Ingredients for a Remarkable TV Experience

“The Ingredients Series” is an ongoing design endeavor at Macoscope; its purpose: to push the user experience envelope across different industries in order to envision potential business value.

As we were catching up with all our favorite TV series and movies over the holidays, we asked ourselves: “What kind of TV experience users would want to pay for?”

This question, combined with our obsession with UX and UI tweaks, resulted in a bold vision of an all-in-one experience designed around opportunities mostly unexplored by all the major players. An ever-rising number of platforms, content providers, and syndicators are entering the mobile application market, but their primary oeuvre consists of streaming apps that enable users to comfortably switch screens and consume content on the go. Yet it is both smaller screens and our digital environment that are doing a much better job of providing users and companies with superior experiences.

Entertainment in Context

Because we all have different cultural preferences, the content we consume has to satisfy a wide range of cultural needs: for some it’s all about staying on top of the current release schedule, for others it’s more about being constantly entertained. There are countless media consumption patterns, so putting content in context is invaluable for user experience within any media platform.

To provide users with that indispensable context, we decided to employ social logins. The entire onboarding process is focused on syncing user social media profiles which are then used to craft a truly personal experience, providing the users with a media selection and recommendations tailored to fit their content consumption habits. The social login helps arrange the entire content database according to the users’ preferences and provides an opportunity to furnish the users with recommendations evolving with their online activity, changing habits, and broadening tastes.

Social logins for a truly personal experience

The staggering abundance of available media libraries causes the users to spend ever-growing amounts of time browsing and searching for that one perfect piece of content in a state of hesitant anxiety. Instead, they should be offered a simplified solution that provides a more pared-down selection and easier choices.

Instant Recommendations

Given that “What should I watch?” seems to be the most prevalent question among users turning on their TVs, we designed the whole experience to answer this particular question. This brings us to the home screen, which used to be packed with often irrelevant and mostly cluttered information about new movies, series, events, reminders, etc. That is why we ditched the home screen in favor of a much more simplified solution providing users with a limited but potentially more satisfying selection.

Instant Recommendations allowing for faster content selection and experience

Instant Recommendations are a more relevant and less time-consuming solution allowing the users to experience content in a more expedient manner. After turning on the TV, the users are presented with 3 top recommendations. With just one step separating the content and the experience, it’s much easier for users to make the most of their free time. If none of the recommendations in the first tier resonate with the user, performing one additional step will produce a broader yet still somewhat truncated selection, composed of items preselected for the user. If a service provider offers different types of content, like games or music, the second-tier choice can be grouped by content type. One more step and users can browse the selection as they usually do, with content sorted according to their preferred categories. As time passes and the recommendation engine gets better and better at analyzing user habits, the third tier will probably slowly become nothing more than a distant memory.

Content Matching

We designed the whole experience around user preferences and habits. Using social media accounts, favorite Web services, and even browsing history linked with the user account during onboarding, the entire media library can be sorted according to one key metric: how much the user will like the content.

Media library sorted according to how much the user will like the content

Recommendations evolve and adapt to changing preferences with every choice, each search query, and user activity over the course of content consumption (we’ll elaborate on that later). This process never ceases: recommendations are updated as new items are added to the library or when the user, for example, likes a new artist in one of the social networks linked with their account. This approach allows users to spend more time interacting with the content and less with the interface, without wasting time deciding what to watch.

Taste Recognition

But how does the taste recognition system work? It is made possible by tagging every piece of existing content with this universal metric, calculated using data derived from users’ social accounts and augmented with results from services like IMDb.

Content is tagged with a universal metric calculated using data sourced from social media accounts

This score, presented on a scale from 1 to 10, communicates to the users in a clear and concise manner the probability of them enjoying a given piece of content. Users who choose to opt out of this process at the very beginning will receive the most popular recommendations, which will then be adjusted with time as the service is used.

Experience It Together

Now, what happens when there is more than one user? Maybe you noticed the “Watching as” tab in top right corner. This feature allows you to switch between active users or to add more users to the current session.

