By Todd Viegut, CEO, Kannuu
Last week at the 18th-annual CONNECTIONS™: The Premier Connected Home Conference hosted by Parks Associates in San Francisco I had the great pleasure of participating on an interactive panel discussion moderated by Bret Sappington, research director for Parks Associates.
The conference was well attended, and I was both pleased (and a bit nerve-wracked) to see a standing-room crowd for the panel discussion I participated on, “Rocking the Boat: New User Experiences and Content Discovery” — a testament to the fabulous job Parks Associates and Brett Sappington do in creating a conference where the most pressing industry topics are brought front and center.
As the title implies, this panel’s focus was on innovations shaping the future of the user experience and how innovations in the user interface will impact the overall video-viewing experience.
Fellow panelists included Yosi Glick, co-founder & CEO of Jinni; Gene Wang, CEO & co-founder of People Power; and Justin Whittaker, co-founder of i.TV.
There are many aspects of search and discovery, but Bret cut to the quick in framing panel discussion, citing research findings from Parks Associates that highlight the growing importance of search and discovery in general and the UI/UX specifically:
“Over 75% of U.S. homes now have broadband as well a growing number of Internet-connected devices, and since 2010, weekly video consumption has grown approximately 30%, to nearly 30 hours per week. The user interface has evolved from a functional purpose to a cultivated experience, with various players battling to own the interface, thereby owning the consumer.”
The overall discussion was vibrant and informative, with Brett, me and my fellow panelists sharing more than a few experience- and research-based insights and serving up a number of provocative perspectives on what we all agreed is a vital component of today’s dynamic, rapidly evolving video-viewing landscape — the user interface for search and discovery.
Suffice it to say the topic was given exhaustive treatment, but things really took off when Brett prompted the panel with a live exercise — challenging us to generate a list of features and characteristics vital for a “next-generation” user experience.
The results of this pressure-cooker exercise were telling, as it forced us to collectively weigh the pros and cons of many contrasting aspects of search and discovery and tackle some of the formidable challenges that surface whenever innovation and opportunity force disruption on an established, high-stakes industry such as television.
For example, how much innovation will consumers embrace vs. consumer affinity for traditional search methods; how to present second-screen interaction in a manner that best enhances the primary viewing experience; balancing the interests of tech-savvy young consumers and behaviorally entrenched older consumers; striking the optimal mix of recommendation, free discovery and directed search; balancing the benefits of personalization and the importance of consumer privacy; weighing the efficacy of input options such as voice, gesture and manual entry; and providing a consistent experience across TV, tablets and smartphones (while exploiting benefits and heeding the limitations of each video-viewing option).
It would be impossible for me to fully recount here all of the great perspectives and ideas Brett’s exercise generated, but I can tune you into you where Kannuu nets out on the importance of the user interface for search and discovery by way of these two overarching themes that surfaced during our panel discussion: context and melding.
Amidst much debate, respectful and thoughtful, consensus was clear among the panelists on the importance of context-aware search. No great surprise here. It stands to reason that the more that is known about the consumer at the moment of selection, the better a system, including the user interface, can be tailored to provide a suitable search and discovery experience.
Delving into what constitutes ‘context’ is where the real magic happens. Is the consumer male or female? Watching by himself/herself? Where (on what device and geo-location) and when (time of day, season ((sports)) is the consumer watching? What is the consumer’s viewing history? What might the consumer be in the mood for watching? What are his/hers special interests? What level of detail (show, actor, director information) does the consumer want? How much time does the consumer have in this viewing session? What are the consumer’s favorite channels (traditional programming, pay-TV channels, OTT services, etc.)…
The list of what constitutes ‘context’ goes on and on…
It is important to note here that as the circle of ‘context’ expands, the amount of data a search and discovery system must crunch grows exponentially, inviting a host of technical, backend challenges – with scalability, hybrid delivery (on device and cloud), and high-speed analytics topping the list.
Regardless of, or despite, big data challenges, computational strain, network limitations and algorithmic complexity must never spill into the search and discovery user experience – which must always be fast, satisfying and successful.
This theme has tremendous value when applied to the question of what makes a great, next-generation search and discovery experience.
Our’s is a very fragmented industry, and as Brett pointed out, there are many players “battling to own the interface.”
This has resulted in more than a few false dichotomies and ‘winner-takes-all’ battles that, when considered strictly from the perspective of the consumer, are revealed as short sighted at best and downright self-serving in the extreme.
Put another way, many things that might appear as competing or contrasting are in fact (or at least as we at Kannuu see them) complimentary or contextually determined.
For example, when looking at the question of how much innovation consumers will embrace vs. consumer affinity for traditional search methods, we believe there is much value to be had from melding a bit of both, as opposed to an ‘innovation-at-all-costs’ mindset and what we’re seeing as a tendency toward over engineering at the cost of eloquent design.
Take the remote control. Generations of consumers have used the remote to control their TVs. There is tremendous behavioral equity accrued in this device, more specifically, in the directional pad (D-pad) centered on every remote.
In contrast, forcing consumers to ‘hunt and peck’ their way to a movie selection using the traditional onscreen keyboard grid is unacceptable by any measure.
Melding in this instance means leveraging familiarity with the traditional D-pad and doing away with the onscreen grid.
Kannuu does this by replicating onscreen the D-pad in the consumer’s hand, accompanied by video artwork, viewing options and ‘aha’ visual prompts.
In the backend advanced train-of-thought algorithms, partial-word segmentation techniques and a comprehensive recommendation engine crunch data in real-time.
Using the D-pad in their hands and looking only at the screen in front of them, consumers find the movie of their choice in a matter of seconds with only a few button presses.
Melding is also helpful when weighing the various input possibilities for search and discovery. Advances in voice and gesture, among other input technologies, hold great promise.
What is counterproductive is to elevate one at the cost of the other, when the truth is, each comes with its specific, use-case pros and cons.
What’s needed here is a balanced, ecumenical approach that includes all input options, including a modified experiece for manual search entry such as Kannuu’s.
Sincere thanks to Brett Sappington and my fellow panelists for a great discussion on next-generation search and discovery.
In the end, we raised more questions than we could possibly answer in the allotted time — which was the point of the exercise, and a worthwhile lesson for all of us in the industry.