Industry Voices—Ring: The coming innovation boom in TV UX

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Even if each feature by itself only captures the imagination of a niche, a rising tide of TV UX innovation will benefit everyone. (Getty/FS-Stock)
Brian Ring Industry Voices

I fell hopelessly in love with video innovation in 2001 after a few minutes with my new DirecTiVo DVR. From that time until two years ago, I was addicted to pushing the boundaries of great TV user experience.

With partners, colleagues and clients, I built a handful of fun proofs of concept and prototypes to help showcase better video experiences. Interactive DVR services, live streaming, clipping and graphics tech, sports and news personalization, even second-screen and social TV use cases. Ha!

But, my backyard show-and-tell inventions burned me out and I quit my media tech hobby two years ago. Why? TV innovation is a Sisyphean task. Even obvious enhancements -- like allowing a user to set a recording from their mobile app or enabling automated sports highlights -- become giant battles. When tech battles over IPR are averted, content rights will surely put a stick in the spokes.

After that you’ll face an army of clunky, inflexible set-top boxes; regulatory constraints; rising content costs; and contractual restrictions about the presentation and recommendation of content in the catalog. Plus, financial pressure from Wall Street, nudging operators to harvest their profitable multi-year, difficult-to-cancel contracts and limit investment into their user experience.

It leaves little headroom for innovation. Comcast Xfinity is the exception that proves the rule: Operators can’t get good at innovating TV UX even when it’s clear it would mitigate cord-cutting. (For years, Xfinity sub losses have been light relative to its peers. They have credibly attributed that to their strong video product. X1 has proven its value many times over.)

And still, pay TV innovation for everyone else hasn’t budged in years. (I welcome the opportunity to learn about other exceptions!)

So, I quit. I decided to stop wasting my vacation budget with these prototypes, whether streaming video clouds were awesome or not.

Then came April of 2019: The Spring of Streaming TV.

See, I was testing the stream video quality of YouTube TV versus Xfinity Stream during the NBA Playoffs when I stumbled into a potent hit of TV innovation. Earlier that month, YouTube TV rolled out automated sports highlights on their cloud DVR. I’d evangelized that use case to operators for years. And, here it was. And, do you know what? It is insanely great -- in a Kawhi Leonard / Steve Jobs way. (I write about it here.)

By itself, one little long-obvious feature would not have sent me on a path back to my video PoC addiction. But, today’s TV environment is alive with possibility!

The streaming wars are full tilt. Wall Street and legacy are all-in on OTT. Pluto TV and Cheddar exits built investor buzz. Smart TV nailed a decent interface and free ad-supported streaming took off. Roku, Fire TV and Android TV are hot.

Everyone’s scrambling to differentiate.

The NBA and Twitter rolled out fan voting with second-screen isolated-player feeds. The NFL asked a Twitch streamer to call a football broadcast for his followers. And, prediction here, ESPN+ is about to build a multi-billion-dollar OTT empire anchored by the remarkable Katie Nolan, a broadcaster born and raised in the social digital sports era, and a clear leader at building more youthful relevance for ESPN broadcasts.

Video innovation is coming!

And so, I fell off my innovation-abstinence wagon. I cut the cord and I fired up a cloud graphic overlay platform called Singular.Live. And I hacked back to my happy place where I came up with IRLchat, a two-screen interactive application for sports fan engagement. With IRLchat, teams and venues can light up the videoboard with emojis, gifs, polls and live chat messages.

It may not be for everyone but I think it will appeal to a small, rabid audience.

And, in any event, I don’t care. Hopefully, it makes people happy and inspires industry leaders with far more resources at their disposal to focus less on the content catalog and more on the features, navigational experiences and time-shifting capabilities of their underlying technology platforms.

Even if each feature by itself only captures the imagination of a niche, a rising tide of TV UX innovation will benefit everyone.

Brian Ring has more than 18 years of experience in designing, marketing and selling video and TV technology to global operators, publishers, broadcasters, networks, and studios. Brian has provided product strategy, content marketing and sales development leadership across every major segment of the video & TV tech market , both as a full-time employee at Cisco (now Synamedia) and Ericsson (now MediaKind) and also as a senior consultant to clients like Brightcove, Pac-12 Networks, Thuuz Sports, Grass Valley, Wowza Media Systems and many others. As a researcher and analyst, Brian has written and contributed extensively to the ongoing discussion about television’s evolution from free to pay, from OTA to OTT, and from the big screen to all screens. This includes original online survey research on topics such as sports DVR usage, social TV, livestreaming, streaming QoE, and sports fan engagement and monetization in the OTT era. He can be reached on Twitter at @BrianLRing

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceVideo staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceVideo.