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Designing great products on templated platforms is hard (take 2) – HBO GO on Xbox

17 Mar

When we were tasked with bringing HBO GO to Xbox we were once again presented with the challenge of making a beautiful UI and UX that transcended the limits of a heavily templated platform. There were many challenges in how we mapped HBO GO’s information architecture to make sense in the Xbox environment, and a lot of time spent trying to push the edges of what was possible. Of course as with everything we design for HBO GO, the goal is to deliver a beautiful, elegant, refined experience that doesn’t sacrifice usability.

And now we are all excited to see the results of months of hard work with the release of the first teaser for HBO GO on Xbox! Hope everyone enjoys using it when it launches.

Is The “Smart TV” Revolution Finally Here?

3 Jan

We’ve been hearing a lot of about TV this past year. Whether it’s “cutting the cord“, or “over-the-top services“, or a zillion other buzz phrases, you can’t read tech press without speculation about the future of connected-TVs. For all the buzz, so far there’s been little advancement.

If you’ve been following such developments as CableLabs OpenCable or Tru2Way, or GoogleTV, or AppleTV, or Boxee, or a zillion other products that I could mention, then you’re probably just as confused as everyone else about where the world is going to go.

The problem? The MSO/MVPDs. The simple reality is that for at least the foreseeable future, the cable companies will continue to control the bulk of the content that you actually care about. And while this is clearly a problem for innovation because of their tight control over the technical ecosystem and limitations of their platforms, we’re at least starting to see the MSOs themselves start to play far more aggressively with tech – case in point such developments as Xfinity’s well-designed iPad app, or U-verse integration with XBOX.

But the unfortunate reality is that there is no content interoperability yet. CableCards and Tru2Way were supposed to solve the problem – opening up the cable system to allow consumer electronic companies to create cool products that had direct access to the cable stream. But, saving for TiVo, very few products ever hit the market. Instead, we’re seeing a rash of so-called “over-the-top” products that interact with the internet but cannot provide the most necessary function to be a killer app – the ability to interact with the content that I actually want to watch!

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Data Portability Wars – Facebook vs Google

10 Nov

A war is on to control your personal data. Cookies all over the net are learning as much about you as possible – for better and for worse -  but an even bigger war is looming as companies like Facebook place strict limitations on your ability to control what you do with your own personal data. Facebook claims that this is for your protection; however, is this claim disingenuous, merely allowing them to continue to have sole proprietorship on your personal data?

So it’s not surprise that Google and Facebook are taking this war public in a major way.

When I was at Viacom, one of the major sticking points in negotiating a deal with Facebook was over this very issue. A major problem for any business is (or at least should be) how effective they can be with CRM. And whether you’re looking to improve recommendations, incorporate behavioral targeting, or simply learn more about your visitors to make your site better and more relevant, once a user decides that they want to be a part of your community, they are making an explicit statement of interest. At that point, there should be no reason why the site, with the permission of the user, shouldn’t be able to develop and store their own user profile without forcing the user to re-input all their data, especially in a case when a third-party system is working in concert with a first-party system, as is the case with most implementations of Facebook Connect. It’s as simple as asking the user, “do you give us permission to import your data from Facebook?”

Facebook objects to this, while at the same time declaring that they’re on the side of the user. But, if the user owns their own data, should it be their choice to determine whether or not they can export data from Facebook into any site of their choosing? Google made this mistake when they shut down Orkut and have now down a total about-face on the subject.

I’m a believer in data portability. I think we, as businesses, will have plenty of opportunities and ways to convince consumers to provide us with personal data so we can improve their experience, make offers more relevant, and generally remove the clutter. The burden is on us to keep giving them great reasons to come back. I’m convinced that as long as we – as content owners, creators, programmers, product developers, and business owners – continue creating great experiences, users will continue to share their personal info with us, and no single company should have the ability to take ownership of your identity without your choice.

I hope someday we’ll see that “export your data” function in Facebook.

How Twitter and The Music Industry are the Same

26 Jul

It was reported today that according to a study by the USC Center for the Digital Future that zero – yes zero – people would pay to use Twitter.  Jeffrey Cole, the director of the Center for the Digital Future, says, “Such an extreme finding that produced a zero response underscores the difficulty of getting Internet users to pay for anything that they already receive for free.”

