Thursday, March 1, 2012

My review of DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse and TimeWarner Cable as Second Screen experiences

I noticed while preparing for the last few blogs that AT&T U-verse updated their 2nd screen app.  I checked it out the other night and it was actually a significant improvement over the previous version (I reviewed it here last November), which got me thinking about the network operators in general.  Last November, I postulated that operators would focus strongly on Simple and would likely be ok (medium) on Social and Stimulating, but would be weak (naturally) in Seamless.  I also think they are (at least currently) significantly behind the power curve on the concept of Discovery (they are still in the grid guide mentality and think Search is a form of Discovery).  Anyway, while I don't have easy access to every app out there (the US market alone has a significant number of network operator apps (satellite, cable, telco), I was able to access DirecTV and TimeWarner Cable through some friends/neighbors and add in my own U-verse view.  I'd like to round this out with Verizon and Comcast in the next few weeks, but need to find some friends who live in neighborhoods with that service (no always easy in the LA Metro area).

Let's start with DirecTV.  My good friend Bill loves his DirecTV installation, with 6 receivers in his home.  He is a technical geek (like others of us) and prides himself on implementing the latest in-home streaming solutions, etc.  He was unaware the DirecTV app actually existed (poor marketing by DirecTV), but was very pleased with it as we worked thru the various elements of the app.

Simple.  They have very strong features around controlling the first screen.  The ability to use it as a remote, to manage multiple set top boxes in the house, to see what is on the DVR, to record, to browse cover art and play to the TV, etc.  High+
Social.  Not surprisingly, the social features are light.  You do have the ability to tell others what you are watching on Facebook and Twitter, but there is no interface to view your friends' comments or viewing habits.
Seamless.  There are no other sources of content--except that there are some titles and channels that you are allowed to stream to your iPad.  This is somewhat interesting (a first screen experience), but the fact that it isn't all titles and is only some titles will likely frustrate the consumer and just drive them to NetFlix or Hulu.  None.

Stimulating.  I was surprise at their efforts in Stimulating.  They had a section to keep up with current team scores, a decent deeper dive on the show you are watching, etc.  There is not the deep, rich metadata to the levels of Fanhattan nor the synchronized content capabilities of a TVplus, but there has been some effort on behalf of the consumer here.  Medium

Discovery.  I was also surprised to see a decent effort at Discovery.  There was a "What's Hot" section and a "You Might Like" area under title details.  Mostly the Amazon approach, but better than I thought it would be.  Low.

AT&T U-verse.  I took the plunge on U-verse 2 years ago for better broadband speeds and haven't been disappointed in content options or download speeds.  The app I previously reviewed was really meant to be your mobile phone app--when you are somewhere else and essentially want to record something on your DVR you forgot to set.  The new version of the iPad app is actually pretty impressive.  There is even an on-demand section for content to stream to your iPad.  They are making progress, which as a subscriber, is received well even if they aren't going to match BuddyTV or Fanhattan anytime soon.

Simple.  Strong capabilities to control your first screen, access the DVR listing, record new shows/series, access multiple devices in the home, and even flip through the cover art of currently airing programs with an HD filter (doesn't remember your filter preference unfortunately).  High.

Social.  As predicted, a weak showing in Social, with the ability to post a comment to Facebook (but not Twitter), no Check-in feature, no ability to see friends' comments or viewings, etc.  Low.

Seamless.  It was not surprising to find no way to view other sources of content.  They did try to let the consumer browse content by networks for VOD (not sure why) and allowed some titles to be streamed to the iPad (but not channels). None.

Stimulating.  Again, better than I though it would be.  The ability to see show level detail in a series, cast members and photos, etc.  Not the level of Fanhattan for rich metadata and no TVplus-like synchronization experiences, but a start in the right direction.  Low.

Discovery.  Very, very rudimentary level attempt at making recommendations (Related Programs).  Low.

TimeWarner Cable.  I wouldn't say Jeff is in love with his service from TWC, but it gets the job done for his viewing and broadband needs.  When I reviewed the TimeWarner Cable app in December last year, I did not give them high marks.  They were certainly the poorest showing of the three in this blog.  Opening the app was much more difficult than the others, requiring a password re-entry each time you launched the app.  It opened onto the live streaming channels feature (something DirecTV had as well), but was slow and unresponsive to get to the other features (had to wait 4-5 seconds).  The other features were literally remote features that were also slow and difficult to use.  As Jeff put it, "This just makes the iPad a big, slow remote."

Simple.  You do have the ability to control channels, tune in to content, access the DVR, etc.  I would give it lower marks for the difficulty of use and slowness of the experience, even when tuning-in to content.  Medium.
Social.  No social features what so ever.  None.

Seamless.  No seamless features, but again this concept of being able to stream channels (only certain ones) to my iPad.  No ability to stream individual titles to the iPad.  None.

Stimulating.  Only very cursory title information available on shows and movies.  Low.

Discovery.  Nothing.  Not even and attempt.

Summing it all up.  DirecTV has a strong app and AT&T's U-Verse app is right on it's heels.  TimeWarner Cable...well, they have a long ways to go.  What about my theory last November?  They are all strong in Simple, and while DirecTV surprised me by doing better overall than I expected, I would say that AT&T's U-Verse is right where I expected them to be and TimeWarner Cable is below what I expected.  It you compared them to everyone else, they would have been middle of the pack (far behind BuddyTV, Fanhattan, etc, but ahead of the guide-only apps and most of the branded network and show apps.

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