Streaming TV execs share views on how to put the 'you' in UX

Pluto TV
Pluto TV chief product officer Shampa Banerjee spoke Tuesday during Fierce Video's OTT Blitz Week. (Pluto TV)

User experience designers at streaming services find themselves with a stylebook, not a script. They know design elements that viewers know and sometimes like from competing services, but what will click with one audience remains a matter of iteration.

At a “Delivering The Ultimate UX” panel Tuesday afternoon during FierceVideo’s OTT Blitz Week virtual conference, executives with six companies in the streaming business shared lessons learned and being learned in such areas as onboarding, browsing, and advertising.

“Test it out,” emphasized Pluto TV chief product officer Shampa Banerjee in fireside chat with moderator Colin Dixon, founder and chief analyst at nScreenMedia, that opened this 65-minute event.

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Banerjee joined Pluto TV in April, after the free, ad-supported service launched a new interface adding customization options.

In the subsequent panel, multiple speakers noted the importance of giving viewers an easy on-ramp—a part of the TV UX that cable and satellite services have often neglected, leading to chronically poor customer-satisfaction scores.

“No one really wants to set up a TV service,” said Esther Ahn, head of user experience at Google’s YouTube TV.

Chris Hall, senior vice president for product at Xumo, talked about the importance of the “first-launch experience” on that free, ad-supported service. Xumo does have one key advantage there: It doesn’t require a user account, so any visitor to its home page can start watching immediately.

Hall said the traditional network-show-time program grid offered the easiest way in for viewers who come looking for live TV, while on-demand video was better suited by a browsing-friendly UI that let viewers suss out individual titles by inspecting artwork and cast details.

YouTube TV, meanwhile, has a paying audience and places a premium on anticipating its viewers’ wishes. Ahn cited the example of somebody who tunes into a basketball game 10 minutes late: The service should invite the viewer to jump back to the start and then synchronize the game stats it displays with that delayed start.

“We don’t want the viewers to have to take those extra steps,” she said.

The novel-coronavirus pandemic, meanwhile, has forced streaming services to take extra steps of their own.

“Eight years of change have been crammed into just a few months,” said Devra Prywes, chief product officer at the media-app firm Applicaster. She said winning viewers for back-catalog fare has required improvements in filtering, search and “really inventive category names” to grab their interest.

Liesel Kipp, senior vice president of product at Discovery, said “people’s patterns have changed”—the cooking show that used to be popular on Sunday could get a big audience any other day. Sticking with old patterns of promotion won’t work.

The panelists had multiple suggestions but solutions for when and how to insert ads.

Xumo’s Hall emphasized frequency capping: “One of the number one things we hear is, you see four ads in a row, you’re out of here.”

He said Xumo has experimented with such alternative tactics as commercial-free blocks with an upfront sponsor.

Simon Leadlay, head of product management at the video-development firm You.i TV, said that firm had found viewers accepted ads that appeared once they paused a program: “Because the user has chosen to pause, it’s not so much of an interruption.”

The panelists did agree, more or less, on one thing: If you get the UX wrong, the subscribers will let you know more than if you got it right.

Said Prywes: “Bad UI gets noticed more than good UI.”

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