A fun new way to pick a flick, together

Today I’m demoing at the NCTA Cable Show  in Washington DC  a slick new “app” we built to help groups of people pick a movie to watch at home, called Movie Night. Tony Werner, Comcast’s CTO, invites me and my team to demo on stage.

If you’re like me, you’ve been on the couch trying to pitch to your spouse or friends movie ideas only to either end up settling for a movie you’re not thrilled about or just give up altogether. So a few of our best engineers and designers were also interested in this problem and over the last 6 weeks put together a collaborative experience that gets everyone in the room involved–and having fun while doing it.

Movie Night Screen

This is just one of a number of innovative products we’re incubating using Lean Startup methods in Silicon Valley as part of Comcast Labs. If you’d like to join us, let me know… we’re looking for more product, design, and engineering talent.

Photo of demo on stage 6/12/13 (by Josh Kennedy):

On Stage Demoing Movie Night

Logos for TV Companies

2013: TV is dead! Long live TV!

It’s both and 2013 will be the year it happens.

If you’re interested at all in TV you can’t miss rumors of the (real) Apple TV or the rising sales of the actual Apple TV as the most popular “accessory” for iPhones and iPads (10 million sold). We also hear that Intel’s announced its working on its own TV killer. And the one less talked about, which I think is much more likely, is the possibility of a Kindle TV by Amazon–they continue to rack up content deals (e.g. CBS, NBCUniversal) for their streaming service, have hired countless folks from the TV industry, and have a proven track record of building consumer products with billing relationships tied to them (Kindle).

Logos for TV Companies

Who will shape the Future of TV?

If you’re new to thinking about the TV space then I recommend a primer on the business done by Kit Digital which outlines the players, how they make money, and their general strategy. As someone operating in the business, I’d say its fairly accurate:

The 7 key players, circa 2013: The Networks, The MVPDs, The Premium Networks, The OTT Networks, Smart TVs, Third Party devices and Social TV. —Alan Wolk

The primer addresses many of the common questions I tend to hear in discussions like “When will HBO sell HBO GO a la carte?” and “Why are there a bunch of channels I don’t want bundled into ‘Basic Cable’?”

As you might expect, I disagree that all MVPDs are standing still or against innovation (see 5 things you didn’t know Comcast offered). As we innovate in the TV space though we’d be wise to better understand why people pay for TV in the first place. Perhaps the best piece on this was recently shared by Jeremy Toeman (CEO of TV startup Dijit Media) on GigaOm:

As the primary way of watching TV shifts from a traditional broadcast, linear, scheduled, single-device mode to one that is all on-demand, on all devices, available at any time, anywhere, the consumer’s TV watching world is suddenly filled with a curse of choices. If everything we watch requires us to navigate menus, pick from lists, and choose, choose, choose — TV watching is in danger of losing its primary function: escapism. – Jeremy Toeman

In many ways the TV Industry is on the verge of great change in a similar way the mobile phone market was 6 years ago and music industry 12 years ago. Technology is enabling greater innovation, customers are interested in trying alternatives, and there are millions of dollars being invested in developing new products at companies big and small.

In the end I think the winner will need a good combination of understanding the user, great design, saavy business development, and the ability to achieve broad distribution.

5 things you didn’t know Comcast offered

As I go to holiday parties this year and talk about what I do at work, I keep hearing from people that just aren’t aware of how much Comcast and its services have changed over the last year or two. So I put together a list of the top 5 things people often don’t know we offer…

1. A DVR that doesn’t suck

X1 Remote ControlComcast is rolling out an entirely new, cloud-based TV experience, called the X1 Platform. It’s built from the ground up to be a more intuitive, visual experience that’s connected to the web the way you’d expect your TV to be in 2012 (now available in the SF Bay Area).

It makes channel-surfing easier keeping track of your last 9 shows visually. Offers episode guides for your shows listing what’s on your DVR, OnDemand, and upcoming on air. Finally it offers a slew of apps (many built by my team) that enable you to do everything from seeing your Facebook photos on the big screen, to checking your commute’s traffic, to listening to Pandora.

2. Remote control using your phone

What's On App - ScreenshotWhether you’re on your couch or at work, many don’t realize you can use your smartphone or tablet to tune your TV’s channel or record a show. One of these apps, built by my team, aims to solve the problem of thousands of channels but you still can’t find something good to watch.

