Sling TV made a pretty big announcement today that could change the future of its streaming service. In a press release sent out this morning, the company announced it had hired Ben Weinberger as senior vice president and chief product officer. Why is this so important? Weinberger is the former co-founder and CEO of Digitalsmiths, the company TiVo acquired in 2014 that has done some revolutionary work with its video discovery platform, making it easier for consumers to find TV shows and entertainment that appeal to their interests.
While Sling TV’s revolutionary live internet TV service that allows subscribers to stream ESPN, HGTV, Food Network, HBO, and a host of other popular cable channels at a low cost and with no contract has been a hit with consumers so far, the service is not without its shortcomings. As I detailed in a recent article, one of the areas that Sling TV needs to improve upon is its user interface. While it looks sleek and clean, a lot of subscribers have found the non-traditional guide to be difficult to navigate.
You can bet the hiring of Weinberger means Sling TV has heard these complaints about its user interface and is ready to do something about it. Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch stated, “Since Sling TV’s arrival four months ago, we have added more than 40 domestic channels and thousands of hours of on-demand titles. This influx of programming makes it increasingly important that our content discovery process connects consumers quickly and seamlessly to the sports, shows and movies they love. Ben’s background makes him the ideal fit to lead our effort in creating a world class next-generation TV experience.”
A User Interface in Need of Improvement
Currently, Sling TV displays channels in a horizontal ribbon with a timeline-style programming guide. While this layout is suitable for mobile touchscreen devices, many users find it awkward to navigate on a computer or television that’s connected to a streaming device, like a Roku or Amazon Fire TV.
Furthermore, accessing on-demand content on Sling TV has proven to be challenging for some users. As I wrote, “Perhaps the biggest issue subscribers have with the VOD is finding it in the first place. Getting to the on-demand content can be tricky for some. As the company pointed out in its guide, you must highlight the channel you want to view, press the up arrow, and then you’ll need to scroll down to the content that’s ‘Available Now.’ It’s not the most user-friendly on-demand interface, to be sure (more on that next), and the company knows it.”
Lynch recently said Sling TV “needs to do a better job” of making video on-demand content accessible to customers.
What Changes Can We Expect to the Sling TV Interface?
Sling TV hired Weinberger because they liked the work he did over at Digitalsmiths, so it’s not a leap to assume he will be implementing some of the same basic ideas he spearheaded at his former company. Digitalsmiths’ cloud based service allows pay-TV providers “to deliver an advanced user experience integrating search, recommendations, discovery and browsing across a variety devices including iOS, Android, Roku, Xbox, PlayStation, Kindle and multiple set-top boxes.”
So, what does all of this mean for Sling TV? What features from Digitalsmiths might we see implemented into the Sling TV interface?
One of the cool things about the Digitalsmiths platform is its personalized search feature. While a typical search tool will provide basic results, like the titles of programs or the cast, Digitalsmiths’ personalized search provides a huge range of search filtering and faceting functionality. For instance, you could search for “Clint Eastwood 44 magnum” and only get results for every movie in which the actor used the weapon. You can also order the search results based on the viewer’s preferences.
A personalized search feature for Sling TV would make it easier for subscribers to navigate the service’s video on-demand (VOD) library. It could also be useful for finding upcoming live programs the viewer will want to watch.
Digitalsmiths uses personalized recommendations to help viewers discover new content that matches their preferences. It utilizes a range of behavioral data, including viewings, purchases, and searches to create accurate personalized recommendations for the consumer.
Sling TV could use a feature like this to offer consumers something that blends the traditional live TV model with the personalization of an on-demand service like Netflix. Subscribers could get real-time recommendations for shows that are currently airing or about to air, and of course, this could help users navigate on-demand content more easily.
Mood-based recommendations and discovery
Sometimes, you’re in the mood to watch something funny. Other times, you might want to watch something dark and suspenseful. Your mood dictates what you want to watch, at least according to Digitalsmiths. Their Mood Discovery feature lets viewers easily isolate titles and find programming that fits their current mood at the time.
This is a feature I think could be an exceptional fit for Sling TV. With live TV, it’s all too easy to get frustrated surfing through all of the channels trying to find something you’re in the mood to watch. A Mood Discovery feature for live TV viewing could be incredibly useful.
Tracking your favorite team or sport isn’t always easy. Sometimes, games come on different networks, and it can be difficult to find the game you want to watch. Digitalsmiths has a Sports Discovery feature that lets viewers find their favorite teams and sporting events more easily, reducing the time spent channel surfing.
Live sports has been one of Sling TV’s main calling cards. The ability to finally legally watch sports online without a cable TV subscription has made Sling TV a game-changer. They carry a number of channels that broadcast sporting events, from all of the ESPN networks to TNT to beIN SPORTS and more, so a feature that would help users more easily find the events they care about without surfing through every channel would certainly be helpful.
Social media buzz has started to shape consumers’ viewing decisions. Whenever you see a bunch of people Tweeting about a certain TV show or live event, you’re likelier to turn on that program and see what all the hype is about. Digitalsmiths’ Social Discovery feature “incorporates real-time social data to surface the most buzzed-about content on social networks.”
This is another feature that would be a natural fit for Sling TV’s live internet TV offering. Incorporating social buzz as an option could make Sling TV a more interactive and more immersive experience for subscribers.
The next few months should prove to be pretty eventful for Sling TV as they get to work improving their user interface. If and when a new interface does go live, you can come here for a full review. Until then, don’t forget you can try Sling TV free for 7 days now to see what you think of the streaming service.