Television is evolving. For those aspiring cord-cutters, its transformation may seem too slow, but the change is continuous and continually accelerating. As we approach the design of TV’s future, we remember its past and ask, what’s worth saving?

ONCE UPON A TIME, TV WAS SIMPLE. It was broadcast content on a box in front of a family in a suburban living room. TV was central to family and the home, replacing radio as the activity that brought everyone together in the evenings. Weekday shows used to draw small crowds creating shared in-person experiences. Now that sort of gathering is reserved for special events series openers and finales, Super Bowls and Oscars.Today, Television is a loaded word that can mean many things the physical TV set and its various accessories, the content signal coming to us in so many new ways, or the contents artistic form which is also diversifying. Every dimension has been complicated and fragmented through business and technological change. Television is now accessible to anyone, anywhere, on any number of devices. It may be broadcast, cable, satellite, streaming, downloaded, or over-the-top. It may be free or paid, subscription or a la carte, live or time-shifted. And these days, TV might not even be TV! It may be movies, photos, music, games, news, apps, and the infinity that is the web.

Then and Now – We once gathered around the TV. Today TV content comes to us.

Television is becoming the new frontier for platform providers, app developers, and content creators as brands of all kinds rush to establish their own beachhead in the American home. But even in its youth, before TV was anywhere and everywhere, it was still a powerful and infectious experience that shaped the world around it. TV was an attractive force, bringing people together around it both physically and socially. But as TV evolves, it’s abandoning many of the characteristics that made us fall in love with it in the first place. Aspects of that original attraction are being lost as TV becomes distributed across space and time. But these modern failings can also be opportunities to reclaim and reimagine certain popular behaviors of the past and create a better TV for today.




Free Viewers To Explore And Share Content

Though access to TV is proliferating, coming to us on more devices in more ways all the time, ease and continuity of access to TV content in emerging TV experiences is suffering. Right now, the fate of TV content is not fully controlled by the service providers, let alone the viewers. Most TV content is tied up in complicated licensing deals and archaic rights agreements, and it may be awhile before the business and legal worlds catch up with the worlds of technology and user experience. As a result, streaming services have hoped to capitalize on the gap by experimenting with major investments in original content.

Content PlayNetflix’s House of Cards and Arrested development and Hulu’s A Day in the Life and Up to Speed represent early efforts in original content production on the part of streaming TV services.

The Netflixes and Hulus of the world aim to be the HBOs and Showtimes of the next generation of TV. Netflix has already released two original series in Lilyhammer and House of Cards, and is developing others like Hemlock Grove, Orange Is the New Black, and the continuation of Arrested Development. Hulu currently has five original series in The Morning After, A Day in the Life, Battleground, Spoilers, and the forthcoming Up to Speed. Meanwhile, Amazon has spun up creation of original movies and TV series through its newly formed Amazon Studios, and Google has invested an additional $200 million (on top of its initial $100 million) in its YouTube Original Channels initiative. If the quality of House of Cards is any indication, the prospect is promising, but there remains a long way to go. And while we cant control sticky content agreements, what we can affect is the model by which that content is browsed, discovered, purchased, and consumed.

TV wants to be free. When it comes to TV content, viewers want access, not ownership. Initially, TV viewers inherited this expectation from radio. The cost to entry was not the content, but the hardware. The TV set and the rooftop antenna were exotic extravagances in the early days of television, but they granted access to a world of free content (well, actually just a few hours a few days a week at first). And then of course, there was advertising. TV was free sort of.Today, the next generation of TV viewers are learning this expectation once again. This time, the model is based on the free content of the web rather than the radio. Brands like YouTube, Hulu, and Crackle (not to mention technologies like BitTorrent) are once again teaching viewers that access to TV should be free. And once again, advertising is supporting this freedom.


When it comes to TV content, viewers want access, not ownership.


The Original Ad-killerThe 1955 Zenith Flash-Matic promised lazy viewing and silent commercials.

