Hendrik Haandrikman, Marketing bij Divitel, takes a look at Hulu's upcoming interface for its live services.
At CES Hulu gave the press a (reportedly very controlled) demo of the user interface for its upcoming live TV service. Impressions ranged from enthusiastic (Mashable) to raving (the Verge), with the consensus being that the LA VoD company has put together an interface that's both visually attractive and user friendly. As we're looking to a future where live TV and VOD become more and more intertwined, what can we take away from this demo? What lessons can we learn and implement to improve on our own services?
If you haven't seen it before, above you'll find the Hulu Live TV teaser video. You'll find it, and the pictures used in this post in every article about the demo as Hulu didn't allow pictures or video to be taken. Reportedly, it paints a pretty good picture of the service in action, though.
Onboarding is step 1
You'll see this with most OTT content services and you'll see it on the new Hulu: On-boarding. After picking your favorite genres, you'll get to pick some of your favorite shows. As live TV is part of the mix, you'll also mark some of your preferred cable networks. All of this information will be used to fill your 'Lineup', which shows you all the content you're most likely to enjoy. As time goes by, this will be improved by taking into account your actual behaviors within the service.
As a relative newcomer to the video industry, it somewhat surprised me to see that a similar on-boarding process isn't commonplace among cable operators and other traditional video service providers. It seems like a no-brainer as it can help you tailor the initial user experience without the need for historic viewing data. By offering the viewer the right content at the right time, you will increase the use of your service, decreasing churn and increasing LTV (LifeTime Value).
Recommendation is front and centre
I've made this statement before and I stand by it: If content is king, content recommendation is emperor. With a reported 35+ live channels added to their +/- 1,650 shows and 2,500 movies, there's more content then you could hope to watch in a lifetime. Hulu acknowledges this issue by making your Lineup your default startup screen.
After choosing the user that's watching (Hulu will support a profiles for every member of the household), you'll be presented with an overview of the content the service deems most interesting for you. To do so, it will use both your viewing history, your personal preferences and the viewing behaviors of other Hulu users. The content presented will be pulled both from Hulu's VoD library, as well as from their live offering. As such, it can show you the next episode of Modern Family that you were binge-watching the night before, but also that live Detroit Lions - Dallas Cowboys game that 70 percent of male Hulu watchers just tuned into.
An important distinction compared to other OTT video services is that you're starting screen is 100% content recommendation. The service seems to assume that you're most likely to pick something from your Lineup. You'll have to move over to the next menu section to find the more traditional content selection you're likely to remember from the old (or current) Hulu. In it, you'll find your favorite shows, featured collections and a section with content that will be leaving Hulu soon. Additionally, you'll be able to scroll through TV channels, episodes and movies.
With the amount of content on offer, content recommendation by itself won't cut it. Hulu will need to present users with a powerful search function that brings forward the right content even when a user doesn't quite now the name of the show or movie they're looking for. At the time of the demo, that search function wasn't included yet. According to Hulu SVP of Experience Ben Smith, it's an area Hulu is putting a lot of work into.
Big artwork and transparency
Once you're actually watching a show or movie, switching to another piece of content is a matter of pulling up the menu. It won't pull you out of your current video, but will cover roughly half the screen with a transparent menu showing big colorful artwork for the content on offer.
When you pull up the menu, Hulu will prioritize your recent TV channels first, enabling you to switch back and forth easily. This feature seems built for remote-jockeys that like to keep up with multiple live shows or sporting events at the same time.
Cloud DVR, combined with mobile notifications
This is likely a content-rights (or -expense) issue, but at launch Hulu's live TV service will not support catch up TV on most of their live content, which means that's once you miss a live TV event, you've missed it. It does support cloud DVR though, so as long as you mark something to be recorded, you'll be able to watch it at a later point in time. To make sure that you won't miss live TV you're likely to enjoy, the Hulu mobile app will send you a range of new notifications.
Not only will you be notified when a show you're likely to enjoy starts, you'll also receive a notification every time your favorite team starts a game and can even receive a mobile update when a game in progress gets very exciting. This last feature is powered by Thuuz, who developed an algorithm to generate a live 'excitement rating'. Even though it hasn't been stated explicitly, it stands to reason that we'll see the same algorithm in action to alert viewers of particularly exciting games while they're watching other content. Most notifications will depend on you manually highlighting a specific sports team or piece of content, though.
Is this the future?
It's difficult to claim that the new Hulu interface is the future of TV interfaces based on one controlled demo, but it's safe to say that it's a step in the right direction. They seem to have found a way to organically combine live TV and VOD content in an interface where neither 'buries' the other. Getting the right piece of video content to the watcher is front and center, be that live or on demand.
Besides these first impressions, the biggest reasons that I'm bullish on the Hulu interface are the people behind it. Ben Smith and Richard Irving, VP of Product, both worked on Xbox One, which has been the starting point for all my (video) content consumption for years. Where they 'failed' to reinvent TV on the Xbox, Hulu might be where they both find redemption. As one of the few Xbox TV watchers, I've always been a fan.
At Divitel we do more than just think about video. As independent system integrator we've helped build some of Europe's most impressive video delivery systems, but we also manage services like DRM or complete IPTV/OTT pipelines for our many clients in the video industry. We can help you with video delivery, monitoring, management and strategy based on decades worth of experience working in the highest echelons of the business. Want to know more? Just reach our to your Divitel contact or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org