K.I.S.S. for Cable

Everyone knows what KISS stands for, right? Keep It Simple, Stupid.

But today, the home TV experience is anything but simple. Every possible digital provider is fighting to become the dominant player for the geography we used to call “TV."  The result?  TV today is complicated and confusing. It has become a major source of frustration to the consumer. And no wonder.

Turns out that in most American households only one – maybe two – people understand how to work the plethora of remote controls to connect their TV to their service provider’s STB-delivered programs; favorite gaming device; DVD,  Blu-ray or OTT device; mobile device; tablet; PC  or -- you fill in the blank. In short, while the number of content delivery devices in the home, and available content on these devices, has exploded during the last 15 years, the remote controls designed to operate them have not changed at all.

Have you looked at your remote controls lately? I’m willing to bet you’ll find that the top buttons are called “AUX” or “DVD” or “TV,” and “CBL” or “SAT.” These buttons only add to the confusion because consumers are generally required to hit multiple buttons just to get back to their service provider’s programming if they simply want to watch TV or a movie. If the wrong button is pushed the remote won’t control the content or the TV.

Many frustrated consumers have phoned their service provider’s call center because their system was “broken,” or insisted on a truck roll for an onsite technician to “fix” their problems, when the solution was as simple as turning on the set-top box or changing the input. Most consumers have begrudgingly accepted the idea that they must use different remote controls to operate each of the entertainment devices in their home. I have been in many homes where three and four different remotes are sitting on the coffee table for convenient access and daily use!

Service providers must reduce non-revenue-generating activities at their call centers related to customer service, field service and technical support. We know that reducing the complexity of the interaction between multiple users and multiple devices in the home is nothing less than a mandate toward this goal.

What we need is an innovative solution to this problem: to develop a friendlier way to remotely operate subscriber devices and access their content without breaking the bank on high-cost premises equipment.

You’d be surprised by how few people know that there are solutions that can do just that, and they already exist today. There are solutions that can simply, with one button press, tune any TV user back to their service provider’s programming from whatever else they or anyone in their household has been doing with the TV (like gaming, DVD watching, or streaming for example). The beauty of these solutions is that they enable a remote to set itself up automatically. No more punching in IR device codes or searching for them on the Internet or punching buttons and praying it works. Users connect the service provider’s box to the TV and it just works.

Once viewers can easily get access to their service provider’s content on their TV, the next big question is how to increase programming revenue.

The obvious answer is that if we reduce the complexities for discovering and navigating TV programming, it’s likely that consumers will be able to find and enjoy the content they want to watch, thereby greatly increasing the consumption of content per subscriber. Clearly, the most powerful tool at our disposal is voice activated search and control.

Comcast recently deployed one of the most exciting new remote controls to become widely available in the marketplace – the all new Xfinity Remote with voice search and control – the XR11. The remote accurately captures words spoken by any viewer, in any voice, and delivers the signal to the set-top box so the voice recognition engine can do its magic. With the Comcast active voice “say and play” technology, customers can easily discover any TV show, movie, topic or star they are interested in watching.

This milestone achievement in our industry reduces the frustrating and painstaking process of navigating VOD and EST content. With just a word, customers can quickly find exactly what they are looking for, resulting in a dramatically enhanced experience. And it’s no surprise that fast, easy and reliable access to the programming they want to see will likely result in significantly higher content consumption. You can bet that electronic sell-through revenue will soar.

Simpler controls to all devices combined with voice search is the major breakthrough that our industry and consumers needs at this time.

There’s no doubt that we’re at a tipping point in home entertainment – and it’ll be those who keep it simple that will come out on top.

Lou Hughes is executive vice president, Americas, at Universal Electronics, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based developer of wireless control technology for the connected home.