No one has ever liked advertising. And the ad-skipping power of DVR is not the revolution that advertisers may think it is. The wireless remote and its mute button, introduced in 1955, were designed specifically for ads: Shut off long, annoying commercials while picture remains on screen! While viewers may not love ads, they understand them, and will endure them. They will pay with their time rather than their money as long as the exchange seems fair. But if viewers are forced to pay more than once for the same content either through multiple services or multiple methods (with their time and their money) they will sense injustice.

Save Free TV!A 1974 anti-cable PSA decried the horrors of pay TV.

The future of advertising is bright if only the advertisers would learn to see it. Personalization, contextualization, interactivity, and social connectivity all offer exciting opportunities for ads that fit into users lives and actually become useful. The fact that Google operates almost entirely on revenue from AdWords should be proof enough that intelligent advertising models can work for digital experiences, but there’s another way to make TV feel free sort of.


Freedom of content fosters greater levels of discovery and consumption.


Content freedom is a crucial attribute of the television experience that access models allow, but the a la carte ownership models of streaming content providers are completely missing. Freedom of content fosters greater levels of discovery and consumption by encouraging sampling behaviors and enabling sharing. Access drives engagement and spreads the word.




Rediscover The Satisfaction Of Instant
There was a time when the TV was either on or off, and there was nothing in-between. These days, layers of gray area in menus, guides, and hierarchy separate users from their content. As a result, users spend all their time trying to find something to watch and are left with no time to watch it.The immediate, dynamic, full-screen content of broadcast TV has been stripped from emerging TV experiences. Nearly all of today’s streaming media experiences start users with a static home screen or main menu. The instant-on of yesterdays TV throws viewers right into the content experience. And while the show that’s on first may not be the show you ultimately want, at least the viewing experience has already begun. It’s a bit like eating out at a restaurant. As soon as you’re seated, fresh bread and glasses of ice water are brought to your table. Eventually, you’ll order a real drink and a full meal, but the bread and water that greet you immediately mean your dinner has already begun.

Analysis ParalysisApple TV home and VUDU detail screens exemplify the overwhelming choice and information that separate viewers from their content.

Instead, UI obscures content and the experience is largely static. The overwhelming wall of tiny box art and the text-heavy detail screen are the prevalent modes of browsing in emerging TV experiences, but browsing need not be static and monotonous. Channel surfing has long been the primary browsing method for TV. It lets viewers explore while truly immersed in content. Again, this sort of experience is enabled through an access model to content. A la carte purchasing may require the higher level of examination afforded by an encyclopedic detail screen, but even a la carte services should look to add dynamism and immediacy to their browsing experiences through the use of related free content like trailers, clips, and promos.


Users spend all their time trying to find something to watch and are left with no time to watch it.




Create Seamless Viewing Experiences
The energy of the experience should not end with the show. TV networks have long known that the end of a program is a crucial time to provide experience continuity to ensure continued user engagement. Networks start the next show while the credits roll on the last one, and they set up this transition with Up Next teasers during commercial breaks. They premiere new shows after established ones, hoping the audience will carry over, and they run programs a little before or after the hour mark to prevent switching to other channels. They brand blocks of shows as Must See Thursdays and Thank God It’s Fridays, and run marathons on weekends.This program-to-program continuity is a critical aspect of the TV experience. Boob tube, couch potato, vegging out — like them or not, these terms capture the immersive, thought-free, stress-free state of watching TV.

Viewers lose themselves in moving stories and flow readily from one to the next. The enforced stops of a la carte services, however, interrupt this experience, adding stressful selection and purchasing decisions at every step.Some streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu, have started to realize the value of this continuity and have introduced auto play modes. As one program ends, the picture minimizes to reveal information about what’s up next along with a 5-10 second countdown. These are absolutely a step in the right direction, but even these experiences still overly emphasize decision-making on the part of the viewer. Autoplay should be an easy, thoughtless default — the absence of decision-making. Instead, the delay and prominent countdown actually heighten the stress of the decision put before the viewer because now the test is timed!

Final Countdown – Netflix and Hulu autoplay screens provide program to program continuity but overly heighten the stakes.

What streaming TV providers need to remember is simply that their services are streaming. They can have the continuity of pre-DVR broadcast TV without the forced linear path. Streaming G can pause, rewind, or pivot to new content at any time without fear of missing that crucial moment.

