Exclusive: Q&A with Hulu about its redesigned web experience for live TV

Hulu said it built a new experience for its website users from the ground up. (Hulu)

It’s been about one year since Hulu beta launched its new web experience built around live TV, and the company has changed a lot about it since then.

Now the web experience is officially launching on Hulu.com and bringing the first major update to the platform in about six years.

Hulu.com leads Matt Doyle, principal product manager, and Daniella Rutel, principal technical program manager, said the company took what it learned from users after launching the new Hulu UX on living room and mobile devices and used it to build a new experience from the ground up.

“And, when we say from the ground up, we truly mean it. We built the entire experience on a brand new tech stack, leveraging the latest and greatest web technologies to improve our development lifecycle and application performance,” Doyle said.

Hulu focused on improving the site’s responsiveness so the new Hulu.com works better on smaller displays. The company also tailored the show and movie pages to provide more information and worked to capitalize on the greater range of motion that the point, click and scroll interface offers as compared to living room and mobile applications.

One example Hulu gave is the tiles on the home page: It used the bigger screen size on the web to put options for playback, browsing, adding to programming to My Stuff, Stop Suggesting and DVR recording at the forefront of the experience.

Ahead of the launch, Doyle and Rutel provided FierceVideo with some insights into the year-long process of rebuilding Hulu for the web.

FierceVideo: How did the beta go? Can you describe the user feedback?

Daniella Rutel: The web beta has been one of the most iterative and agile projects of this scale at Hulu and we were really able to take full advantage of the unique characteristics of web development to test new features and respond to user feedback.

Matt Doyle: One problem we were able to solve forwhich seems obvious in hindsightis getting viewers into the next episode within TV series without leaving playback. In two weeks time, we designed and deployed a simple little “Up Next” button that allows viewers to skip forward an episode.

We were also able to address our viewers telling us that they missed the ability to to see all of the newest episodes in one collection, which we had on the previous Hulu.com. Within a day, we added a “Recent Episodes” collection to our TV hub so viewers could catch up on all of the latest episodes, all in one place.

Rutel: Our initial beta launched as a simple grid of tiles just over a year ago. Since then, we’ve released meaningful new features every two weeks. And we continue to listen to our viewers and innovate.

Doyle: The beauty of web is how quickly we’re able to respond to feedback, so expect plenty more exciting features in the coming months.

FierceVideo: What were the primary considerations Hulu had to keep in mind while building for a web browser?

Doyle: Web users are multitaskers, and many of these viewers don’t identify themselves as “web-only” users in the same way our “living room” users do. So, we really had to keep in mind that web was a companion experience for many viewers. We love to innovate and needed to make sure that the experience felt connected to our mobile and living room apps. Our collaboration with Hulu’s User Experience team ensured that the web experience feels like an extension of the experience on all our other device platforms, while still embracing new interaction models.

We had a hypothesis that our web usersspecifically our Live TV subscriberswere more likely to be sneaking in some TV while they were at work. The World Cup this summer confirmed our hypothesis. In fact, outside of living room devices, web was the top choice for viewing World Cup programming. Uncovering this fun fact about our users’ viewing behavior encourages our team to continue to optimize the experience for those that need to sneak in some live sports from their cubicle.

While our viewers love watching from the comfort of their couch, we also know that many of them are signing up for their new Hulu accounts online. So, it’s been our goal to create the best experience possible for first-time Hulu subscribers. We’ve focused on making Home, their first touchpoint with Hulu once they log in, an immersive experience that also easily expresses the depth of our catalog. In a quick scroll, new Hulu subscribers can see all of our Home content in one place. We’ve focused on subtle details within Home to provide our viewers with the most meaningful context and functionality, front and center. For example, by simply hovering on a piece of content, we can tell the user why we think the content we’re surfacing is right for them (we see you, anime fans!) and provide them with the show description. They can, of course, add all of their favorite programming to My Stuff with a single click.

FierceVideo: What were some of the technical and design issues Hulu had to deal with during the year of beta testing?

Rutel: While the concepts of other devices are very similar to each other, web is a unique platform with its own unique challenges and edge cases. Unlike living room devices, a user has the ability to bookmark, type freely into an address bar and have long-running sessions in a maze of browser tabs. As a result, we’ve worked heavily with our Quality Assurance team over the past year to uncover all sorts of corner cases that our native applications didn’t need to contend with.

In terms of design, as we mentioned, we’ve been able to leverage more screen real estate to provide our users with more content in one view. While this benefits our viewer tremendously, it’s put a little more strain on our architecture.

It’s worth noting that the web has some major upsides as well! Because we’re able to move particularly quickly in our iterations in web, we can experiment and take in data to help inform the experience across other device platforms. In fact, web was the first platform we introduced features like the dedicated Live TV destination and Live Guide which allows our viewers to get into live TV playback in one click and more easily find what's on, and what's up next. We have a great customer support team, the Viewer Experience team, that constantly feeds us valuable viewer feedback. So, because these two features were so well-received on web, we continued to roll them out across all device platforms.

FierceVideo: How many subscribers use the web browser as a viewing platform?

Doyle: While I’m not able to share subscriber numbers with you, I am able to tell you that the web is the most popular platform for live sports outside of the living room.