Q&A: How to Make TV Apps Work


There’s been a kind of gold rush ever since Apple (s AAPL) launched its app store on the iPhone. Some believe this story will repeat itself once TV apps become mainstream — but judging by some of the apps available to TV viewers right now, the road to riches may be bumpy. Many of today’s TV apps feature confusing interfaces; some make us squint our eyes to read too-small text, and others really don’t seem to have a point at all.

TV app-makers can do better, believes Prisa Digital R&D Manger Javier Lasa. Prisa is a Spanish media conglomerate that, among other things, publishes El Pais, and Lasa developed an app for the newspaper last year. He recently talked about his experiences with the medium at the Videoweb 11 conference, and we decided to do an email Q&A with him to learn from his insights.

What are some of the main lessons you learned while developing TV apps?

Javier Lasa: From a technology point of view, I learned that connected TVs mostly resemble calculators with big screens and small processor capacities. Regarding content usability: Picture and audio features are greater than other devices we worked with before (PC, mobile or tablet). Pictures and video stand out when presented on a 47″ screen, and poor encoding gets more noticeable. Audio can support high-quality stereo and Dolby 5.1 at a 128kb bitrate.

When it comes to app UI design, what are some common mistakes people make, and how can one avoid them?

Lasa: Some of the main mistakes I see people make are building an overly-complex navigation structure and missing the mark when it comes to interface design (e.g. not big enough hot spots, small font size, overly bright colors). I’d advise others to not over-engineer the interactive experience: Leave the user space to lean back and passively consume content via slideshows or automatic video playlists as well.

One of the points you made during your presentation is that connected device interaction is more important than apps. What do you mean by that?

Lasa: Device interaction will drive connected TV engagement to the next level. Mobile / tablet apps will take the place of remotes, leading us to interact and participate with others around the shows that we’re watching. Tablets with TV content syncing will enhance the experience of consuming online video across time (on demand) and spaces different from the living room.

Some people argue that apps lead to content fragmentation: If every publisher has a separate app, then consumers can’t easily browse through all the available content. What’s your take on this?

Lasa: I’d advise publishers to develop an HTML compatible version if possible, but recognize that native apps (only targeted to main manufacturers) will offer integrated experiences and sync with linear TV in ways that web-based versions can’t replicate. We can’t wait for standards to emerge – we need to prioritize learning about user behavior on these new devices (not only TVs, but Boxee, iPad integration, Nintendo 3DS focused on content delivery etc.) and we must learn quickly in order to take advantage of this opportunity.

Check out Javier Lasa’s presentation slides below:

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