This is a refrain I’ve certainly heard before. After spending a decade working in the music industry, prior to the last handful of years in broadcast media, the constant topic of conversation was how to get people to pay for something we’d previously given them for free. For the music industry, the answer was fairly simple in principle (and much harder in practice). The answer was to focus on service and quality, and basically get the entire industry to completely re-think everything they previously thought a record label was. Though it’s taken a long time, some progress has been made. Most notably the changing relationship between labels and artists so that it is simultaneously more equitable while giving the record labels better incentives to focus their energy on an artist. For most artists, and I was once of them, too, the problem is always one of mindshare. The label will only push a handful of acts, and how do you become one of those handful? It used to be mostly luck and who you knew (as if it wasn’t hard enough just to get a record contract, you also had to make sure you had the political alignment in the company in your favor). The new approach is to provide more equitable financial relationship between artists and labels, which would be a fantastic approach if labels could be trusted. But that’s another conversation for another time…

For Twitter, the solution is far less clear. The problem with Twitter is not that it’s free or that it’s programmed user behavior. In actuality, people already DO pay for the things Twitter give you for free. It’s called text messaging and you pay your mobile carrier for it every month. The problem is that Twitter as a service is not what I like to call a “purpose driven” service. It’s been driven by marketers and leveraged to excellent effect by celebrities, but for the average user, there is very little purpose or need for them to use Twitter. What would happen if suddenly they couldn’t “follow” Britney’s exploits on Twitter? Well, they’d simply get them from their favorite gossip blog who’ll happily repost, or a zillion other sources. And you already have a great way to send short messages to your friends…those aforementioned carrier provided text messages.

So will any social networks be able to charge customers? Probably not, unless they’re purpose driven. LinkedIn can charge users who have the goal of using LinkedIn to either find candidates for open positions, or those who are job hunting and want to leverage LinkedIn’s tools. And let’s not forget that dating sites are really not quite different from social networks, especially with the functionality that’s evolved to match sites like Facebook. So the problem comes when you build products that have no clear underlying “purpose” other than that of communicating with your friends. Good luck getting end users to pay. Pandora has certainly learning this lesson, with some counts putting their paid subscriber base at less than 1% of their users.

Viacom Pulls Colbert & Stewart from Hulu – Bad Move?

4 Mar

The stories are flowing about Viacom’s decision to pull Colbert & Stewart from Hulu, and as you’d expect the response has been pretty polarizing. Comments and responses to posts about the decision reflect the type of consumer reaction you’d imagine – anger, frustration, dismay, etc. – while business press has been more forgiving and focused on the challenges likely to be present to negotiators. I can understand people’s feelings – when you’re used to doing something, no one likes change.

As a consumer I’m a big lover of Hulu. But as a former senior exec at MTV Networks, I was never happy about Colbert & Stewart on Hulu. Daily Show and Colbert Report immediately became the most popular content on Hulu, which helped build and strengthen Hulu’s brand far more than Daily Show or Colbert’s. Some have talked about Colbert and Stewart’s “halo effect” on Hulu overall, but while having their programming on Hulu helped grow Hulu’s brand, it damaged the respective shows’ ability to build a stronger community around their programming directly on their own sites, nameely ColbertNation.com and TheDailyShow.com. Furthermore, a conflict was created between the two companies’ ad sales groups as both attempted to best monetize the content. Not to say that I think more networks should pull their content from Hulu. I believe that Colbert & Stewart are a particular exception because of the volume of content and the popularity compared with other content on Hulu.

On the other hand, I also was not happy with the user experience on either site – as is obviously the case for many other people, too – finding them too difficult and confusing for the average visitor, and the full-episode player, which usually works fairly well, doesn’t have the same stability, polish and cleanliness as Hulu’s.

So in the end, was it the right move to pull the content? Many people, like user ‘Joe. F’ on PaidContent, are saying things such as, “Why do people keep saying that they should change to a subscription model? Doesn’t everyone realize it will kill the website? Hulu has attracted many illegal downloaders of their weekly shows, me being one of them. If they go to a pay model I will simply go back to pirating the shows, as would many people.” On the other hand, user ‘NJ’ on NY Times wrote, “Eh. This is hardly a shake-up. If Viacom were to take Colbert and Daily Show offline entirely, that would be something. But avid watchers of both shows can pretty easily access them on comedycentral.com.”

Ultimately, it’s all about a balance between ad dollars and viewers. It may seem counter-intuitive that removing content from Hulu could increase revenue, but let us assume for a minute (and this is just hypothetical – I’m not saying this is actually true) that Viacom is able to sell ads at a rate 30% higher than Hulu is for the same content. And also assume that some percentage of people who watch the shows on Hulu will migrate to watching them on Viacom sites. Obviously not 100% of people will migrate, but then again, not 100% need to migrate for it to be a net win. Furthermore, not having the content on Hulu actually protects Viacom’s ability to sell that space for the 30% premium.

So in the we’ll see if Hulu or Viacom or both are hurt by this. In the end, people who are big fans of the show will find an alternate way to view it, and will happily just visit their respective sites. Especially since the shows will still appear in search results on Hulu, so it’s hard to say that the move will damage Comedy Central very much.

Disclaimer: I wasn’t personally involved in the original negotiations with Hulu, and I have no special knowledge about the current negotiations between the two companies. This post represents only my own thoughts on the matter.