Cable Show: Enhancing Customer Experience Requires Balance

Los Angeles -- “Understanding how consumers use the device is one of our biggest challenges,” Alix Cotrell acknowledged during the Cable Show panel session “Breakthroughs in Content Navigation and Customer Experience” here Tuesday.

Cotrell, vice president of TWC-TV at Time Warner Cable, explained that studies of how viewers use advanced remote controls and new set-top boxes generated important “feedback about going directly to a channel,” especially in converged environments where linear and on-demand content is available. “300 channels are a lot to navigate,” she said.

The five MSO executives on the panel generally agreed about the limitations of legacy set-top boxes and their interests in new hardware that consumers can easily use.  Long-discussed options, such as voice commands, are still appealing, but not likely to be implemented soon, they agreed.  Most significantly, viewer habits are often hard to break.

“We had been limited by the technology of the STB,” Cotrell added, describing it as “an ancient computer with very little memory.”  She pointed out that newer devices have “transformed how our whole industry approaches product development because of all the platforms available.”

Dane Dickie, VP-converged services and user experience design, Cox Communications, described touch-screen interfaces that listed program titles in “tappable” text.

“It’s still not intuitive,” he said. “People are used to going to poster art or a button.  He said that ongoing tests reveal that new paradigms are at first rejected, but eventually they may catch on.  Dickie explained that “we had (to use) a lot of technology” to develop successful interfaces.

All of the panelists agreed that extensive testing is vital in the creation of usability for the increasingly expansive and often confusing content options.

“We do user testing, usability testing, in-home testing and market trials, explained Thomas Loretan, vice president/creative director-user experience and product design at Comcast.  That methodology provides a “progression” that helps Comcast determine “how to roll out” new features. Loretan stressed the need to be “sensitive to customers who have been on cable for a number of years.”

“It takes time to transition them” to new interfaces and features, he said. “We do a lot more with the user interface on the screen now.”

Rich DiGeronimo, senior vice president of product and strategy, Charter Communications, also focused on the new requirements for interface development.

“We’re spending most of our time on information architecture,” he said.  “We need to find out how easy it is to navigate, to see how people naturally flow” amongst on-screen content.  Like others on the panel, DiGeronimo acknowledged the complexity of developing products for multiscreen experiences via tablets and smartphone handsets.

He also expressed hope that old set-top boxes may find new life, even without installing digital terminal adapters to implement new options.

“We’re very bullish about how to bring legacy boxes back to life,” DiGeronimo said. “We’re putting STBs at every outlet.  We think it’s ground-breaking.”  

The panelists agreed that the continuing introduction of content and technology requires more frequent up-dating, including new apps and software upgrades.

“We update three or four times per year, but do not usually [make] radical changes,” explained Mark Mihalevich, vice president o marketing, Suddenlink Communications. Noting the introduction of online content plus services such as home automation, Mihalevich emphasized that, “There has been quite a change in the last few years” adding to the challenge of managing the user experience.

“We really believe that having an experience that gives customers access to all the content they want is important,” he said.

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.