Talk Notes: 10 Things I’ve learned about watching Americans watch TV at Google, Microsoft, and Samsung.

Presentation to the BBC. London, United Kingdom
June 30, 2014

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Slide 1: 10 Things I’ve learned about watching Americans watch TV at Google, Microsoft, and Samsung.
My name is Noor and a I’m a UX researcher at Google, currently focused on Android.  I’m super excited to be here to chat about TV with you all.  Thanks to Mike for inviting me today. Today I'm going to talk about 10 things I've observed watching Americans watch TV over my career at Google, Microsoft, and Samsung.

Slide 2: First, a little about me.
I started my UX career in 2006 at Microsoft, where I worked on an IPTV middleware platform called Mediaroom. Microsoft built the Mediaroom software and then service providers like AT&T & BT branded and bundled the service to end consumers. I left Microsoft in 2011 to join Samsung where I worked on their smart TVs. I joined Google in late 2012 and helped ship Chromecast. I recently transitioned to working on mobile products at Google but I still love talking about TV and how people watch TV.

Slide 3: A warning before I delve into this talk.
This presentation is based on my personal views. It does not represent the views of my current employer or previous employers.

Slide 4: #1. People watch TV to watch TV. Not to download an app.
Not to browse the web.  Not to play low-end games.  Nobody needs a calculator on their TV.  There’s a tendency to think of TV as just another screen but the reality is that it isn’t.  Tablets and smartphones do a far better job at many smartTV features.  TV shines in providing high production entertainment experiences: TV shows, movies, and immersive games.  TV is the place where people turn to de-stress, relax, and maybe even connect with a character or storyline.

Slide 5: #2. TV is already social.
It’s called a couch. I’m a big believer in social technologies and I do think they’ve really changed how we communicate with one another --- my grad school research was all about blogs.  But in recent years, I’ve come to think that TV doesn’t need to be more “social” than it already is.  People already watch a lot of TV with one another and they do talk about TV online and in social media.  But do we really need to post to Facebook from a TV?  Does anyone really need a news anchor to read tweets to them?  There are a lot of things we can do to improve the TV experience – adding a social layer isn’t one of them.

Slide 6: #3. Video content is still king (see point #1).
People will stick with antiquated UIs because that’s where the content lives.  Cable and satellite companies will continue to dominate the US market because of this reason alone.  Consumers aren’t going to cut the cord until more and more of that content is online.  And it won’t go online until someone figures out a great business model that incentivizes content providers to invest in new delivery models (e.g. streaming). This is also why we’re seeing subscription services like Netflix and Hulu producing original content.

Slide 7: #4. Time shifting is here to stay.
As we’ve seen with the rapid adoption of DVRs and VOD services, consumers love the convenience of time shifting.  There’s also something delightful about the instant gratification of binge watching an entire season of Orange is the New Black.  I personally think there will be a time when we won’t even need DVRs.

Slide 8: #5. People still want to watch some content as it happens.
World Cup.  Major news events.  Academy awards.  Season finale of Game of Thrones.  There are televised events that are part of our cultural and social fabric, our shared repertoires.  People want to keep up with the events they perceive as important.  They want to be able to experience the same things that their friends, family, and colleagues are experiencing.  They want to be part of that conversation.But how does this need fit into a time shifted world?  I’m not sure.  Will we still have channels with a broadcast schedule just to serve this need?  Or will we adapt as societies?  Will this become less important?  We’re already seeing the use of “spoiler alert” on social media when discussing major TV events.

Slide 9: #6. The traditional remote control is a pretty good interface.
As much as we criticize the traditional remote control for its limitation, it is actually a pretty good interface.  Pressing one button, just one button, brings up video content.  It may not be what you want to watch but at least there’s immediate gratification.  How many taps or clicks does it take to bring up video content through your favorite video app?

Slide 10: #7. Tablets and smartphones might be the answer to interacting with smart TVs.
Navigating any complex TV UI or app with a traditional remote control can be tedious and not fun.  Attempting to type using an on-screen keyboard is even worse.  But what if those interactions were offloaded to a tablet or phone?  I think what we did with Chromecast is a sign of what’s to come.  There are still some ways that the traditional remote control beats out this model (for instance, sharing control is easy with a traditional remote control) but I’m sure designers and engineers will figure this out soon enough.

Slide 11: #8. Second screen is overrated.
In the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in the use of tablets, smartphones, and laptops while watching TV but so much of that use isn’t tied to what’s playing on TV (except maybe with sports).  A lot of that usage is around multi-tasking and pretty mundane: email, work, wasting time with a game, Facebook, or Twitter.

Slide 12: #9. TV personalization is really hard. Nobody wants to log into their TV. 
And even if we could get login mechanisms that are elegant and actually work (e.g. facial recognition that works seamlessly), what do you do when a family sits down to watch TV together?  Do you take an intersection of their interests?  So much of how people decide what to watch together is a matter of compromise and delicate negotiation.  I’m not sure that the benefits to consumers are worth the trouble/expense – especially when technology doesn’t get it right.

Slide 13: #10. Working on TV products can be a super fun yet extremely frustrating experience.
This is a super exciting time to be working in the TV space.  I feel very lucky to have had so many opportunities to work on such awesome and fun products.  But as I’ve outlined today, working on TV can be pretty frustrating, too!  You have my utmost respect for the work you do!

Slide 14: Thanks!