updated 04:15 pm EST, Sun January 30, 2011
Families test cord cutting with digital media hubs
Marketing firm Hill Holiday this weekend posted the results of an experiment in cord cutting, or dropping traditional TV for digital media devices. Each family was given one device among several, including the Apple TV, Boxee Box, Google TV, Roku and Xbox 360, and had to stop using traditional TV. The week-long, recorded test (video below) revealed mixed results and showed that none of the companies were entirely where they needed to be, according to the researchers.
Some of the issues centered on the devices themselves. Most, such as the hardware from Apple, Microsoft and Roku, didn't have a true universal content search. Viewers had to enter into a specific app or section to find video from a given source. Boxee's hub has universal search but, until the Vudu update, didn't have some major movie content; it has yet to receive a promised Netflix update. Google TV has universal search but is actively blocked by studios afraid of retaliation from their cable and satellite partners.
The interfaces were also designed heavily around long, "high consideration" video but made it hard to simply jump in and watch a TV show, Hill Holiday said. Network buffering was partly to blame as viewers had to often wait for the content to cache before it could start, although the Xbox 360's Zune Marketplace does have instant-play videos.
Some of the shortcoming however, came from what was seen as as a break in attitude between how most people watch TV and the culture that inspired the designs. The sheer choice without an always-on fallback ironically made using TV too difficult, the families said. In many cases, without the ability to just start watching immediately, some families just gave up on watching TV entirely. Instead of discovering content passively, at random, the testers had to deliberately hunt for material that wasn't necessarily obvious or available.
The study didn't discount the existence of cord cutting and also didn't focus on web viewing, which is often the most commonly cited reason for dropping cable or satellite service. Some, including Electronista writers, are known to have engaged in the practice and can potentially save hundreds of dollars each year even when buying shows directly. Although cable providers have publicly insisted cord cutting doesn't exist, they have often tacitly acknowledged by introducing very low-priced channel packages or by threatening online price hikes for Internet services that compete with incumbent TV.
Hill Holiday nonetheless stressed that a major rethink of Internet video devices was probably necessary as they appeared to take a fundamentally conflicting approach.
"The devices demand a lean-forward involvement with what has been traditionally considered a lean-back medium, and this requirement proved disconcerting to many when it lasted longer than the usual bursts of involvement with their DVRs or video-on-demand channels," the agency said. [via CrunchGear]