Last week, PBS continued to expand its TV everywhere/connected TV reach with the launch of a new app for the Xbox Live platform. The Xbox version joins the Roku app which rolled out in May of this year and a smartphone/tablet line-up that began in 2010. This is a rather timely release as the gaming giant prepares for its new Xbox One console launch on Nov 22. With Microsoft positioning the new system as an entertainment center, many networks have been scrambling to release their own experiences for the hub in advance of the Xbox One launch. While Xbox apps are hardly ubiquitous across TV networks, new apps have been steadily rolling out over the last few months.
As a PBS fan, I’m excited to see the broadcaster staying on top of the latest digital advances to connect their programming to audiences across a variety of distribution channels. Let us examine the experiences across the Xbox, Roku, and iPad apps to see how they both compare and differ.
Before a viewer begins their journey with the PBS programming, they must first provide their email address and preferred local station. Since PBS is a free over the air broadcaster, no cable authentication is required to access the content. Not long after creating this limited profile, users receive an acknowledgement email from PBS. This is an excellent opportunity for PBS to collect viewing metadata and leverage it for personalization of the experience and programming recommendations. The iPad experience offers an additional feature not found in either of the other two viewing platforms, the ability to add programs to a list of favorites, see a list of previously viewed content, and set calendar reminders for upcoming viewings. The latter is understandable given the limited access either of those peripheral viewing devices have to a user’s calendar program. The ability to favorite and see a list of viewing history would be a worthy addition to those other experiences and all serve as a valuable data collection resource.
The content selection is actually quite comparable and consistent across the iPad, Xbox, and Roku experiences. All three offer the ability to view full episodes of national and local programming, trailers, bonus content, and some original webisodes. There are a few notable exceptions. Only the iPad version offers the ability to see the upcoming schedule for the local preferred channel – worth noting that the calendar is only for reminders to tune-in as you can not view live streaming content. Both the Xbox and Roku versions offer a section for local programming, based on the selection during setup, but that content is absent from the iPad viewing experience. The Xbox version does offer something unique to its platform, a content collection called “Staff Favorites”. Much like the old school video rental stores or book/record stores today, this is where the national PBS staff selects recommended content across their programming line-up. While the Xbox second screen app SmartGlass does function as a controller, there is no integrated companion content viewing experience at this time.
Overall, the experiences are solid and offer a nice variety of PBS programming, but there are some areas for improvement. Despite my registering the same email address for each of the three platforms, there is no aggregate tracking of the content viewed across the experiences as what is watched on the Xbox/Roku does not store in the viewed content area on the iPad app. Leveraging this data under a universal profile would allow for better aggregation of viewing patterns and the ability to provide recommendations based on programming viewed by user by device. For example, some viewers may only choose to watch short form content on the iPad, but will view longer episodic programming on the TV peripheral device Xbox/Roku. Being able to make those user and device specific recommendations would be a more accurate method to encourage better viewer discovery of content. Once aggregate collection of data is available, expanding the menu options to include recommendations based on that behavior would be a much needed next step – as well as obviously other outbound marketing efforts like email.
I like the concept of the staff favorites section on the Xbox, but would ideally like to see that expanded to the local level – as well as the other platforms. PBS/NPR viewers often have a daily connection to their local station. Seeing recommendations from those local station personalities would carry greater weight especially when paired with a short explanation on why that program is being recommended. On similar topic, expanding the apps to offer more content from PBS partner NPR would be a welcome addition. For example, StoryCorps has a wonderful animated collection of animated shorts which would be terrific to see on the apps. Plus, having the capability to listen to other classic NPR programs on demand through the Xbox/Roku fed into my home stereo system would be a nice benefit to using the apps and allow for the possibility of pairing visual information relevant to the audio broadcast.
I’m excited to see PBS taking these strides into the TV everywhere universe, but at this point, it would appear their approach is based on distribution channel silos. Networks need to start thinking about the TV everywhere ecosystem in its entirety and how those pieces are integrated to a single user backend system rather than a series of independent distribution outlets. Once this holistic approach is more prominent across networks as they expand into these new frontiers, a much smarter viewing system will be possible to enhance the end experience for the users.
[All images were personally screen-grabbed from the iPad app & photographed.]