Designing a Richer YouTube Experience For Your TVs ►

This blog post from YouTube’s Official Blog —authored by Joe Hines (interaction designer for YouTube on TV) and Aishwarya Agarwal (Product Manager for YouTube on TV)— is really something. I am not directing my ire toward Joe or Aishwarya, but to the awful business culture that fosters this kind of hot garbage.

More than ever before, viewers are turning to the largest screen in their homes – their TVs – to watch their favorite YouTube content from vlogs, to video games, to sports highlights and more.

And while watching television has historically been considered a passive experience, one where you can sit back and enjoy your favorite programs, we’re building one that is uniquely YouTube that gives viewers the opportunity to engage with the content they’re watching, even on the big screen. As watchtime on TVs has grown to more than 1 billion hours per day, we’re faced with a fun challenge: How can we bring familiar YouTube features and interactivity to the living room while ensuring that the video remains at the center of the experience?

Translation: They noticed people are watching more videos on their TV, and they want those people to multitask —not as a second screen experience that might not be tethered to YouTube, but directly to YouTube itself, on the TV.

When they refer to interaction it’s either about direct, or indirect clicks that turn into dolla dolla bills ya’ll. This is not “interaction” like a game interface, or some kind of 90s multimedia CD-ROM.

Interaction includes the indirect monetization, which is growing platform engagement by highlighting comments. A person watching a YouTube video on their TV is blissfully unaware that comments even exist.

Which is a way to steer the person posting the video into moderating and cultivating conversation, and that drives up views, as well as the transparent pursuit of money in the form of increased shopping links.

Lean in, lean back

While the living room has traditionally been a place for “lean back” experiences, we’ve learned through our user research that when a viewer is excited about the content, they like to multitask: they flow between leaning back to watch, and leaning in to enhance their experience. As a result, viewers want a richer, distraction-free TV experience that they feel in control of. With this in mind, our team sought to find a way to add greater engagement to the living room, while still striking the right balance between interactivity and immersion.

Translation: We had a mandate to increase engagement that could be monetized, so we have decided that we reached a compromise we can live with, because we have to.

To gather insights, we tapped into user feedback provided by participants who could interact with these three different approaches to watch different types of content directly on a TV with a remote.

What we learned from our users was:

  • The new design works for features that require equal or more attention than the video itself (e.g. comments, description, live chat) but obscuring the video would be detrimental to the viewing experience.
  • We need to continue to prioritize simplicity over the introduction of additional lightweight controls.
  • A one size fits all solution may not be the best approach, as features such as live chat and video description benefit from different levels of immersion.

This research allowed us to gauge the usability of each prototype and better understand if this overall new design aligned with our goal to enable a more interactive experience on TV.

I like how they stress that the most important feedback is feedback that aligns with the goal. I would be interested to hear how much feedback did not align with the goal.

Other companies have tried these kinds of approaches, of just cramming stuff around a video and making it smaller, since webTV. That the video can be encrusted with extra value.

Take the old Twitter Apple TV app launched in 2016 for example. That shrank the video down so a scrolling feed of related tweets could be shoved in there, like YouTube shoving in their toxic comments in their TV app.

The real success of doing anything involving social engagement, and the coveted online shopping, is from a second screen experience, not on the actual TV itself, because interacting with those kinds of experiences with a TV remote sucks ass and when you use those interfaces, you not only make your viewing experience worse, you degrade the experience of everyone else watching the TV.

Not to mention things like personal expression. One of the desired outcomes for YouTube’s system is to use it for sports, but why would chatting using the single account that’s logged in to YouTube, and your TV’s remote, be more desirable than discussing that live event on something like a real-time microblogging platform from a phone? This was part of Twitter’s problem with their TV app (along with other problems).

So a year after Twitter unveiled their tvOS app they pivoted to permitting a second screen experience. It wasn’t enough to make any of this desirable, but let’s keep thinking about how the premier place to trash talk live TV failed to capitalize on integrating live TV app into their live TV trash-talking app.

YouTube already has a second screen experience where you can link your phone to your TV and control what’s playing. You can read the cesspool comments, visit links in a description, and do your low-quality shopping without having to use a TV remote, or altering anything about your playback.

Except they have a bug that ignores the do-not-autoplay setting in both the mobile app and the TV app and autoplays at the conclusion of a video if you started it from your phone. Maybe they should work on that.

In the new TV app interface —they don’t talk about this in their blog post, but if you look at the video examples you’ll see— you can’t add a comment or reply. There’s a button to “Open the YouTube mobile app to add comments and replies”. This is identical to the current functionality, this just elevates that button to be side-by-side with the playing video.

You can “access” the text description, which you can already do in the YouTube app on your TV, but you can’t do anything with the description. In their example, the description is some filler text, but almost everyone knows that any value in a description comes from links. Either time code links, or links to a little thing called the World Wide Web. However, the existing TV app has no way to render those links as anything useful to someone watching this on their TV, and no mention is made of any improvements, so I assume it’s like the rest where I’ll be able to read the text URLs to myself but now side-by-side with the video.

So where’s that leave our killer interactive shopping? Well, according to Chris Welch at The Verge:

You’ll see a “products in this video” section appear whenever creators include what’s being featured in their content. But YouTube hasn’t quite reached the stage of letting you complete an entire transaction from your TV; instead, the app will display a QR code that you can scan to finish buying an item on your phone. Not exactly seamless.

Well that’s certainly not a passive viewing experience.

Perhaps, they will eventually add a button to open the shopping link from the YouTube mobile app, like they’re doing for comments. However, at that point, why are we bothering to put any of this cruft on the TV screen at all instead of just having one big button that opens the mobile app?

My guess is because it’s entirely optional as to whether or not you pick up the phone to do that, and maybe that’s what YouTube views as the real problem? The lack of any consumer desire to watching a rolling feed of spam and commerce like this is the new HSN or QVC. Just watch their demos in their blog post.

The whole thing repulses me.

There are commercial realities to the “creator economy” where sponsorships, ads, merch, affiliate links, etc. are all very important to funding the production the video people are idly enjoying, and we should acknowledge that. However, video that’s on equal footing with the commerce, and the “engagement” isn’t much of a video, the whole thing becomes undifferentiated noise.

2024-03-14 17:00:00

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