Seasons, episodes, and commercial breaks are lingering artifacts of a dying broadcast model. The order of content is as important as ever, but the increments are now entirely up to users. Each user decides how much to watch in one night — a cold open or an entire series — and when to take a break — when a friend (or nature) calls, not when advertisers butt in. Simply follow the users’ lead. Create pause experiences that surface contextual information and alternative paths, and always make it easy to pick up content where it left off.

Streaming experiences should aspire to the continuity of broadcast TV, but embrace their own inherent flexibility as well. Many streaming services are crippled by complex licensing deals that create numerous gaps in episodic content offerings, but they can still do a much better job connecting the dots between episodes and seasons (not to mention movie sequels, prequels, and remakes), and in uncovering connections between one series and the next.


Streaming experiences should aspire to the continuity of broadcast TV, but embrace their own inherent flexibility as well.




Distribute The Experience To Save The Big Screen For Content
Content over Chrome is perhaps the most commonly touted design principle across all UX right now, but few experiences achieve the level of content purity that defined early TV. Originally, TV had no on-screen UI whatsoever. The chrome was real chrome — a couple of knobs on the TV set — and the program guide was a real guide — a physical booklet that came in the mail every week. The advent of the remote control pushed the UI even further from the screen and into users’ hands. The remote control and the TV Guide were the original TV companion experiences.

Early TV UI & Companion Experienceshe hardware dial, remote control, and printed TV Guide left the screen itself completely free for content.

Today the TV screen is burdened with so much more. The guides and controls required to navigate vast amounts of content overwhelm the content itself. And that’s what makes the companion experience so attractive — the promise of offloading all this extra screen furniture to companion devices to once again leave the TV screen for content and content only. However, most emerging companion experiences leave much to be desired.

Companion experiences usually come in one of four flavors: remote control, content guide, supplemental information, and social viewing. These are the very use cases offered by early TV, with the control supplied by the remote, the guide and supplemental information through the schedules and articles of the TV Guide, and social viewing through real-world face-to-face conversation. But the common pitfall of these emerging companion experiences is an insistence on synchrony and convergence — experiences that occur during TV watching and are about the content of that TV watching.

The role of the TV Guide extended beyond the time of actual watching (an article about Johnny Carson wasn’t read during The Tonight Show), and conversations about TV were (and still are) more likely to happen hours, days, and weeks before or after watching. And viewers actually already have many companion experiences at their fingertips — phones, tablets, laptops, books, magazines, newspapers, toys, games, puzzles, food, pets, babies, and on and on. It’s actually pretty unusual to watch TV without doing something else. The difference is that these experiences are largely divergent and unguided. In a 2012 study, Google found that 77% of the time people watch TV, it’s with another device in hand, but that 78% of that simultaneous usage is non-complementary — one use is not related to the other.

Synchronous, convergent companion experiences provide opportunity for magic, but little pragmatism. That’s why they’ve been pursued by so many companies and designers, but adopted by so few end users. Synchronous moments have their place, but are only a fraction of the larger opportunity. Instead of trying to cram into a companion device all the available information about some piece of TV content during the actual period of its watching, we should be distributing aspects of the TV experience liberally across multiple devices over the larger span of a user’s life. Browsing should happen in frequent small moments over time, content possibilities collected from casual conversations and popular recommendations. Information and control should be at the viewers fingertips on any device whether that’s in front of the TV or in line for the train. Achieving a balance of continuity and distribution like this means understanding the unique role of each device in the connected ecosystem and the appropriate contexts for its use. In this way, we may hope to regain the purity of early TV, and maintain ease and relevance while creating new TV experiences.


The common pitfall of emerging companion experiences is an insistence on synchrony and convergence.




