Watch Me: Designing A New Watchlist Experience
A Design Experiment by You.i TV
We here at You.i TV have extensively been looking at ways to enhance the discovery process on TV. We’ve talked about whitespace and how it can help reduce choice paralysis. We’ve also conducted research experiments that tackle decision-making at a behavioural level (more on this later).
We’re interested in discovery because TV apps are built around it. Recommendation engines, predictive search, autoplay — all features designed to help viewers discover content and hit ‘play’.
But, what if you’ve already decided to watch a piece of content, but don’t have the time? What if you’re not in the right mood? Chances are, you’ll save that piece of content to your Watchlist…and if you’re like most viewers, you will promptly forget about it. That’s a problem.
I decided to design a new experience for the Watchlist. One that takes inspiration from various user experiences and encourages viewers to dive in and check off multiple assets, ultimately fulfilling the promise of a Watchlist. To watch.
1. Too static
Often used as a dumping ground for wishful content, the Watchlist is not being harnessed to its full potential. It’s a static feature that doesn’t command attention nor encourage binging. Although it’s meant to remind a viewer about content, it’s often forgotten, which means it’s not serving its purpose.
2. The user experience needs work
After viewing a piece of content inside my Watchlist, I’ve never come across any sort of notification reminding me to remove said asset from my list. It just sits there, collecting dust. I have to consciously remember to manually remove that asset. This doesn’t sound like a big deal but imagine not being reminded to rate a show/movie after watching. Browsing and watching are the only actions viewers expect in a TV app. Anything outside that realm requires some sort of process.
3. And what of autoplay?
Let’s be honest, we’ve all fallen victim to “Next episode plays in 10…9…8.” It’s a proven tactic to keep viewers hooked on content. Why can’t that be applied to a Watchlist?
In my search for a better Watchlist experience on TV, I had to get away from the medium entirely. Overcast is an iOS app that manages your podcasts and plays episodes for you. One thing I absolutely love about this app is the Smart Playlist feature. As a user, I can create a playlist and then pick which podcasts to add. From there, I can sort how my episodes are delivered based on priority (which I set), number of episodes, and upload date. The result is a mix of episodes from different podcasts situated in the same place. Rather than try and catch up one podcast at a time, I can hammer out multiple episodes in one sitting.
For the purposes of this design, I’ve modeled my Watchlist experience for TV screens, so any device that requires a remote or game controller to operate. No touch devices.
Something you might notice right off the bat is the name, “My Playlist” instead of Watchlist. Nomenclature is important in an exercise like this. Audio streaming services, such as Overcast, use ‘Playlist’ to describe a sequential stream of content.
Why? Because ‘Playlist’ encourages playing. It encourages action and we as users have come to associate the term with repeated use. Chances are, if you’re listening to a Playlist on Spotify, you’re not listening to only one song and exiting. You’re there to binge.
‘My Playlist’ is a key feature that is placed as a primary swim lane on the user’s home lander. The list of assets shown are individual episodes in the order they will be played. The user can choose to start at any point in the list and it will automatically re-adjust the order based on history and setting preferences.
Users can enter the Playlist ‘Settings’ mode by selecting the gear icon on the far left of the screen. Initial focus always goes to the first video card but users can navigate left to bring focus to the Settings button.
Each card will display the show or movie title and the specific episode metadata when appropriate. Cards within the Playlist swimlane are displayed as 16:9 images to accommodate episode specific images.
Jumping into the Settings page, users are welcomed by a grid of all the content they’ve subscribed to.
From this screen, users can navigate through the cards and press select in order to change the Playlist settings for that asset.
When a card is in focus, additional information is displayed overtop the card to show all the settings the user has applied to that asset.
If a user has the priority setting turned ON, a star icon appears overtop the card at all times.
Users can enter the ‘Unsubscribe’ mode by selecting this button. This allows users to select multiple assets at once and remove them from the playlist. Think selecting mass emails to delete in one swoop.
Additional Settings Options
Clicking on one of the assets brings up additional settings that allow users to customize their Playlist.
If turned ON, this show’s episodes will be put first before other shows that have this feature turned OFF.
Setting this feature to ‘NEW’ will allow only new episodes to be added to the Playlist. Setting this feature to ALL will follow the user’s watch history and either start at the beginning or continue from their current position.
Users can choose if they want 1, 2, 3 or all episodes to play in a row before the Playlist changes to another show during autoplay. Setting a max threshold encourages binging but also allows for flexibility.
Maybe a light-hearted episode of Friends is just what the doctor ordered after a gut-wrenching episode of Game of Thrones?
An optional shortcut interaction has been created to quickly add an asset to a user’s Playlist.
From any browse lander, the user can press and hold the card for a TV show or movie and automatically add it to their Playlist. To avoid adding multiple steps to add an asset to the user’s Playlist, a set of default settings will be applied to the show. Recommended default settings include:
- Priority is set to OFF
- Incoming Episodes is set to ALL
- Maximum Episodes is set to 1
Press and Hold
The press and hold is bringing in new forms of interaction for TV interfaces. Users have the ability to add a show or movie to their Playlist with one click while browsing. Animation is a key component for this interaction to be successful.
Player End Squeeze
Once an episode has ended, the Player will initiate the end squeeze feature.
All videos available within the Playlist can be accessed in this end squeeze. The videos are ordered by user history and setting preferences. Users can navigate up/down through the list of episodes. Once an episode has been watched, it will be removed from the playlist.
Initial focus is on the video that is ordered to play next. The focused card remains in a fixed position. The user can press ‘back’ to dismiss the end squeeze and return to the end credits.
A 10-second timer begins for the ‘Up Next’ card once the end squeeze appears. If the user takes no action, at the end of the countdown, the next video will automatically begin. Users can also choose to press ‘Select’ and have the video start immediately.
Users can choose to rewatch the video that just played by navigating up from initial focus and selecting the first card. Once the end squeeze or video ends, the episode will be removed from the playlist.
A snapshot of the user flow, from launching the app to end credits of a show/movie.
Playing off my original concept, I toyed around with additional custom playlists in addition to the main ‘My Playlist’ feature. My Playlist is a pre-built function but these custom playlists would be created by the user. The idea here is that rather than throw all the pieces of content a user wishes to watch in one large playing field, they can customize to match certain moods/scenarios.
The genesis of this design experiment was to shine a light on an often forgotten feature that is available on every TV app. At the end of the day, TV apps are meant to put users in front of content. Plain and simple. The Watchlist plays a vital role in that workflow because half of the effort is done. The user has already chosen to watch a certain piece of content. All that’s missing is the press/tap of a button.
By situating Watchlists with prime real-estate, users are more inclined to navigate previously saved options. Integrating autoplay keeps users attentive and engaged. Allowing for customization in how content is delivered gives users a sense of control and preference. And lastly, a simple name change from Watchlist to Playlist insinuates binging. It’s a term that is familiar and conveys a sense of continuation, ultimately making Watchlists a destination rather than an afterthought.
If you’d like to read more of my musings around UX/UI developments in the streaming video world, make sure to follow You.i TV. We’re building the future of TV and learning a lot along the way.