Users can also try out predefined situations like “Family,” “Sports Night” or “Romantic Evening,” very helpful when not everyone gathered in front of the TV set has a personal account. But this particular concept gets even more interesting when all of the assembled viewers have personal accounts, as the entirety of the experience we described above can be recreated for groups of users by merging their individual recommendations. And seeing that ever more products and services live in the cloud, there is one more avenue to explore.

Group recommendations for larger viewing parties

When, for example, visiting friends using the same service, users could pair their mobile devices with the hosts’ account to receive instant group recommendations for a faster and argument-free content experience. As the latter option utilizes the users’ mobile devices, we can proceed to the next area, mostly unexplored by key players: true cross-device experience.

Every TV experience has one inherent flaw: the remote control. Recently, manufacturers have been trying to “work around” this problem by using things like hand gestures or voice control, but these approaches are far from perfect, and the latter option is often unavailable in non-English speaking countries. At the same time, during most of our media consumption sessions, we often use a range of more sophisticated devices that could be utilized for the purpose of TV navigation.

Smartphone Remote

The devices we’re talking about are obviously our smartphones and tablets, and with this in mind, we opted to reduce the learning curve and put users in the comfort of using devices they’re most familiar with to control media playback on the TV. This way, users can control their viewing experience as they would any sort of media playback on the device of their choice. The interactive area on the TV screen reacts to tapping and swiping which makes navigation instantly familiar and obvious. Moreover, easier navigation is only the first step in augmenting the TV experience using smartphone capabilities; harnessing the potential of the ubiquity of fingerprint sensors allowing for rapid user recognition and easy transaction approval could be the next.

A remote with familiar gestures and comfortable input

There’s still one aspect of media consumption that this mobile device-driven approach to remote control could radically transform to steal the show in an instant: the input. The biggest nuisance of every viewing experience is undoubtedly trying to type using the remote. Compare that to the ease of using a keyboard that users are intimately familiar with. It just can’t get better than that. Using the companion app on their smartphone or tablet, always within arm’s reach, the users can easily swipe to explore, tap to play, and relax to enjoy.

Behavioral Bookmarking

Still, smartphones and tablets are not the only devices with the potential to improve the media consumption experience: the rising popularity of wearable devices promises experiences tailored to fit user expectations to an even greater degree.

Smart devices marking all the best moments

Content is made to spark emotions and the simplest way to track these emotions is to monitor the heart rate of the user. Using a synced smartwatch or smartband, the companion app could monitor heart rate and automatically timestamp all the scenes or moments during which the user reacted in some exceptional way.

Experience It Anywhere

Every timestamp is matched with the source content and ends up as a short scene that can be re-watched or favorited inside the companion app. These “behavioral bookmarks” will help refine recommendations, give users insight into their preferences, and, above all, provide them with easy access to their most loved scenes and moments regardless of their location.

A library of favorite scenes

In the long run, this accessibility of content and structured rewatchability can contribute to habit-forming use which is invaluable for any company selling a product or service in today’s crowded market.

Content Discovery

Earlier, we discussed how using a familiar smartphone keyboard can vastly improve the comfort of information input during search, but there is one additional true gem that comes bundled with extra keyboards on mobile devices. Using an additional set of tags to describe and annotate content in the media library, we can provide users with a wholly new way of searching and discovering content with emojis.

A new, hilarious way of discovering content

Users love emojis and this simple feature could be great fun on its own. Trying to guess how popular movies are tagged, having fun using favorite emojis, or just hunting for funny combinations to screenshot and share on social media are just a couple of examples of how users could benefit from a feature they already know and use on their smartphones.

Personal Content Curator

The humble calendar is another component whose familiarity could greatly benefit the user. Providers make more and more content available on demand, but due to the expansion of social media and the degree to which they permeate our lives, some users either can’t afford to or just don’t want to miss live entertainment. Recommendations and notifications about upcoming live events and premiering content are displayed inside the user’s chosen calendar. Another way that the users can benefit from syncing the calendar with the companion app is getting recommendations for a certain timeframe.

