A Plea From Couch Potatoes Everywhere: TV Service Providers, STOP SCREWING UP TV!


A Plea From Couch Potatoes Everywhere: TV Service Providers, STOP SCREWING UP TV!

Originally published in Fast Company, March 15, 2010

I subscribe to Verizon FiOS and have no complaints on the service itself. However, their forays into social media drive me absolutely nuts! Verizon, like other TV service providers, are experimenting with widgets. Widgets are bite-sized pieces of information you can access with your remote to get up-to-date traffic, weather, sports scores, and recently, access your Facebook and Twitter accounts. So far so good.

The other day I decided to pull up the screen for Facebook and started to type in my email and password. For reference my email is gc@giovannicalabro.com and password is…you almost got me. It’s at this point I start to lose my patience. Try typing that into a screen, across your room, with an alphanumeric keypad. I’d rather run into a wall repeatedly.

After I type using Verizon’s hunt-and-peck screen keyboard, I’m presented with a screen that lets me scroll through status messages, or more horrifying, enter my own status by using the hunt and peck method. To make things worse, manufacturers are actually starting to build these features directly into your TV.

I decided to check out how Tivo is handling this. They’re a bit more clever; taking a step forward to realize that perhaps their customers might want to type on a keyboard rather than hunt and peck through the awkward remote. I have to give them points for trying. While the keyboard/remote is a respectable first step, I think Tivo and TV service providers are missing the larger picture.

As an expert in “couch potatory,” I’m imploring TV service to companies hear me. I LIKE TO SURF THE ‘NET AND WATCH TV! I know others do the same. I surf the ‘net on a laptop and look up at the TV when something catches my interest. This pattern would lend itself to an entirely different experience design if only the TV service providers would open their ears to my plea and open their eyes to what’s happening in the world beyond TV.

With Dell’s Mini 5, Apple’s iPad and HP’s Slate, we’re at the precipice of a drastic change in TV watching, streaming, and interactivity. Here’s how: By moving the source of interaction from your set-top box or TV, to your lap via a tablet. The prospects can get really interesting! Think about being able to use your tablet as a remote control. You’d scan TV listings and set DVR options much more quickly and intuitively, and hell, the tablet may even solve that pesky problem of turning off half of my peripherals when I’m trying to kill them all! A tablet makes interacting with social networks and games even easier (two things that are virtually impossible to do comfortably with a simple remote).

So, if I’m so smart as to tell TV service providers what they should do with their remote, where do I think they should start? Hint: Check out Boxee or Plex.

In my dream world of total remote control domination, I can even imagine slimming the set top box down and moving the DVR storage and control to the remote/tablet. This of course would take the argument about who controls the remote in my family to new levels when I happen to take the “remote” with me on business travel so I can watch Spartacus.

So why haven’t we seen any changes to the remote? And why am I living in a dream world? I blame Disney. Disney, Viacom, and other premium content providers are very concerned with ensuring their content is not pirated or misused. And make no bones about it, TV service providers make a killing off of premium content. So in order to appease these premium content providers, TV services create very secure set top boxes and encrypt the heck out of them. Would it be possible to encrypt your tablet remote? Sure. Will it make Disney skittish that you are watching Hannah Montana on a train to New York? Possibly, along with anyone sitting next to you.

Service providers are so careful about encrypting their content that they invite third party security auditing firms to review the set top box, the encryption, and the middleware (screens you click through). Disney trusts the auditors. If they say the service provider is good, Disney provides content.

With all of that, it is possible to have the encryption move to your lap, but in the eyes of a TV service provider, why rock the boat when remotes work. On behalf of couch potatoes everywhere, please PLEASE rock the boat!!!

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