Television’s User Experience

Television has some problems –  an outdated business model, a serious challenge by the telecommunications industry and a new wave of devices that undermine the value of broadcast & cable networks.  I wanted to avoid the “technology killed TV” debate and have a look at TV from a users perspective and why television is actually killing itself.

Portable TV

Let’s start off with looking at the two models of television networks – publicly funded and commercial. The UK’s BBC and the ABC here in Australia represent the publicly funded. They are subsidised by their commercial operations – DVD sales, distribution, licensing and merchandise – but the tax payers cover the rest of the operating costs. They are a business as subsequent governments have forced them to be by cutting back on funding. They operate with the public interest at their core, but still as a business. That ideas of the ‘public’ and  ‘public service’ translate well and to think about them as ‘user centric’ businesses. Their decisions are guided by their users – what they want and what they need. This has translated into the BBC and ABC being great examples of the agility in broadcasting sector. They were quick to get online, to innovate and to deliver what their public (the users) actually wanted.

When we look at commercial television we see a distinct difference – their funding is based on selling their time, access and audience. They are a business, but a business that needs to make a profit to keep the shareholders happy. Over the years this need to make a profit has influenced every decisions they have made. They have been slow to innovate because they haven’t work out a how to turn a profit – or at least one that would match the big dollars of corporate advertising. More poignantly I would argue that they’ve left users out of the loop completely. The needs of the user have been put aside compared to their imperative to make a profit.

But this model has worked for more than 50 years, what’s changed? My argument is based on the notion of value. I’d argue that the threat to television comes from it’s diminishing value for it’s users.

Now I’m going to stick in some dictionary definitions for Value:

  1. the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance or preciousness of something
  2. the usefulness of something considered in respect of a particular purpose
  3. the relative rank, importance, or power of a playing card, chess piece, etc., according to the rules of the game.

Now let’s look at those definitions in relation to TV.

    1. You can go back 20 or as few as 10 years and the pinacle of mass media was television. It had complete and unchallenged dominance over all other forms. There was one in every home and it was watched for hours a day by millions around the world. It was instantaneous, live and controlled. Fast forward to today when we have access to YouTube, Twitter & Facebook – content that was the sole domain of TV, what differentiates it from print and newspapers, has been challenged. The internet is more instant, more live, more real, more accessible and more importantly, its free. I get to choose what and how I consume it. The internet has challenge the value of TV in terms of its preciousness and when TV itself starts to use this new media as it’s primary source it looses its importance. The controlled presence of TV has been challenged by the freedom and democratic web – diminishing the regard to which we hold it.
    2. How useful is TV today? It used to be the great distributor of content – news and shows. But what happens when I can get my news from somewhere else and buy a DVD or download my shows? How useful is a TV schedule when my life is so chaotic? I can’t live my live according to the TV guide! The usefulness of TV has been diminished because as a passive broadcast medium it has to try and cater for everyone. In the internet we find an alternative – one that will customise it’s content and schedule to us.
    3. If we had to rank the importance of media where would TV be? Is TV dominant still or has its importance fallen if the 7 forms of media are:
      • Print
      • Recordings
      • Cinema
      • Radio
      • Television
      • Internet
      • Mobile

While we can see technology having an effect on the value of TV, the networks have done little to change that. In fact I would argue  that over the past 5 years they have increasingly undermined their own value. By making decisions that are purely motivate by the commercial imperative to make a profit they have undermines their content – which when all is said and done it their unique selling point – and in turn damages the user experience.

I can point to many examples of poor scheduling, increasing ad times (during a rugby final!), unrelenting cross promotion, subversive and viral advertising, informercials, cancelled shows – a disregard for their users that borders on criminal. While they may have done these things for decades there was never a real alternative, until now. Mobile and the Internet are now viable alternatives and if the networks continue to disregard the user experience people will leave.

I already have.

I got sick of the commercials, I got sick of the crap shows that filled the air, I got sick of the contempt I was held in and the cynical schedule manipulation. I got sick of seeing TV become this vehicle to sell, everything is a product, everything is for sale, everyone is for sale and everything has been manipulated. While I may have put up with it in the past, I’ve found a way out. It all started with a DVD. A way where I could watch a show I loved without commercial breaks.  Where I could watch what I wanted, when I wanted.  Where my TV viewing became about my choice and my freedom, with a schedule that matched mine.

The internet changed the game again. Now a huge library of media was made available to me at a much reduced cost. And then catchup TV came and now BBC iView! The future is coming and the commercial networks have no idea what to do. They will lose viewers and they will lose advertisers and then they will be losing money.

So how do you change it all around?? Here’s my advice:

  • Go back to your users!! Ask them and then give them what they want.
  • Think outside the square and innovate. Move away from the 30 second commercial and look for other ways to generate income.
  • User testing is about what the users want. Its not about getting them to buy stuff.
  • Make a product people want to watch. Don’t just sell something that has no relevance to what they want or need.
  • Add value! Make it precious. Make it usefulness. Make it important
  • Allow customisation to increase value. People will pay! It’s not about advertisers, it’s about people!
That last point is the killer for me. I will pay for TV content – just not the ads. I will pay to access the content I want – but not what you bundle up for me. Value is a personal thing and people will pay more for what they value. It’s not about lowest cost, it’s about best value. I would get Pay TV, but I don’t see the value in paying for a channel pack where I will never watch 80% of them. Apple have the value proposition right. How else would they have sold as many iPhones and iPads when compared to their cheaper rivals. To make a commercial success in the future TV will need to rethink and readdress. TV will need to change or it will be killed, not by technology but in some weird suicide pact with its shareholders.
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One thought on “Television’s User Experience

  1. Pingback: Step 1: Noise Reduction « Tim Klapdor

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