Simplify And Streamline TV Interactions

Less Is More. Artists have known it forever. The precise origins of the expression probably lie in an 1855 Browning poem, Andrea del Sarto, but the phrase was popularized by the Modernist architect, Mies Van Der Rohe, in his 1959 essay, On Restraint in Design, and the tenet has been espoused by countless artistic figures over time from da Vinci to Shakespeare to Chopin to Rams to Jobs. As familiar as we all are with the principle, few products truly embody the idea. Far more embrace the superficial and often misguided mantra, More Is More. In the world of TV, nowhere is this tendency toward excess more evident than in the sorry figure of the remote control.
Remarkably, the first wireless remote, the 1955 Zenith Flash-Matic, had only one button, yet managed to allow for power, mute, channel up, and channel down functions. The way it achieved this relative simplicity was by putting the complexity in the receiver rather than the transmitter. It was essentially a raygun flashlight with a single trigger button, but the TV set had four separate photoelectric cells (one in each corner), so pointing the remote to a different corner had a different effect. In this sense, the Flash-Matic was not only the first wireless remote, but the first gestural pointer remote as well — an interaction approach that would lie dormant for decades, but has recently reemerged in products like the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect. The glaring problem with this first wireless system was that it relied on basic visible light so was easily interfered with by other light sources like lamps, the sun, and actual flashlights.


Remote Control Panel: Early YearsLeft to right: Zenith Flash-Matic, Zenith Space Commander 200 (1G), Zenith Space Commander 400 (2G), Zenith Space Commander 400 (3G), Zenith Space Commander 600 (4G), Zenith Space Commander 600 (5G), Zenith Space Command, Zenith Computer Space Command, Zenith Space Command Z-TAC.

Just a year later, Zenith had a solution. The Zenith Space Commander series pioneered a new ultrasonic remote technology that worked by striking an aluminum rod with the push of a button that would then vibrate and emit a high-frequency ultrasound wave. Each button struck a rod of a slightly different length to let out a slightly different sound, allowing them to be understood discretely by the receiver. This system had its drawbacks as well — clinking change or silverware could emit similar sounds and cause interference, and the ultrasonic waves would sometimes upset nearby dogs — but the technology was successful enough that it reigned for the next 25 years. Over that time, the number of buttons on remotes slowly crept upwards from 2 to 4 to 6, and then around 1980 that number jumped to 10s and 20s with the advent of infrared technology and the inclusion of full number pads on remotes.

Today the most common TV remotes are the mammoth universal models offered by cable providers and containing upwards of 50 buttons. Users can’t possibly hold the locations of 50 different buttons in memory, and though these remotes are billed as universal, they rarely are in practice so most users must also have multiple remotes on hand. The Logitech Harmony Touch does better on the universal front, but still has nearly 30 buttons in addition to a small touchscreen. Whether its to navigate their complexity or switch between them altogether, users must regularly break their focus on the TV screen to focus on remotes.

Recently, remote manufacturers have begun experimenting with a variety of new input methods borrowed from PCs, mobile devices, and video game consoles — full qwerty keyboards, scroll wheels, joysticks, touchpads, touchscreens, accelerometers, gyroscopes, cameras, microphones, etc. They’ve also begun to look at various new communication protocols using radio frequencies — NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc. And of course, the mobile device, with all its built-in sensors and communication methods, is seen by many as the ultimate answer to the personal universal remote.


Nowhere is the tendency toward excess more evident than in the sorry figure of the remote control.


Remote Control Panel:– Today — Left to right: Comcast Universal, Tivo Glo Premium, Logitech Harmony Touch, Sony Google TV (1G), Sony Google TV (2G), Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless, Nintendo Wii Plus, Roku 2 XS, Apple TV.


While innovation like this is exciting, it’s worth taking a sober look at the true benefits of all this technology as well as the true context of its use. We’ve found it can be helpful to imagine a typical yet dramatic case — the Snuggie position. Picture your user lying on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, with just one hand protruding (if that) to control the TV.