More excuses to interact with content

Try to think back to the last time you were fruitlessly wondering what to do with a free evening. Now users can just set a timeframe and get recommendations combining all types of content that will help them make the most of their free time and stay up-to-date with all their favorite flicks and shows.

With new patterns and ways to consume and interact with content, like binge-watching or live discussions on social media about newly released content, such a calendar could provide users with the perfect combination of scheduled entertainment, media curation, and additional excuses to interact with content.

Content Discovery Made Social

A completely new way of discovering hidden gems is made possible by the social login. Users wondering what inspires their favorite artists, athletes, writers, celebrities or just popular friends can now see recommendations made by their idols or friends from social networks.

New layers of discovery

Swapping recommendations provides users with an opportunity to see content through someone else’s eyes, tastes, and habits. This can give users additional excuses to give less obvious content a try and adds a new layer of interaction to the home entertainment experience.

Social Experience

The question is, “Can we make even more use of this social layer to improve the viewing experience?” During onboarding, users can link with their social media accounts. This introduces additional ways of tagging content with friends who could be interested in watching something together and others who have already seen the content we may be interested in. Insight into the habits and preferences of friends can be invaluable for the users.

Encouraging social interaction

Putting content in a social context can provide an additional layer of information about friends that can spark interaction and could be a great topic of conversation or a theme for movie night or binge-watching marathon.

Another way of interacting with friends is easy social sharing made possible by utilizing the users’ smartphones. When watching something, the user can at any time tap and hold a special button to record up to 20 seconds of footage.

Sharing and discussing favorite moments

Once the button is released, the companion app compares timestamps and provides the user with a preview and an URL to the scene that can be easily shared, previewed, commented, and discussed on the user’s social media accounts. When not in the mood for sharing, the user can just tap the button to mark the scene as interesting.

Bookmaring scenes to remember

All shared and marked scenes, together with favorite moments described above, make up the user’s moments library. The library itself can be accessed easily at any time via the companion app, thus allowing the users to relive their favorite scenes basically anywhere. For the platform provider, this is an easily deployable content-oriented social network with vast data mining opportunities, and for the users — an engaging new way to compare reactions with others.

Shared Experience

Inspired by the growing popularity of reaction videos, we decided that for a truly social real-time experience, the user should be able to harness the potential of smart TV cameras to share the excitement of great content consumption with others. We all know these rituals: a favorite show watched always with the significant other, cartoons with kids, sporting events with friends.

Sharing reactions and emotions in real time

By inviting friends or family to watch content together via the companion app, users can experience episodes of their favorite TV series, movies, and live events together, see the reactions of others on the big screen, and discuss what is happening in real time. Content can get really emotional with this additional social layer of truly shared experience, and the feature itself is undoubtedly the essence of the future of big screen entertainment.

So what are you waiting for? Turn on the future!

This broad experience envisioned by our design team here at Macoscope could bring completely new avenues and layers for users to interact with hardware, content platforms, streaming services, and home entertainment. Users should interact more with the content and less with the interface. Putting content in a social context for the users provides another layer of interaction and opportunities for completely new experiences. But most importantly, the mobile devices always within arm’s reach of the users offer us countless ways of improving the viewing experience, structuring interaction with content, and providing power features.

Integrating mobile apps with the TV experience can add meaningful value to existing products and services or inspire something completely new. Increased retention, more engaged users or online visibility, all this can be achieved by designing experiences which broaden the spectrum of interactions between users and content.

Working everyday with developers, we believe in innovation anchored in reality as technological constraints often inspire unexpected features and stimulate the whole creative process. Following this approach is what allows us to design and deliver award-winning apps.

This market is ready for exceptional solutions utilizing the full potential of mobile devices. And there’s no better time to build them than now, so if you share our passion for great experiences let us know and let’s turn on the future TV together.

Paweł Halicki, Experience Designer Macoscope

Dominik Strzałkowski, Head of Design Macoscope


Originally published at macoscope.com on January 26, 2016.

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