The TV industry has clearly gone through a drastic evolution in recent years, providing users more choices in terms of both content and platforms. The increase of competition has been pushing prices down everywhere, and viewers today only pay for TV services that present truly premium content – the newest Hollywood series and the best local productions. However, taking into account high-quality, relevant content at fair prices, the true differentiator for operators, service providers, and broadcasters remains – experience.

What is Experience?

Experience can mean different things to different people. The user experience can be an integrated part of a TV program, especially for live events and prime time shows. In these cases, the content may include elements of participation, such as voting, prize contests, and more, which creates significant differentiation and has been known to establish global brands like “American Idol” or “The X Factor.” However, this type of experience hasn’t, thus far, been available to most TV operators, whose goal has always been to bring content to the user.

For TV operators and their customers, experience can mean the TV viewing experience —the remote control and the set-top boxes (STBs) that have program guides, VOD offerings, start-over TV, and various other features. All of these make for a better viewing experience than ever before, giving viewers more choice, information, and control. In the era of smartphones and tablets, natural gestures are enabling an even slicker user experience for video. With people familiar with using this kind of UI, TV providers are now also expected to exceed expectations and provide intuitive and compelling TV. Due to the fragmentation of smart TV operating systems and the need to take control of the TV OS, operators continue to invest in STBs. This enables them to control not only the content, but the content viewing experience. They can make sure viewers reach the right place when turning on the TV (e.g., a live channel versus an apps menu), while controlling the look and feel of the entire experience. Well thought out middleware on a high-quality STB gives pay-TV operators the ability to truly engage with TV viewers.

Differentiation Through Experience

There are several different approaches that operators can take when it comes to differentiating their service offering. These approaches can be used separately or combined to improve viewers’ TV and content experience and enable pay-TV operators to distinguish their offering:

Access & Discovery: There are two aspects to this. First – the UI, which can make or break content discovery. Even the best recommendations algorithm is not enough if it’s not intuitive and pleasing to the eye.  But even beyond that, users need to be able to reach any type of content they want —long-form and short form, content from a specific broadcaster as well as OTT TV services on the operator’s platform. Beyond video content, there also needs to be access to social content, data and information in context of the video, as well as things that are completely unrelated but provide value to consumers. These may include commerce, shopping and payments, directly on the TV screen and in some cases even overlaid directly on the video. This kind of access can keep users’ eyeballs on the big screen while providing the incentive to stay with a provider that has such a holistic view of the living room.

Social Capabilities: On the engagement front, social is the obvious go-to today. Users often prefer to watch what their friends recommend as opposed to what is popular. Operators need to show users what their friends like to watch, or are watching now, and present it where it’s most convenient — on the screen they are watching. Operators can, and should, also provide users with additional activities that provide value to the user and to what they are watching. For example, operators can enable discovery during a music video by providing lyrics and links to covers. Likewise, operators can enable users to browse merchandise from their favorite show at the moment when the user is most likely to be thinking about it — while they are watching the show!

Personalization: Providing users with access to the services that are most relevant based on social recommendations and personal preferences is another way to keep viewers engaged with your service. For example, an operator can provide a sports fan access to real-time statistics and data without losing a moment of their favorite team’s match. All of this is provided in one place on-screen and is based on the users’ choice of teams to follow.

Content, Price, Experience

To summarize, it’s not one but three things that make or break a successful TV offering for industry players. A car needs a viable engine and a place to sit; however it also needs to be priced fairly. But the true difference between different brands lies in the design, the strength of the engine, the comfort of the seating and the sound system. We can compare this to TV offerings — it’s all about the user’s experience, and it’s our job to make sure that we continue to provide viewers with ample reasons — beyond just the size of the screen — to continue to do so.

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