Keyboards, touchpads, and touchscreens can be powerful and flexible, but usually require the use of both hands and frequent glances at the remote. Joysticks and scroll wheels can dramatically accelerate browsing, but aren’t great for discrete and accurate navigation. Accelerometers, gyroscopes, and cameras are enabling new gestural interactions — the Microsoft Kinect exhibits its own kind of restraint with no remote at all (or rather, with the user as the remote), the logical extension of the economical transmitter of the Zenith Flash-Matic — but these inputs often require gross movements and pointing directly at the screen, both of which can be tiring and awkward for our Snuggie user. The microphone is a promising new input that offers the power of the keyboard without the complexity, but voice is usually best approached seriously or not at all (natural language, not command syntax), which can mean a significant investment. Even at its best, voice can still have trouble with multiple languages and accents, and might mean some initial self-consciousness and social discomfort for users.
The mobile device (smartphone or tablet) provides all of these sensors and inputs in one, but combines their flaws as readily as their advantages. Devices lack the immediacy and tactility of physical remotes but bring with them all the complexity of their native platform and their diverse duties beyond the realm of TV. Getting to remote functionality on devices usually means going through lock screens, passwords, and main menus, and most users will not be willing to commit to a single use for that device for the duration of their TV experience. Users will want to switch readily between remote functionality and the many other apps and services available on the device.

Make no mistake, there is still great opportunity in all of this technology, and its considered use can change the game in all the right ways. But as of today, all in all, few examples surpass the balance of simplicity and functionality evident in the Apple TV remote. It’s small, but has heft, so sits well in a user’s hand. Its seven physical buttons are styled to feel like just three, and their alternating concavity and convexity allow for true no-look interaction. The directional pad is great for discrete navigation regardless of how the remote is positioned, and some buttons have extra functionality in certain contexts of the software experience or when using press and hold, as opposed to simple press and release. One flaw is its reliance on infrared technology, which requires close proximity and direct line-of-sight communication and might be avoided through certain RF systems, but overall its economy is basic yet ingenious. It displays that decisive quality of early TV remotes and so few of today’s remotes — restraint.

It’s not just the remote — the rest of the TV experience has increased in complexity over the years as well. Content sets have grown and diversified, and new TV experiences will be expected to support additional content types like music, photos, games, and apps as well. With all this chaos and complication, emerging TV providers would do well to remember that guiding principle, Less Is More. Initially, it’s always best to do fewer things better. Perhaps later, more can actually be more.


Devices lack the immediacy and tactility of physical remotes and bring with them all the complexity of the native device’s platform and their diverse duties beyond the realm of TV.




Parcel Content To Aid Discovery
TV’s available content set is massively overwhelming and it’s only getting worse. Every year produces more content from a wider variety of sources and it’s all additive, just another stack on the top of a growing pile. One of the primary benefits of DVR has nothing to do with time-shifted viewing and everything to do with filtering content from a vast array to a manageable list. It’s why the Netflix queue has persisted far beyond its original purpose of prioritizing the shipping of physical DVDs. One solution to this sort of information overload is chunking.

Chunking is a natural cognitive function in which people enhance their ability to parse and recall large amounts of information by grouping that information into smaller digestible chunks. Complex tasks seem less daunting when broken down into actionable steps, and big data sets are easier to understand when compartmentalized. It’s why books have chapters, video games have levels, and phone numbers are separated by parentheses and dashes. And for traditional TV, the primary mechanism of chunking is the channel.

Channels are yet another legacy from radio, and many of the original TV networks (NBC, CBS, ABC) were simply spinoffs from existing radio networks. The channel provides a convenient grouping of TV content that offers a nice balance between consistency and variety, and that’s represented by a memorable brand. Unfortunately, it’s a model that has grown way out of proportion, and more choice may actually stifle engagement. Today there are literally thousands of TV channels in the US alone, and as long ago as 2007, a Nielsen study found the average home received about 118 channels, but only watched 16 with any regularity — a rate of 13%. The study noted, As the number of channels available to a household increased, so did the number of channels tuned, although the percentage of available channels actually viewed decreased. They got more channels, but actually watched fewer.

Channel Capacity TV’s primary model of content chunking has grown so out of proportion that the chunks need to be chunked.

Emerging TV experiences, on the other hand, usually rely on some form of genre categorization or worse, simple alphabetization. These genres tend to be either so general that they’re nearly meaningless (Drama), or so specific that they prevent any spontaneous discovery (Cerebral Suspenseful British TV Shows Featuring a Strong Female Lead). They also lack the familiar branding of channels so can be much more difficult to understand quickly. For example, Disney is far more concise and universally understood than Heartfelt Animated Movies for Children & Families.

