Challenge: Creating a consistent user experience

Over the last couple of years, there’s been a definite shift in consumer behavior and viewing patterns to include other devices besides the television set. The increase of broadband bandwidth availability and the development of Internet-connected devices has led to a change in viewing habits. In the living room, consumer electronics manufacturers are starting to offer direct Internet access from a number of different devices, including the television itself. Different viewing environments favor different devices, so while most of us would prefer to relax in front of a large HD screen, many consumers are watching more and more video on laptops and mobile phones.

By Michael AdamsThe challenge for service operators is to create a consistent user experience that consumers find easy to use and trust.

Consumers want to be in charge, with an on-demand content environment offering immediate playback. Most are not interested in programs that need to be downloaded first. Most consumers also prefer the convenience of finding a variety of sources in one place, like paying a single supplier rather than wasting a lot of time filling in the same credit card details for multiple vendors. In other words, the multi-screen TV experience means less work for the consumer. There is great value in simplicity, especially when it comes to navigation.

There is a tremendous opportunity for the cable industry to build on the values established over the last 10 years: choice, convenience and control delivered with HD quality.

While consumers obviously know the difference between a large-screen TV and a smartphone display, the screen is ultimately the conduit through which content can be reached. Navigation on all screens has the same look and feel. While some devices have a mouse, others a touchscreen and others a remote control, maintaining a logical consistency for navigation across all screens is paramount. At the same time, devices with touchscreens and keyboards can really accelerate functions like search.

Second-screen navigation, where one device – for example, a touchscreen tablet – can be used to control another, has generated great interest from consumers. The most popular features are social networking, previewing without affecting the main screen and sharing that experience with others using the big screen.

A multi-screen TV solution offers many new features. For example, it automatically keeps track of bookmarks, allowing consumers to start watching a program on a portable device and later resume viewing on a larger screen without trying to remember the point at which they stopped. This could support mobile applications outside of the home, as well as tablet or mobile video device applications within the home. Consumers also have access to subscription services on all screens, offering shared preferences and recommendations, centralized account management and common user sign-in.

The capabilities seen by the consumer follow directly from the implementation model. Fortunately, the industry has learned a great deal about on-demand content management and delivery, and this experience is the foundation for an Open Multimedia Back Office that coordinates the media delivery functions across all devices. Its capabilities include:

  • Device awareness – Ensures that each device receives content in the correct format – encoding, resolution, aspect ratio – and with the correct encryption to enforce digital rights management.
  • Offer management – Permits purchases on one device to affect viewing options on other devices within a subscriber's account. We know that consumers would like to be able to “buy on one device and transfer to any other device.” In practice, this isn’t always possible given programming contracts, so sophisticated multi-screen TV offer management is required.
  • Advertising – Enables campaign management to be coordinated across multiple screens while allowing for different levels of interactivity and targeting according to the device type.
  • Multi-screen TV must operate sideby-side with existing components in the personalized TV value chain for it to be economically deployed. Above all, it has to provide the operator with an integrated solution that can address any screen, whether that screen is accessed via 3G/4G; broadband Internet; or a "normal" cable, IPTV, satellite or terrestrial TV network.

Finally, we have to remember that a mobile viewing device is not a replacement for the television set, which still accounts for the majority of program viewing. Rather, these devices are more often used as a catchup, scheduling and navigating tool that can integrate seamlessly with all of the other screens in the consumer's media world.


Next month, Cisco’s Kip Compton will write about IP video and how cable operators can evolve their technology and architecture to succeed with online video offerings.