Improved IPGs Take Center Stage

Aug 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The on-demand user interface is about to get a makeover. What’s been a clunky and cumbersome method to navigate the new medium of on-demand programming should begin to transform to a more fluid and smooth experience as the next generation of interactive program guides is introduced.

Leading IPG maker TV Guide is slated this year to begin a rollout of its new i-Guide, incorporating many of the changes that CTAM’s On-Demand Consortium outlined in its user interface guidelines. More work needs to be done to define common industry terms and icons for on-demand viewing, and the consortium said it is working on those agenda items.

A revamped interface is critical for many reasons. For starters, most of today’s on-demand menus feel more like an old-fashioned MS-DOS environment, where names of shows get truncated and only one or two actors’ names appear in the description. That’s been changed in the i-Guide, which will begin beta testing at the end of the summer and should be deployed in most of TV Guide’s homes by the end of this year.

TV Guide reaches more than 12 million digital cable homes, about 5 million of which have access to VOD, said Todd Walker, general manager of advanced TV in the TV Guide Television Group at Gemstar-TV Guide International.

Gemstar formed a joint IPG development group with Comcast earlier this year to develop this next-generation guide for Comcast and the industry. Mr. Walker said the i-Guide contains more room for ads and promotions and allows the consumer to access on-demand content in several ways-the on-demand menu itself, the main menu of the IPG, a customized multiple system operator menu and an on-demand link that will be accessible on the corresponding linear channels if an MSO chooses to provide it.

“We think this will be the most important change to on-demand navigation,” he said.

That connection between linear channels and on-demand programming is vital for cable networks. “Programmers feel it’s critical-being able when you are watching a particular network to let [viewers] know what is available on-demand so you don’t have to go out in this other world,” said Kevin Cohen, senior VP and general manager, interactive and enhanced TV, at Turner Networks.

The next generation of set-top boxes should also have more memory and functionality, which means the on-demand menus will be able to support images and box art from movies, said Rebecca Lim, director for interactive television technology at Starz Encore Group.

The industry, shepherded by the CTAM consortium, has additional issues to tackle. The consortium is currently working with video-on-demand programmer iN Demand to conduct consumer tests of different icons for standard on-demand options such as new movies, special offers and favorites, said Tania Jones, VP, marketing, at CTAM.

While standards and best practices are desirable, guide-makers, programmers and operators agree that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the goal. “A universal interface won’t work because it commoditizes it to the lowest common denominator and there won’t be innovation,” said Ed Graczyk, director of marketing for the Microsoft TV Division.

Microsoft, which belongs to the consortium, is rolling out a competitor to the TV Guide product, the Microsoft Foundation IPG, which includes much of the next-generation functionality that operators and programmers want.