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Learning things we never knew we never knew

If you watch movies and TV series on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video (to name just a few), you may have noticed that it has been a while since a new paradigm was introduced in terms of how media content is discovered.

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A common procedure we follow when looking for something to watch on video-on-demand services is to select a genre and then browse through the titles on display there until you find something you like the look of, right? Then, if there’s nothing there of interest (or you have seen all the movies listed in the genre you chose), you select another genre. And repeat. We’ve all done it.

When video-on-demand services have thousands of titles to choose from, rather than being a way to relax, the search process can become a headache for end users. We wanted to try something a little bit different.

Better experience

We wanted to introduce new and better experiences in media content discovery and personalization. We wanted to understand what people expect from a service like this, to give them what they expect – and more. To paraphrase Pocahontas, we wanted to walk the footsteps of the users, and learn things we never knew we never knew.
The innovation team from Ericsson’s Global Services took the initiative to kick-off an innovation project around personalization together with a leading media broadcaster in Europe. Ericsson brought together 4 teams across 3 countries to introduce and evaluate new prototypes with user testing. That included the aforementioned innovation team based in Kista, Consumer Lab (Kista), Red Bee Creative (London) and Ericsson Research (Silicon Valley). Together we managed to identify problems that users generally face, design new prototypes, interfaces, and interactions, and the algorithms that power them. The broadcaster’s involvement allowed us access to the content to be used during the user testing. The user testing was done by Augur, a user-testing institute based in Kista, who have worked with Consumer Lab on previous occasions. This was meant to be a formative research, done to better understand the gaps and limitations in today’s products, and we therefore used a more open-ended research approach, relying on one-on-one interviews.

Several prototypes and interactions were introduced and tested during this phase. One we will discuss here is Tiled Infinite Scroll. This concept, introduced by Red Bee, focuses on simplicity, with posters making up tiles, and minimal information shown upfront. Details were made available on demand.

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Rethinking genre-based search

The concept of genres is still used to preserve existing mental models. Genres is a common way to categorize movies as most people are familiar with them. But genres can be problematic because they have different levels of generality.

Take dramas, for example. Drama is the most common category for movies among the video-on-demand services we looked at. About half of the movie titles in video-on-demand libraries are dramas. The term ‘drama’ is also a rather vague description of a movie and labels such as ‘Action’ or ‘Thrillers’ can be almost interchangeable as far as the users are concerned. In contrast, a movie found in the Westerns category is going to be of a more specific style.

Algorithms behind the prototype were put in place to attempt to bridge the gap between users’ perception of a genre and actual labels on the titles.

During testing, the user journey started out in one genre but users were made aware that they can change to any genre they like. The interface allows them to scroll to the bottom forever (as long as they have not exhausted the library) hence making it seem “infinite”.

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The ‘secret sauce’ here is to add movies that are similar to what is being shown. In the example below, the user started with ‘Action’ movies so we started by showing ‘Action Fantasy’, followed by ‘Action Thriller’ and then ‘Action Comedy’. Next, the user is shown just ‘Adventure Comedy’ movies, followed by ‘Romantic Comedy’ and the genres change along the way. The idea is to make the changes as subtle as possible, so that it flows well.

It is to be expected that users will be dissatisfied with what’s on their screen at some point. They will then be allowed to swipe left or right, and will be given something different to what they are currently watching, but that is still relevant to what they want or like to watch.

In this example, when the viewer swipes left they move from ‘Crime’ to ‘War’ movies:

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Positive feedback and valuable input

This research took a considerable amount of time to accomplish so it was rewarding to receive positive feedback from the participants, who were impressed with the aesthetics of the prototype and expressed a desire to use something like that right away. We also received valuable input, which we will bear in mind during future testing:

  • Some participants said they really liked the fact that the prototype used screengrabs instead of movie posters. They felt that this approach offered them a glimpse into what to expect from the movie. Could carefully curated screengrabs be a good alternative to posters?
  • We separated our media content into two major categories: ‘TV Series’ and ‘Movies’. Some participants felt they were missing ‘Documentaries’, which they considered a different category altogether. Could these major categories be understood by different people in different countries or age groups?

Regardless of your taste in movies, TV series (or documentaries, of course) or your choice of content provider, you may soon see these findings making their way into products and services you and your family use every day.

There is a great deal of things to consider when improving the ever-changing world of media content and there are many challenges for researchers in this area but tons of ways to put them to good use in the Networked Society.

As they used to say, “watch this space” for more on media content delivery and user interfaces in the future.

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