According to BFI’s 2013 statistical yearbook there has been a 50% rise in Video on Demand (VoD) viewing in the UK since 2012.
The two major players in this field, LOVEFiLM and Netflix, corner the market, however they have an up and coming challenger in NOW TV.
You will no doubt have experienced at least one of these company's desktop websites, such is their strong online presence, but what about the commuter or person on the move who want's to watch films on a tablet? What's the experience like for them?
Similar to my previous Fight Club post comparing the UX of Sky TV and Virgin Media, only this time I’ll take a look at the three top VoD providers and compare their respective user experiences on mobile devices or tablets.
NOW TV, the online streaming service powered by Sky, is relatively new to market, only appearing in July 2012.
The major difference between this VoD service and the ones provided by LOVEFiLM and Netflix is that frankly it’s a lot more expensive, showcasing movies available on Sky’s film channels right now and therefore only a few months after theatrical release. A premium price for premium content, but what about the UX?
NOW TV’s pre-homescreen is an encouragingly cosy place, with bright pink buttons and an overlarge carousel that cycles subtlely through its images.
On venturing into the Movies homepage, it’s noticeable that Sky hasn't actually built a responsive website for NOW TV or even adapted the desktop one, with much pinching and dragging to navigate your way around.
On a tablet, the desktop site doesn't look too bad, but on a mobile it’s infuriating. Then again, if you’re trying to watch a film on a smartphone I'm not sure what you're expecting.
Sign-up is difficult with lots of zooming and scrolling.
Once you’re in the site and have selected your film, the film details screen is again the desktop version, with illegible text.
Also note the cavernous amount of white space at the bottom of the page.
Clicking Watch Now brings up a pop-up saying Watch in App, making it sound like you might have a choice. However you can’t watch films on NOW TV through the mobile site, you have to download the app.
You’re taken directly through to the app store, and once it’s downloaded, here's the NOW TV app home screen…
Clear, bold design with great swipe ambiguity. There’s also a sidebar that quickly takes you through to a choice of genres.
Vibrant blue denotes tappable options. Tapping the Movies option brings down a simple menu allowing you to navigate back to Sky’s Sports service (also streaming at an extra cost), or look at your settings.
Although in My Account, you can’t do much apart from sign yourself off from your different devices, of which you can only make one change per month. This seems like an arbitrary and mean amount.
Neither can you actually change any of your other account settings from here (password, bank details etc) you’ll have to do this from a desktop, or heaven forbid, the mobile site.
You can sign-in to a maximum of four devices. Which should adequately cover your PS3, desktop computer, laptop, and tablet. You just won’t be able to sneakily give someone else your password if you’re greedily using all four devices.
My TV remembers your last 20 movies you watched, and also remembers the exact point you left off each one.
However there is no ability to add films to a watchlist. A key feature in other streaming services.
The respective film’s details page is clearly laid out, with simple navigation.
NOW TV could certainly improve this page layout, as there's still a lot of blank space.
Once you’re watching your film, the interface borrows from iTunes, with similar high speed scrubbing and 30 second back-up.
Careful where you're pointing that.
Netflix doesn’t have a responsive website either, although it is harder to tell being as the pre-homepage is so bold.
Also the subsequent sign-up pages are large and clear. They also allow you to use your PayPal account for added sign-up convenience.
You are then taken through to a personalisation tool, where the user can pick the type of film or television you like, and Netflix will tailor your homepage based on these choices.
This was difficult to use, as every time you tap a title it disables a previous title you've tapped - you have to pick five.
After a while Netflix decides it's had enough of you trying to figure it out and carries you automatically through to the homepage.
The desktop site on mobile is a weirdly mutated experience with poor positioning, bizarrely placed pop-ups and large spaces of grey that dwarf the content.
As with NOW TV, as soon as you make a film selection, you're taken immediately to an app download. You can't watch films through the desktop site on your mobile device.
This is Netflix' app homescreen...
The app has an effective layout; content defined by the black background, a not too overwhelming choice of titles and obvious swipe ambiguity.
There’s no account admin options in the app. Any change of details has to be done on your desktop.
Thankfully within the last couple of months, Netflix has finally added a Watchlist function. A feature vital to a good VoD user experience.
Netflix also has a satisfying interface when you click on your choice of film or TV programme.
Here on the Breaking Bad pop-up, you can pick an episode, see the last point you watched an each individual episode, and pick a season from a drop down menu above.
And while you’re watching Walter White’s descent into the underworld, the interface gives you a few more options; an in-picture view if you’re scrubbing through the timeline and it handily tells you the name of the episode at the top of the screen.
LOVEFiLM blazes the same non-responsive trail as its competition, however with a cluttered pre-homepage offering vast amounts of information and unpleasant white on red text, viewing this site on a tablet is much worse than on NOW TV or Netflix.
Sign-up is particularly uninviting.
The ability to link to your Amazon account is great, but it’s farcical when you can’t even zoom into the screen any further, leaving nearly half the screen blank, and the user with a headache from squinting.
LOVEFiLM is still very much geared up for postal DVD service, and its unresponsive website reflects this.
On the LOVEFiLM Instant page the small play buttons on each title are lost amongst the multiple titles and white background.
Clicking on The Sweeney brings up an error message saying that the web player uses Silverlight technology and therefore won’t play on an iPad. This isn't just an understandable prejudice against The Sweeney.
It’s here that LOVEFiLM finally suggests downloading the app. With NOW TV and Netflix you’re redirected immediately once you’ve signed up, LOVEFiLM’s website isn’t nearly as intuitive.
The LOVEFiLM app is similar to Netflix’s app in design and function.
Also, as with the Netflix app, this is a much superior experience than the desktop site. There’s less clutter, has a contemporary design and feels more intuitive.
Again, account settings can’t be changed, but an email feedback form opens up if you have any problems.
When picking your title, and here I’m actively choosing to watch Vin Diesel’s The Pacifier, there’s an option to watch or add to your watchlist. A function sorely missing from NOW TV.
Viewing the movie is through the standard iTunes interface, identical to NOW TV.
Go, Vin, go!
Ignoring content, price, the ability to stream in HD or SD and other Which? style factors that may sway your purchase, and concentrating solely on user experience, this is a fairly clouded decision to be honest.
NOW TV has a great looking app. Well designed and functional, it's a great user experience. However, without the ability to add films to a watchlist this really scuppers it from being the best. There's also some small aesthetic issues with layout where space could be better utilised within film detail pages.
LOVEFiLM and Netflix have fairly identical apps. They are clearly competing directly with each other in every aspect of design. This means neither has the bravery to pull away and do something different or exciting.
Netflix's app just edges out LOVEFiLM, purely thanks to the options offered within the TV details screen and a slightly better viewing experience. As soon as NOW TV adds that watchlist though, it'll be in the lead
This whole exercise has raised far larger issues beyond UX though. Responsive design has been completely ignored by all three companies. Their natural assumption is that the user will download the app instead.
All well and good, but this sacrifices the users ability to sign up to each service on a mobile device or change their account options, payment and personal details, therefore losing potential customers.
Here's our article on responsive design and whether you really need it and a guide to 14 brands that increased conversion rates via responsive design.