TV is an astonishing wonder of technology.
TV display technology has evolved over decades from the earliest flickering CRT images to now being viewable on everything from the phone in our pocket to the latest mind-blowingly detailed 4K panels. On the distribution side, the technology has gone from analog radio waves beamed over the air, to digital satellite and cable delivering hundreds of channels to set top boxes that can help us plan, record, and even interact with the shows we’re watching.
A staggering amount of investment has gone into this relentless march and, when viewed as a vast and historic collection of inventions, the technology behind what we know and love as television stands as one of the great testaments to human ingenuity and collaboration.
…it would never have made it far past the lab if it wasn’t for the combination of two critical factors: simple user experience and, even more importantly, the stories that it enables us to tell.
It’s the combination of these two things, great stories and simple UX, that has glued us to the box in our living rooms in our millions to watch everything from Neil Armstrong landing on the moon (600 million) to a bearded lady winning the Eurovision song contest (180 million).
We can follow our favorite sports teams and we can bear witness to new stars being born out of (sometimes) talented wannabes. We use it to find out what’s happening in the world — and not just in the real world, but in our favorite fictional worlds also.
We laugh, we cry, we’re inspired, informed, educated and entertained. It can cheer us up when we’re blue and help us wind down after work. As the art of TV storytelling has exploded into thousands of niches, there is now, quite literally, something for everyone.
What works now is what’s always worked — well told human stories that create an emotional connection and compel us to watch, although the craft of telling them has become more refined over the decades, and there’s a lot more violence, swearing and nudity now.
The television as a device began simply as some variation of a walnut cabinet sporting a 15 inch glowing tube and a minimal number of physical knobs and dials on the front of the cabinet. Setup involved some initial tuning, but the majority of use and adjusting the volume or changing between the handful of channels was done by walking over to the box and turning one of the dials. Sure the set had to be retuned every so often and even needed a minute to warm up before the picture came on, but when a suitable programme was found, there was very little else in the way of interaction with the device other than just watching and listening as the story unfolded.
Fast forward to today and TV is everywhere — on every screen from the stunning 103" 4K sets in the Hi-Fi showrooms to the new generation of smartwatches on our wrist.
It can be time-shifted, clipped, shared, pirated (!), second screened and interacted with. Viewers can talk directly to presenters, can buy products out of the broadcast and can participate in game shows right inside the video picture they’re watching.
We’ve come a long way and a lot has changed but, while TV technology and storytelling has been around for decades, the explosion of new UX possibilities has only been happening for the last three or four years. With TV being viewed more and more on touch screen devices and the democratization of the technology required to make and deliver TV content, comes a myriad of possibilities for the future of the medium. New UX is springing up daily, some of it wonderfully simple, but too often it’s clunky, frustrating and takes users out of the moment rather than keeping them in it.
With all of the new participants in the TV ecosystem and all of the possibilities available to us, it’s worth remembering the lessons of history — focus on awesome stories, and no matter what the UX, keep it simple.
At Axonista, we work with broadcasters and video content owners to make their video experiences interactive on touch devices. We spend an inordinate amount of time and effort poring over our ideas to ensure that they enhance — not hinder — the story. It’s an obvious thing, but temptations can arise and we sometimes have to remind ourselves of the mantra that all TV technologists should adhere to:
Keep it simple; get out of the way; support the story.