Deeper Dive—Are streaming UX changes needed for older viewers?

The rise in OTT video adoption and binge viewing among older consumers raises an interesting question about whether streaming services need to adjust or rethink their ideas around UX/UI to meet different preferences or needs. (Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash)

The shift to streaming video initially swept through younger demographics but has now become more commonplace among older consumers.

Cowen Equity Research said that OTT-only adoption has either stabilized or moderated across the 18-29 age cohorts over the past year while the 60+ age cohort is still showing steady meaningful increases. The research firm said that age group now represents 17% of all OTT-only subscribers but represents 28% of the U.S. adult population.

Tim Mulligan, research director and lead video analyst at MIDiA Research, said that the pandemic has accelerated binge watching, particularly among older demographics. In the fourth quarter of 2020, 23% of all U.S. binge viewers were aged 55 and older, up from 15% in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to the research firm.

“While binge viewing declined among younger digital natives, it significantly increased among over 55s to the extent that these older streamers now make up the largest single demographic among binge watchers,” Mulligan said.

The rise in OTT video adoption and binge viewing among older consumers raises an interesting question about whether streaming services need to adjust or rethink their ideas around UX/UI to meet different preferences or needs.

During the Stream TV Growth Summit this week, a panel discussion dove into the topic. Esther Ahn, head of user experience at YouTube TV, said that it’s difficult to base design decisions on demographics since there are always more adventurous consumers across all age groups.

She said that when YouTube TV launched, her company thought about the traditional TV user and what their needs are. It led the YouTube TV team to realizing that certain features cannot be left behind.

“There’s an expectation and a way of using TV that we didn’t necessarily want to reinvent. We had to identify what those areas were. The live guide, for instance, is something that people really understand,” Ahn said.

However, YouTube TV also wanted to introduce new ways of watching TV. Ahn called out her company’s home page with its top picks section that allows users to jump right into programming that is relevant to their behaviors and interests.

“It’s really thinking about how we can preserve aspects of traditional TV watching but build upon that in ways that introduce innovation that doesn’t require re-learning the experience,” she said.

Gary Schanman, president and founder of advisory firm GB Monday, said that designers have often thought of getting rid of the channel grid when building a live TV app.

“It never works, and the reason why is because it’s really important to understand the point the entry and the point of perspective. For an older base, they are oriented around live TV and lean back. Incorporating navigation from that perspective is the way you get them in,” he said.

A live guide that leans on a traditional channel grid ethos may be key for virtual MVPDs and other linear streaming services in attracting users across all demographics. For VOD services, a core tenant is designing a UX that’s simple and intuitive across multiple devices. Michael Bishara, group senior vice president and general manager for direct-to-consumer at Discovery, said it’s about honoring the unique experiences across connected TVs, mobile and web along with the interrelationship between the mobile device and the connected TV.

“We think it’s really about giving subscribers options that are all built around a core design tenant of ease of use,” he said. “Whether they choose to cast from their mobile phone, log in directly on a connected television device or really engage with the web experience, make it consistent, simple and very intuitive. We say, let’s create zero learning curve.”

More older users joining the streaming VOD consumer base will have far-reaching ramifications, according to Mulligan. He said a resurgence of binge viewing will likely be followed by more strategic subscribing and unsubscribing from streaming services as older streamers progress along the streaming adoption curve.

Mulligan suggested that recreating the channel bundle, to a certain degree, will provide a user experience that keeps older users from churning out.

“Failure to do so risks undermining market growth, and the winners will be services that can deploy either group or third-party assets to solve the currently siloed user experience,” he said.