New experiences must find new ways to subdivide their enormous content sets. Of course, this problem extends far beyond the realm of TV. The era of big data is upon us, and nearly every industry will soon be struggling with the problem of extracting meaning from outsized data sets. The most common solution will be proprietary algorithms based on a combination of personal and aggregate usage and honed through machine learning. Netflix famously offered a million dollars in prize money for help improving theirs.

New experiences must find new ways to subdivide their enormous content sets. Of course, this problem extends far beyond the realm of TV. The era of big data is upon us, and nearly every industry will soon be struggling with the problem of extracting meaning from outsized data sets. The most common solution will be proprietary algorithms based on a combination of personal and aggregate usage and honed through machine learning. Netflix famously offered a million dollars in prize money for help improving theirs.

Another interesting input, for TV especially, is social usage and recommendation. TV, like books and music, is a highly personal, but also a highly social medium. We have always found new content through the recommendations and discussions we exchange with our peers. And to a certain extent, we consume content with the goal of future discussion in mind. Typical social solutions like commenting systems and inbox paradigms seem heavy-handed on a TV, but a more natural forum for recommendation and discussion appropriate to TV certainly warrants further exploration.


New experiences must find new ways to subdivide their enormous content sets.


My TV Has a First Name, It’s A-G-E-N-T –The personal digital agent will be one of the ways emerging TV experience help guide users to their content.

Yet another input to the filtering process is that of the expert opinion. Traditionally this has been the domain of the film critic, or more informally, the Blockbuster guy. One emerging form is the personified digital agent. This sort of UI might aid in content discovery as well as general navigation and interaction with the TV. Many have anticipated a role like this for Siri in future Apple TV products, and Netflix has already designed and implemented its version, Netflix Max. It’s currently only available in beta on the PlayStation client, but it’s actually a pretty nice experience, playful and humorous, with a You Don’t Know Jack-style charm. Where it falls down, ironically, is in the lack of content available on Netflix’s streaming service. If applied to their DVD catalog, Max might really sing.In shaping tomorrow’s TV, there’s room for many intelligent inputs. Self-guided discovery, personalized algorithmic recommendations, social signals, and expert opinions may all contribute, but regardless of the mechanism, we must break up growing content sets into parseable portions to ease discovery and build lasting trust through repeatable experiences.




Put TV Back On Schedule
The arrival of the DVR (and the VCR before it) to the world of TV was about as close to magic as user experience gets. The power in your hands as you paused live TV for the first time was visible, palpable. What few have realized, however, is that this power is as dangerous as it is enabling. TV has gone off the rails of time, and the consequences of that departure have not yet been addressed.

On November 22, 1963, America was brought together like never before in a moment of national solidarity by the news of President Kennedy’s assassination. This national unity was due, in large part, to the unity of TV experiences of the time. If you were watching CBS on that day at that time, you were in the middle of an episode of As The World Turns when your broadcast was interrupted with a breaking news bulletin bringing you Walter Cronkite with his terrible and historic announcement. ABC and NBC showed different anchors but the same story. For four days, TVs across the country covered nothing else. ABC’s Ron Cochran later commented, Television had actually become the window of the world so many had hoped it might be one day.

Breaking NewsThe temporal unity of early broadcast TV united a nation in mourning the assassination of President Kennedy.

This collective experience forged by the mixture of television and tragedy has been repeated numerous times since in events like the Challenger explosion in 1986, the OJ car chase in 1994, and the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks in 2001. Today our world is more connected than ever, yet emerging TV experiences are more disconnected than ever. For better or worse, you will never hear, We interrupt this program while watching Netflix.

TV has always had an intrinsic sense of time and community. The extreme tragedy highlights this point in an extreme fashion, but it’s also visible in more subtle ways through everyday TV usage. Traditional TV programming adapts to time on a daily basis providing weather, traffic, news, and gossip in the morning; soap operas, daytime talk shows, and game shows in the afternoon; prime time comedies and dramas in the evening; and late night talk shows and adult content at night.

