiple apps and services. Users need to be able to switch between these services effortlessly with a simple, uncluttered and engaging interface that doesn't overwhelm them with options. At the same time, UIs also need to create a bridge between content silos – searching for one particular piece of content shouldn't entail accessing multiple apps.
For the occasions when users don't want to search for themselves, the service needs to be personalised with recommendations based on previous content they enjoyed, along with any other data the provider can use intelligently. This is key to removing stress from the user experience. How many times have you turned on your VoD service, only to be confronted by so many options that you're unable to decide on what you want to watch at all?
And as the range of services on offer continues to grow, UIs should also take heed of emerging design trends – specifically, an emphasis on decluttering and stripping the interface back to its key functionalities (i.e. taking advice from mobile-first design). By ensuring an interface is clear, accessible and simple to navigate, providers can help users enjoy a stress-free service that doesn't overwhelm.
Secondly, UIs need to be adaptable to new forms of content and emerging technologies.
Users are constantly switching services and engaging with new content. Pay-TV providers cannot assume the landscape will remain unchanged and subsequently build a UI that accommodates only today's popular services and apps. The tech landscape is littered with long-forgotten apps and content services, from Blockbuster on Demand to Myspace.
Similarly, UIs should take social media into account. Facebook gets eight billion video views a day and Snapchat gets 10 billion, while the vast majority of Twitter users "love to engage" with video content. It's increasingly clear just how much of a significant video content delivery channel social platforms are. And although some have predicted that Facebook Live will actually compete with and even overtake TV, there is no reason to assume the two cannot, in fact, converge – so long as the user experience is seamless enough to encourage people to use Facebook on their TV, of course.
But it's not just a matter of the content that will be available in the future. UIs must also adapt to new technologies as they continue to emerge. For now, the UI landscape is relatively straightforward – that is, the vast majority are technically graphical user interfaces (GUIs). But beyond that, we face the rising ubiquity and popularity of voice user interfaces (VUIs) – as evidenced by Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa. Also rising in popularity is virtual reality (VR). How long until these become commonplace interfaces that consumers come to expect from all of their everyday products?
Whatever the future holds for linear broadcasting, VoD services and even social media, providers must ultimately be prepared to expect the unexpected. And while there is no user interface that works for everybody who will ever pick up a remote, give a command to their VUI, or switch on their VR headset, there are two maxims providers should always keep in mind: adaptability and stress-free consumption.
UIs need to incorporate new technologies as much as they learn from the old ones. UIs need to become both cutting-edge and stripped back. And just as importantly, they need to create a bridge between an increasing number of content silos. UIs should be the map that helps guide the consumer to the centre of an ever-expanding content maze.