Confusion By Design -- Or How I Learned To Hate My Program Guide

by , Apr 25, 2012, 7:30 AM
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Some months ago I moved house. Among all the attendant trials and tribulations, my family and I acquired an array of new possessions while simultaneously discarding others.  It’s all part of the chaos and pain of the process.

We also acquired a fistful of new utility suppliers –- among them our sparkly new MSO. Which meant a new program guide.

Now you may say that a program guide is a program guide. While I’d agree that among MSOs they may not differ that much, a handful of subtle differences in design and functionality can be enough to make a profound difference to the user experience.

In the good old days (and yes, you can already see which way this article is going), accessing my DVR was as easy as pressing the obviously marked “My DVR” button that was prominently displayed on my remote. From there, navigating the different functions -- record, playback etc. -- was easy. It took no thought.  Here was a company that actually seemed to want you to use the function.  All well and good.

Fast-forward to the present day and more than six months after signing on with my new MSO, I still have to work hard to remember where in God’s name my DVR is. Indeed, so counterintuitive is this interface, that it took us as a family 10 days to work out how to record programs and another two weeks before we could find them in order to enjoy the relative luxury of actually watching them! All this with an 11-year-old in the house, which normally means such issues are resolved in about 30 seconds.

Now instead of the long-lamented “My DVR” button, I am mysteriously required to press the yellow button. Exactly why yellow is felt to signify DVR I’ve no idea, but I’m sure somebody somewhere has an incredibly good explanation. It just happens to fly over the head of mere mortals (subscribers), without any kind of textual indication (maybe something like “press here for DVR”).

Having pressed yellow -– which we only did in a fit of frustrated and random frenzy of button pushing -– we were then taken to a curious and disjointed list of functions ranging from Parental Controls to the all-too-appropriate Help menu (which, incidentally, didn’t).  

Only when we spotted something along the bottom of the page did we realize that we had to drop down to another menu, scroll sideways two or three times, click again to reveal the holy grail -- the long lost programs we had been hoping we’d recorded.  You can only imagine our joy.

At that point, I wanted to write this article but felt it was unfair to do so.  No doubt this would become a familiar process and ultimately become easy and familiar as past experiences. Well six months later, I can affirm that is not the case.  To use a bit of technical user experience jargon, this sucks mightily.  I still defer to others when trying to use the DVR and regard the whole interface as an abomination.

Trying to sort through VOD content -- free or otherwise -- is equally difficult, and I’m convinced there are whole sections of programming inventory that I’ve never found. A kind of mythical VOD graveyard where programs die from never being watched.

While this may not be the case with every MSO, I find it incredible that one of the larger players can still provide this kind of service.  If this is the kind of user experience that stands to greet the age of enhanced TV and that will support the promise of return path data and transactions, I fear there will much disappointment ahead.

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