On weekends, TV shifts to bring children’s cartoons and family movies, and over the course of the year, TV celebrates the major annual events of our lives right along with us. We turn to TV for elections and inaugurations, for Oscars and Emmys, for Super Bowls, NBA Finals, World Series, and Stanley Cups. We celebrate national holidays with romantic comedies on Valentines Day, fireworks on Independence Day, scary movies on Halloween, parades on Thanksgiving, holiday specials on Christmas, and ball drops on New Year’s Eve. Yet again, emerging TV experiences remain oblivious to our chronology.

Flip-ChannelWe need a Flipboard for TV. TV’s original solution was the light news format pioneered by The Today Show

The future of TV should be more attuned to time, not less. And as the set of available content grows, it becomes all the more important to be able to filter that content by recency. Other connected device experiences do not suffer this same lack of temporal awareness. We get timely weather, traffic, news, gossip, and sports information from phones, tablets, and computers every day. The data is readily available; it simply lacks tailoring to the medium. What we need is a Flipboard for TV. Flipboard aggregated timely content from data APIs designed for mobile and desktop use and reformatted the content in a tablet-friendly form modeled on the print magazine, complete with editorial layouts and page-flipping navigation. Now TV must do the same, but with a form and metaphor suitable to its own experience paradigms.

In fact, TV has done this once before. Early TV’s answer to this problem was The Today Show. In those early days, Today anchors represented print content from newspapers, magazines, and the teletype machines of radio. These days they’ve added sources like Twitter, YouTube, and the broader blogosphere, but the concept remains. This approach has been successful for 60 years (and Hulu has recently applied the same method in its original series The Morning After), but where it fails is in its reliance on significant human intervention and costly production infrastructures, as well as its inevitable time delay.

A new solution is required for a new generation of experiences, and this time around it must be even more comprehensive. New content types require adaptation as well, such as social and communication experiences (Facebook, Skype), and more interactive experiences (games, apps). A new solution might also consider the use of more ambient displays of information — occasions when the TV is traditionally off. Today, Apple TV surfaces user photos when idle, but it’s easy to imagine weather, traffic, music, news, calendars, notifications, and more. The physical TV set occupies a crucial central position in the home and its role may grow well beyond its traditional periods of use. Regardless, a successful new strategy should aim for a similar level of adaptation to a device context, but with far greater efficiency in cost and time.


TV is dead. Long live TV.

In reading this article, you may well find yourself asking if these concepts are not a little too outdated if they don’t represent a rose-colored view of a bygone era. But please do not mistake these ideas for simple nostalgia. TV is evolving and so it should (in fact, it must), but evolution is a process of both mutation and inheritance (actually quite a lot more inheritance than mutation). That is, what changes in a new generation is nearly imperceptible compared to what remains the same. Because of this, natural evolution requires an enormous scale of population and time to effect perceivable change. Technological evolution, on the other hand, is not so constrained, but perhaps also not so grounded.

As architects of TV’s evolution, we must not be blinded by the bright lights of novelty, but remember to look backward as well as forward. In a field like ours, you’ve probably heard many preach the values of horizontal sharing, the transfer of ideas from one domain to another (connecting designers and chemists), and resulting horizontal innovation, new ideas from new contexts (3M’s development of masking tape with insights from sandpaper production). You may even have heard of vertical sharing, the transfer of ideas within an organization (connecting CEOs and assembly line workers), and resulting vertical innovation, building on proprietary ideas (Apple’s creation of the iPad by mainly scaling the iPhone). These concepts are important, but they concern themselves only with spatial dimensions (a broad view of the present) and ignore innovation’s most vital dimension — time.

We must also aspire to temporal sharing and temporal innovation, the transfer of ideas from the past. Technological evolution need not rely on the sluggish pace and dumb chance of natural evolution. It can be swift and shrewd. We have the ability (and perhaps the responsibility) to rescue those popular behaviors that have been lost to time and re-enable them through the technology of today. Because while technology may be fickle, human nature is comparable steadfast. The solutions may change, but our core needs do not. TV must change too, but not so much that it is unrecognizable to those who have loved it all along.