So I bought a .44 magnum it was solid steel cast/And in the blessed name of Elvis well I just let it blast/’Til my TV lay in pieces there at my feet/And they busted me for disturbin’ the almighty peace,/Judge said “What you got in your defense son?”/”Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
–Bruce Springsteen, “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)”
Yikes. Imagine how the Boss would have snapped trying to find something to watch on today’s TVs with 500 channels — or the forthcoming Internet-connected televisions that will open up millions of TV-watching options. Freedom of choice is great… until there are too many choices. Right now, folks at home use the standard TV grid to scroll through channels and programming. But the move from linear TV to a new world of on-demand broadband television will require a fresh, more elegant user interface for navigating through an ocean of viewing options.
“If a user sits down and says ‘nothing’s on,’ we have failed,” says Tom Woods, director of user experience for Rovi (formerly Macrovision), “I guarantee that out of hundreds of channels, Internet content and premium services, there is something of interest to them.”
But finding what’s of interest is the key. When there were fewer channels and no meaningful video on demand options, grid-style navigation screens worked just fine. The problem is that the grid has only two dimensions: channels and time. This approach fails as the number of “channels” and VOD options explode. The possibilities are too great. “People don’t want to see that vastness; it’s overwhelming, because what they want to see is tiny,” says Todd Wilkens, senior practitioner for Adaptive Path. “Instead of seeing as much of it as possible, once it’s at that size, you want to hide as much of it as possible.”
To hide as many of the options as possible and make viewing more enjoyable, TV user interfaces and guides will need to rely on a combination of search, recommendations, content-centric thinking and design.