To XFinity and Beyond… The Missing Smart Living Room TV Interface

March 10, 2012
By | 7 Comments

As a Comcast subscriber, I greeted the recent announcement of the Streampix service with some curiosity. I have not joined the Netflix nation and, since my monthly Comcast bill just went up $20, felt some added value appropriate. I began to thumb through the new offerings last night, simultaneously pleased, befuddled, but increasingly irate.

I demand a moratorium on breathless distribution announcements from cable companies until they upgrade the user interface. We all know the technology exists. It was all on display at the Cable Show last June. The BBC iPlayer has been in homes for years now.



But when I go looking for content on my supposedly most-high end Comcast HD DVR, I get this.

Select Xfinity Streampix and get this.

Select TV, get a choice of alphabetical suboptions that I’ll spare you, but select O-S and get this.

I select Scrubs and get this.

I do acknowledge that if I choose to watch Streampix on an iPad tablet, the interface looks more like this. (and that is where the top pic was intended).

Hmm. I’ve always thought it would be great to watch all the episodes of Scrubs in alphabetical order, that way any ongoing storyline would make absolutely no sense. Even better, include absolutely no episode numbers so that I could at least sort them out myself since this is apparently too giant a leap for your technological interface. Come on. Yeah, I’m frustrated, maybe even angry.

And that is cool, but I watch TV at home. And when I do, I want to watch on the ridiculously large and beautiful screen that adorns my TV cave, where I can sit on my fantastically comfortable and unstylish reclining sofa. I’m not alone. New numbers from Nielsen on the “State of Media: U.S. Digital Consumer Report” (Q3-4 2011) tell us video consumption on PC or mobile phones (not sure where tablets figure) is a whopping 4 minutes per user per MONTH, which pales some to the 146:45 minutes spent on “television.”

While I’m obviously not suggesting this number won’t continue to grow and that such screens will be an important part of the television future, I am astounded by the lack of attention cable companies have afforded to the interface of the primary screen. It is this frustr-anger of the experience of the above screens that explains why I (and likely others) continue to dream of the potential that the new Apple TV might bring, even though I know full well that the arrangements with content providers that would be necessary for Apple TV to be a game changer remain most unlikely. Why are industry analysts and trade journalists endlessly willing to speculate on the tiniest bit of news regarding Apple TV, Netflix, or Google TV? Because these companies have figured out that it doesn’t matter if you have content if you have the most ridiculous, cumbersome, and counter-intuitive way to sort through it.

Comcast Streampix is a good idea and clearly indicative of the further disruption of economic models and distribution that will continue over the next decade. But this array of offerings will be meaningless unless it rolls out an interface for the living room screen that is as good as the one for tablets/phones/PCs. The first company to have both content (with a sustainable economic model) and an interface might just win this. Quantity of industry press, tweets, and blogging to the contrary, this is still the Comcasts-of-the-world’s battle to lose, but its willingness to bring Streampix to the market without a new cable box interface suggests they just might manage to do so.


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7 Responses to “ To XFinity and Beyond… The Missing Smart Living Room TV Interface ”

  1. Jonathan Gray on March 11, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    Testify, Amanda. I agree that the interface on these things is horrible. Would it be that hard for cable service providers to invest in one or two techies that have seen an interface post-Zork? Heck, most laptops have better interfaces offered in their free DVD-making software.

  2. Cynthia Meyers on March 11, 2012 at 9:14 PM

    Good story on #cableMSOthinking! The interface on my cable provider’s system is similarly awful. When I finish watching one episode, the screen defaults back to the first menu, meaning I must navigate *all the way* back through 6 or 7 screens to the screen with the list of episodes on it in order to watch the next one.
    Gotta say, Netflix is far easier to navigate, though not perfect. At least Netflix always returns you to the previous screen so you can just go straight to the next episode!
    I speculate that cable MSOs are just not used to competition, are engineer-heavy not user-oriented, and, perhaps, have mixed motives for even offering such services…!

    • Amanda Lotz on March 12, 2012 at 2:37 PM

      Yes, proper blog length prevented me from a more exhaustive list of complaints. The default to the first menu, the ridiculous volume on the promo screen, counter-intuitive sorting (like when things are alphabetized by “The,” or the fact that Nickelodeon’s “Preschool” folder contains only a few of its preschool shows….).
      Interesting Variety coverage of report on VOD here
      Talks about how few watch VOD. I can’t help but wonder how many others have had frustrating experiences and just forgotten to bother looking, as is often the case for me. I don’t think the low numbers are an indication of the service so much as how it has to be accessed.

      • Erin Copple Smith on March 13, 2012 at 3:28 PM

        That’s such a good point–we hardly ever use our VOD, mostly because it’s so completely counterintuitive to use. I still can’t figure out how to access the VOD “channel” on the TV, and there’s no obvious button on the remote that works, so I end up doing an alphabetical menu search. That brings up all the stuff on TV, plus (maybe) the VOD options. What a mess. Add to that the fact that our VOD isn’t working lately, and you’ve got some frustrated customers! UGH.

        (Also: the line, “I’ve always thought it would be great to watch all the episodes of Scrubs in alphabetical order, that way any ongoing storyline would make absolutely no sense” made me laugh so hard I cried. Awesome. And dead accurate.)

  3. […] cable systems and their VOD offerings are dinosaurs in terms of user interface, user friendliness, and overall usability. Why would Netflix want to fit itself into an existing […]

  4. Chuck Tryon on March 26, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    These are questions that I’ve been weighing as well, thanks in part to Daniel Chamberin’s discussion of interfaces. For movies (on Time Warner Cable), you generally have to know the name of the movie you are seeking unless you want to go through the laborious process of individually looking at each title. I watch something on VOD every few months *if* I happen to hear about it.

    More crucially, I think MSOs, content providers, and others are missing the point to a great extent by putting so many eggs in the mobile basket. Mobile video use is greatly exaggerated as your numbers illustrate.

  5. The Chutry Experiment » Distribution Matters on March 26, 2012 at 4:46 PM

    […] next few months–while skimming a couple of recent blog posts that crossed my radar. First, Amanda Lotz discusses Comcast’s new Streampix service, a VOD platform that allows users to search through and watch […]