Friday, November 9, 2012

A Smart TV Viewers Bill of Rights?

Jim Monroe, in a post at TVBoard, looks at the rise of connected devices, Smart TVs, and tablets and wonders if things are getting too complex.  Sure, technology enhanced choices and DVRs allowed viewers to skip commercials, which could impact broadcasters' bottom line. Still, as he quips,
We never worried whether people knew how to work their TV sets.
Monroe identifies what he feels are the three key distinctions between old-style TV viewing and the world of connected TVs and devices like tablets - connected devices have more options for controlling the viewing experience (touchscreens, (virtual) keyboards and allow searching, and the hassle of scrolling through lists and sometimes logging in; tablets are hand-held, small, and "reading small text and trying to decipher tiny graphics... is annoying"; and mobile connected devices are mobile, not "bolted to the wall...  and perfectly suited for watching programs."  (I'm still trying to figure that one out myself).
  Connected devices, by definition, expand user options by providing access to a growing archive of programs and entertainment options, and in the case of mobile connected devices, options as two where and how one accesses and consumes media content.  And in one sense, increased options can be seen as a drawback - more choice can lead to more complexity in finding and watching specific content.  And is often the case in the early stages of innovation, there's some uncertainty as to what options and content people will want, and user interfaces can be a bit clunky.  So perhaps Monroe has a point when he argues that
Unfortunately, when you combine unnecessary features, complicated navigation and some ill-conceived attempts to charge subscription fees you leave viewers convinced that connected TV is at best difficult and at worst a new way to gouge them.
Monroe's concern for the future viability of (connected) television, and his nostalgia for old-fashioned lean-back TV viewing resulted in a proposal for a "SmartTV Viewer's Bill of Rights." 
  1. The Right to Relax (keep controls simple)
  2. The Right to Channel Surf  (see #1, and have channel up and down buttons)
  3. The Right to Sip a Beer  (keep hands free)
  4. The Right to Quality (not low-rez home videos)
  5. The Right to Free-TV
  6. The Right to Sanity  (keep commercial breaks short)
  7. The Right to Simplicity (see #1, applied to installing sets and apps)
  8. The Right to Familiarity (there's too many channels)
  9. The Right to Serendipity (help in discovering new programs)
There's certainly a lot of nostalgia, and more than a little Luddism, in this list and in the arguments Monroe gives in support. For him, "Our parents watched three channels and paid nothing... There’s way too much stuff out there for me to sort through it myself..."

  The problem, for me, is that Monroe is focused on what he sees as the negative consequences or an expanded television marketplace.  And while explicitly focused on viewers, there's an underlying concern that as options increase and the market becomes more competitive, there's less money available to produce "quality programs" that will reach "enthusiastic audiences."  What Monroe doesn't address is the obverse - the value in increased options.  He might not see the value of a portable TV (tablet), or the ability to access music, movies, and TV programs on demand, or the ability to watch sports from home when you're traveling or working somewhere else.  But others do, or they wouldn't be cutting into traditional TV's audiences and market share.
  As for connected TVs and devices being too complex - usability will improve with time and testing.  And the younger audiences are already used to multitasking and dealing with current levels of complexity.  In the future, complexity will likely move from being a burden to being a value (as complexity give users greater ability to customize their TV viewing experience.

Still, it's an interesting and thought-provoking post.  Give it a read.

Source -  The Smart TV Viewer's Bill of RightsTV Board

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