Scotland's STV blazes trail for catch-up TV services

The BBC iPlayer is regarded as one of the best catch-up TV services in the world. The reputation is well-deserved. But a similar or at least comparable experience is well within reach of smaller organizations. In a recent usability study of catch-up TV services in the UK, reported in the Telegraph, the quality of Scotland's STV user experience ranked just behind the BBC and ahead of the Sky Player.


"The research, which was carried out by Webcredible, a user experience consultancy, scored iPlayer 88 per cent in usability stakes, closely followed in second place by STV Player, the Scottish TV broadcaster’s VOD offering, which is gave 76 per cent. According to Webcredible's analysis, the BBC iPlayer currently offers viewers the "most usable video on demand offering"."


My reaction is more about Web product development today than it is about Brightcove and video specifically. But I take a few lessons away from this review, below. 


We've had the good fortune to work with and for the STV team for over two years. Brightcove helped design and develop the first version of the STV Player in the fall of 2008, and then were pleased to see that work get tossed in the dustbin within a year. :) Brightcove Professional Services team works on dozens of large-scale projects each year, but our goal is to teach our customers to fish, so to speak. To get them up to speed quickly with Brightcove and independent going forward, not to rely on custom work going forward. In that spirit, it's been impressive and rewarding to see what the STV team has done in the two years since that initial launch. 


I take away a few big lessons from this one in particular:

  1. Don't build it if you can buy, or rent. It still boggles my mind to see potential Brightcove clients (or online video platform customers, period) building core video platform functionality on their own. Players, analytics, transcoding, ad integrations. Most of them fail or don't maximize their full potential, because they don't have teams (and budgets) large enough keep up with the pace of change in the market.
  2. Iterate, iterate, iterate. We encounter way too many clients that can't make a decision. Voltaire would have made for a good product manager when he said "perfect is the enemy of the good." Too often we run into clients that have 2-3 years worth of roadmap functionality that they'd like to see come to market in 2-3 months. So instead of starting small, they don't start at all. Just ship something, and learn from it in the market. 
  3. Simple is good. In a post-Google/Facebook time, I'm still amazed by new services that come to market that are cluttered and too heavy, and services that try to be too clever for their own good. I've been involved in quite a few projects where the client is intent on sophisticated "chaptering" UI features, interactive video hotspots, and crazy AJAX flourishes. I'll put dim the lights in that bucket too. Not worth the pixel space on the screen. STV did a smart thing with their shows and broke them up into discrete chunks, making it easy to navigate to the final quarter of a show. Smart for a catch-up TV service. And they did this with basic HTML. 
  4. SEO. There's no excuse in this day and age for leaving this traffic on the table.
    - Page name has to match the video name 
    - Video name in the URL (and category too, please)
    - Video name and metadata in HTML
    - Related videos and clusters like most popular or recommended in HTML, too
    - Google sitemap


Eric Elia
VP, TV Solutions