With the ever-increasing choice of content available, the proliferation of devices on which to view that content, and the integration of social media into the viewing experience, the user interface (UI) is becoming an increasingly important part of the television experience.

It is clear that service providers need to ensure that they offer the best possible user experience (UEX) to their customers to fight off new forms of competition. This means having a smart user UI to enable subscribers to navigate the rivers of content that flow via broadcast and broadband networks to TV sets, smart phones, tablets and other devices. The imminent arrival of ultra high-definition TV as a mass-market product also creates an additional challenge for pay-TV service providers as they now have to plan to extend the experience to these new screen formats.

In this context, service providers face three main challenges in today’s multiscreen world.

1. The volume of content

The sheer quantity of content available over broadcast and OTT means that there is no shortage of material available to satisfy viewing needs and desires. But monetizing this content or simply making it easy to access means that viewers need fast, efficient and intuitive discovery tools to find what they want. If the UI is inefficient, the risk is that viewers will be overwhelmed by the quantity of content. This often leads to complaints from subscribers (“I can’t find anything to watch that I like”), resulting in higher churn.

Crx Chai, Director of User Experience with NAGRA says: “Too often users are faced with TV interfaces that frustrate and discourage them from exploring and discovering the full array of content that can be available to them. A smart and intuitive UI is the front store through which viewers can access a personalized line-up of live and on-demand content.”

2. The proliferation of content

Video content such as a TV series and programs is increasingly “unbundled” and made available à la carte. This means that viewing can become more personal, but users need help to navigate their way to the material that is relevant to them. So media curation – the collating of relevant content from multiple sources for individual users – becomes an increasingly important form of content discovery.

According to Chai, “Industry experience has shown that content now needs to be delivered in a customized way to every user, otherwise it will simply sit there, stale, and users will feel that there is nothing to watch. There is a huge opportunity for service providers to harness their relationships with their customers through a smart interface and curated services, to get to know them better and to be able to target them with streams of tailored content that is relevant and accessible.”

3. Multiscreen delivery

The third challenge is that the same content needs to be displayed on very different devices – from large-screen TV sets down to smart phones – and users will benefit from a common user experience across all these devices. Many existing UIs are unable to offer similar experiences across different devices, thereby complicating the experience for the user.

“Managing the interplay between multiple devices is one of the biggest challenges to tackle,” said Chai. “Users who experience inconsistent usage across devices will finally look for alternative content sources, especially on portable devices, eroding the value of service provider's brand.”

Personal, seamless and social

What service providers need, then, is a UI framework that allows them to create very attractive and efficient user experiences that help their customers get to the content that they want to watch. This UI needs to offer an experience that is highly personal – catering for individual interests – and also seamless across all the different devices on which content is viewed. The user interface should also integrate social components. Interaction between users is a key aspect of today’s multiplatform delivery, so service providers need a UI that makes the most of social interaction. Features such as customized profiles and allowing friends to suggest and recommend content are key parts of a good UI further enabling the interface to become a trusted recommendation platform.

Next-generation challenges

Deploying a superior user interfaces for the next generation of television technology – Ultra High-Definition TV, which represents the next big leap forward in TV quality, offering twice the resolution of 1080p HDTV – is of high importance for service providers looking at preserving their market leadership or gaining new subscribers with exclusive innovation. The Ultra HD 4K resolution is set to take off in 2014 when the FIFA World Cup in Brazil will become the first event to be televised globally in this format.

According to Chai, “Ultra HD’s underlying power enables a user interface to incorporate features that were simply impossible before. It can integrate a wider variety of exciting yet relevant aspects of a modern UI like social-TV applications and gesture navigation to take content discovery and consumption to new levels.”

NAGRA’s Project Ultra

NAGRA has completed the first steps in its next generation UI/UEX for the Ultra HD resolution revolution. The NAGRA UEX Studio’s Project Ultra, which premiered at IBC 2013, creates new and more powerful interfaces to offer customers an explosive yet elegant interactive experience with simple and efficient content organization and discovery.

Project Ultra seeks to make the most of the increased resolution and screen size offered by Ultra HD to enable users to interact more naturally with the screen by mimicking the way that people organize and interact with objects in the real world.

To this end, Project ULTRA’s zoomable user interface (ZUI) revolutionizes content discovery by replacing time with space. Instead of traditional time-oriented grid guides, ZUI (supported by OpenTV 5’s advanced CSS3 features) offers fully rendered three-dimensional spaces, similar to those of videogames, to offer engaging navigation and new kinds of interface representation.

Project Ultra also seeks to exploit the advantages of Ultra HD by replacing data that is conventionally offered in text form with high-resolution graphics. This significantly reduces clutter and makes it easier to browse large catalogs of content with thumbnail navigation. This feature can then be transported to other devices as a seamless multiscreen interface.

These devices are also set to be integrated into the Ultra HD viewing experience, with tablets and smart phones becoming control devices much more advanced than standard remote-control handsets, thus enabling intuitive navigation of the UI using touch gestures and voice control.

Expert guidance

Getting all this right is a complex business and service providers need expert guidance if they are to implement a successful UI strategy, whether in creating seamless user experiences today or zoomable, high-resolution experiences tomorrow.

The NAGRA UEX Studio is an expert design team that can work with service providers to capture their needs and then develop the most appropriate user interface.

Through products such a Project Ultra and services such as UEX Studio, NAGRA is able to help pay-TV service providers respond to the challenges created by the rapid evolution of television technology and the increasing importance of the user experience and the user interface.