Cablers Answer Call for Improved VOD

Apr 11, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Cable operators are making strides to improve the user experience for video-on-demand. At last week’s National Show in San Francisco, Cablevision introduced its new guide, while Comcast demonstrated the next generation of its interactive guide, which will be deployed starting in about six months. Their progress dovetails with one of the undercurrents of the show-how to improve the consumer experience of on-demand television.

During a general session, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said that as Comcast increases from 4,000 hours of on-demand content to 10,000 by the end of this year, that content must be easier to find and navigate. “A lot of our work is around how we are going to do better on the interface and make it easier for [viewers] to click,” he said. “We look at TV changing to personalization. When you look at Google, people get what they want more than ever before. We have to be there first with that experience.”

During a press conference Mr. Roberts said the goal of the interactive program guide is to create a user experience more akin to an Internet search. He added that one reason Comcast formed a joint venture-known as GuideWorks-with Gemstar-TV Guide to develop IPGs is so it can better direct the experience of customers.

The next-generation guide that Comcast demonstrated at the show features a main portal with video occupying most of the screen, a change from today’s guides that provide only a small video window in an upper corner. The new guide also will include four smaller video screens running along the bottom of the page that link to various linear or on-demand channels.

Comcast will create different environments for the main portal, depending on the daypart. For instance, during the morning the small video screens on the bottom could include kids, news and weather content, while movies and sports could be offered at night.

Also, the video on the portal will be navigable, meaning a user can click on a link in the video itself to be transported to that channel. If the video is a trailer for the movie “Garfield,” for example, the user would go directly to the VOD screen to purchase that movie. Comcast described that functionality as a “television hyperlink.”

The new guide was developed by GuideWorks and the Comcast Media Center.

Vertical Navigation

Also at the show, Cablevision announced that it had rolled out earlier this month a new user interface for its digital cable service. The new guide should reach its entire digital footprint over the next few months. One of the key features of the new VOD interface in the guide is “vertical navigation” that creates a “bread crumb trail” for VOD users, said Patrick Donoghue, Cablevision’s VP of interactive television development and operations. Users can see the pages they navigated through tiled as vertical bars on the left-hand side of the screen. “Vertical navigation shows you where you are and gives you an easy and efficient way to get back,” he said.

“We think it will result in an increase in utilization. There is absolutely a financial component of the user interface and a connection between quality, ease of use and buy rates,” Mr. Donoghue said.

In the new guide, on-demand categories are color-coded: purple for movies, blue for interactive TV applications and orange for games. In addition, the on-demand pages for different programmers’ content allow some branding for the programmers, such as room for a Disney Channel logo on the Disney Channel on-demand page.

That branding is vital for programmers, and most operators don’t offer it. Channing Dawson, the senior VP of new ventures at Scripps Networks, said VOD today feels like an operator-branded world, rather than one where programmers can promote their fare. As a co-chair of the CTAM On Demand Consortium, he said the group will work to push for a time frame with operators to develop branded environments.

“Give us equality. Give us some promotional opportunities or we will have to leave the space,” Mr. Dawson said.

HBO’s on-demand service commands about 30 percent to 40 percent of most VOD requests, said Eric Kessler, president of sales and marketing at HBO. Branding of the network in an on-demand space is critical, he said. Down the road, he envisions on-demand becoming personalized. “We see the user interface evolving from a general on-demand one to one that is different for each household and for each person in the household,” he said.

Comcast said it has the capability to offer branded VOD environments in the next generation of its guide.

Working in conjunction with operators, Starz Entertainment Group made some minor changes to the portion of the on-demand interface for its content earlier this month. They include bonus buttons for additional related short-form content, suggestions for other movies in the same genre and a new navigation system for the Starz section of the on-demand user interface, Starz CEO Bob Clasen said.

Time Warner said it is working on changes to its VOD user interface that will be rolled out later this year.