Silicon Valley innovation has given television executives plenty to worry about. In my years with NBC—at the network as well as in the station group—we worried about cable splintering our audience. We worried about DVRs skipping our commercials and high definition revealing our wrinkles.
We never worried whether people knew how to work their TV sets.
However in the new world of connected TV, finding and watching Internet-delivered shows is a challenge, even for tech-savvy viewers. So in addition to fretting about all the things we can’t control, we now need to worry about one thing we can: complicated smart TVs.
Here’s the problem: When you plug in connected TVs, you get a really big version of the iPad, complete with App Store and apps—some free, some paid. This seems to make sense. After all, apps enable our tablets and phones to do amazing things, so why not use that same concept to expand the capabilities of our big flat-panel TVs?
Here’s why not: By enabling our living room TVs to do more, we are making it harder for them to do what we bought them for in the first place—bring us great TV.
There are three significant (and frankly, obvious) differences between tablets and TVs that suggest we need to rethink the current approach to connected TVs.
First, phones and tablets have touch screens that enable us to type and move in very sophisticated ways. TVs have remotes. Today’s connected TVs require searching, logging in and paging through lists — tasks that are tough to do with arrow buttons. And although many manufacturers are trying to solve that with hand gestures, voice commands and more buttons on the remote, there’s a very real risk of making the whole thing more complicated rather than less so.
Second, we hold phones and tablets in our hands. They can be close to our faces for reading or across the room playing music. We can use them while standing or while cruising down the highway. We view TVs from several feet away, and nearly all the time we’re using them we’re sitting down, leaning back in a comfy chair. Reading small text and trying to decipher tiny graphics on a TV is hard and annoying.
Third, phones and tablets are portable, so they can help us do lots of things, like shopping, driving and—sometimes—watching TV. Televisions are in our living rooms, family rooms or bedrooms. They’re bolted to the wall. They’re perfectly suited for watching programs and playing Xbox.
Unfortunately, when you combine unnecessary features, complicated navigation and some ill-conceived attempts to charge subscription fees you leave viewers convinced that connected TV is at best difficult and at worst a new way to gouge them.
To improve the connected TV experience so viewers can enjoy quality programming and producers can reach enthusiastic audiences, consider the following “Connected Television Viewer’s Bill of Rights.”
1. The Right to Relax. When I turn on my living room TV, I want to sit back and enjoy a show. Make it easy for me to find and watch TV.
2. The Right to Channel Surf. My remote has arrows and a “select” button. Don’t make me use your on-screen keyboard to type program names or search terms.
3. The Right to Sip a Beer. Let me use my hands to hold a beer instead of holding a remote control to search, sort or select something every two minutes.
4. The Right to Quality. I didn’t buy a 60-inch TV to watch cats, babies and skateboard wipeouts in my living room. That’s what my office PC is for.
5. The Right to Free TV. Our parents watched three channels and paid nothing. I watch five channels and pay $150 a month. Don’t charge me even more for programs that come from the Internet.
6. The Right to Sanity. Sure, commercials make us crazy. But they keep programming free. I get that. So keep commercial breaks short. “We’ll be right back” means one minute, not five.
7. The Right to Simplicity. If I have to search for, download and install your channel … you’ve lost me.
8. The Right to Familiarity. I want programming from sources I know and trust. There’s way too much stuff out there for me to sort through it myself.
9. The Right to Serendipity. I like discovering new programs, so help me find them. But I want recommendations for programs I am likely to enjoy from sources I trust (see No. 8).
Consumers always come first. If we don’t put them first, they tend to muscle their way to the front of the line anyway as new technologies allow them to get what they want with or without us. The key for the connected television industry is to make connected TVs work the same way TVs always have, giving us all one less thing to worry about.