The What’s On app, in a visual way, shows you what’s trending on TV right now that you might want to watch. Over time we’ll learn what types of shows and channels you like and then tailor the results to you. This week we also added to ability to share with your friends what you’re watching which eventually will improve your results as well.

Finally if you want to control your DVR or browse a grid-based guide, check out the XFINITY TV app for iOS or Android.

3. A Sports Experience built for Fans

Sports App on X1Finding what games are on now is a whole lot easier with the Sports App offered for X1 or your iPhone/iPad. It shows you each match-up by league/conference, the current score, airing time, channel etc. From the app you can tune directly or set a recording on DVR.

While the game’s playing keep track of the other games you’re interested in, so you’ll always know when its time to switch channels.

4. Downloadable movies to take with you

XFINITY Player App on iPadComcast’s already got thousands of TV shows and movies OnDemand (most free) but that doesn’t help you when you’re on the airplane without the Internet… until now.

With the new XFINITY TV Player app you now can download TV shows and movies directly to your iPad/iPhone or Android tablet to watch where ever you want—meaning you’ll no longer have to pay for that in-flight movie again.

And if you’re on WiFi for Verizon LTE you can stream an even larger selection of titles.

5. Access to a large list of direct streaming apps

With you TV subscription comes access to a growing number of mobile streaming apps offered directly by content providers—if you get the channel, you can use the app. My kids love the Disney Jr app to catch up on their Mickey Mouse Clubhouse but here’s just a sample of what’s out there…

image  image  image  image  image

Finally, gone are the days of waiting around all day for the cable guy to show up. Comcast’s uses a narrower 2 hour window now if the service technician doesn’t make it out the Comcast Guarantee will credit you $20 or a free premium channel for 3 months as a way of showing we messed up. But please let me know if this ever doesn’t work out as I’d hate to see one of my friends not taken care of. 🙂

To wrap up this is really just the start as there’s lots more in the works to make your TV experience even better. Since my team plays a role in the above please let me know what you think.

1000 channels but what should you watch?

This week my team here at Comcast Silicon Valley put out a new iOS app aimed at solving the age-old problem of finding something on TV but in a fresh new way. 

What’s On by Comcast Labs shows XFINITY TV customers, in a visual way, what’s on right now sorted by a proprietary algorithm that puts what we think will be most popular programs for a given time slot and then tune/record directly from the app. 

The app enables you to personalize the experience with your favorite shows, channels, and even what shows you and your friend’s like on Facebook. For your favorite shows we’ll push an alert the day a new episode will air so you won’t miss it. 

By default the app will bias toward HD versions of shows but you can also filter to see just what movies are on (or starting soon), kids shows, sports, or just what “new” episodes are airing. 

Since we’re big fans of the Lean Startup methodology, here’s some of the hypotheses we’re looking to validate that customers want to:

  • Browse Live TV listings in a visual way sorted by popularity
  • Receive push alerts for new episodes of their favorite shows.
  • Connect their social graph to see what shows their friends “Like”

We’ve got lots more ideas of things we want to try but also will be listening to you and watching the metrics closely to see where we should focus. In positioning it as “by Comcast Labs” we hope to learn a lot from this app and there’s a strong possibility any successful features could make there way into other XFINITY offerings.

Let me or the team (whatson@sv.comcast.com) know what you think!

Know any Great Product Managers?

I’m now leading a new team at the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center to develop apps across Xfinity’s mobile and TV platforms. This is a chance to reach over 30 million households with the next generation ways of interacting and consuming media content. 

If you or someone you know has a passion for building great consumer product experiences for mobile or the TV itself, let me know as I’m looking to hire. I

Open roles on my team:

  • Product Manager, Apps for the TV – Innovate the “10 foot experience” on interactive TV apps for the new cloud-based Xfinity X1 platform. 
  • Product Manager, TV Apps for Mobile – Build apps for iOS and Android around how people discover, engage, and share what’s on TV.
  • Product Manager, Entertainment Apps for Mobile – Build apps for iOS and Android around targeted audiences (e.g. Music Videos, Kids).
  • Plus lots of developer roles for iOS, front-end web, and server technologies. 

Should be a lot of fun!

Update 8/17/12: Most of these positions are now filled but I am still looking for the “Apps for the TV” role if you know anyone that might be fit.