Device synchronisation, offline viewing… and a sleep timer? Here are some of the most commonly asked for features as requested by viewers.

Back in October I completed some research for our annual VUIX conference – an event which is dedicated to online video product development and UI/UX – which attempted to answer a simple question. Does the user experience match user expectation in VOD services?

You can read about the approach I took to answer that question in detail here, but essentially I analysed over 4,000 viewer comments of VOD services taken directly from the Apple App and Google Play Store over a period of 6 months. Each review was categorised based on its content and whether the sentiment was generally positive or negative.

In doing this, alongside going a little bit crazy, I was able to gain an insight into some of the most sought after features that users expect to see in OTT services. Some of these are pretty commonplace whilst others are a bit more uncommon.

Now, at the request of a few industry colleagues, I’m publishing the complete list (and the services in which they were requested) for your review. Enjoy!

Content Discovery and Recommendation

#1. Better Filtering – Netflix, TED, YouTube

Whilst the majority of services allow a user to filter content based on common categories such as popularity or date, the ability to search by view count is missed. One viewer also asked for a page on Netflix which revealed all of the programming present on the service. At last count that’s 14,000 titles.

#2. Follow a TV Show – HBO NOW, Hulu

Whilst receiving notifications on when episodes of a TV show are to be added / removed from a service is one thing, viewers also expressed an interest in ‘following’ a programme and alerted when new content is added. This could be through the form of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, cast information and news.

#3. Shuffle Button – YouTube

Seen most commonly in music streaming services (think Spotfiy or Pandora) YouTube users requested functionality that would play a random, continuous stream of content without interruption. Whilst perhaps not best suited to long-form programming, this could be a nifty feature for services which are short-form heavy.

#4. Social Sharing Functionality – BBC iPlayer, TED

This covers everything from being able to click a Facebook ‘Like’ button to leaving a comment below the video inside the service itself.

#5. Trailers / Previews – Netflix, Blinkbox



#6. Bookmark / Favourites – All 4, HBO NOW, NOW TV

A number of users requested the ability to bookmark their favourite programmes, so as to find them easier at a later date. According to data from our Video User Interface Library around 44% of global VOD services currently support this feature.

#7. Device Synchronisation – TED

An obvious addition, but one that can frustrate the user if not present, this is when activity that occurs on one device is automatically updated on another. For example, if a viewer begins watching a show on one device and then pauses it, they’ll be able to pick up where they left off on another device seamlessly.

#8. Notifications – All 4, BBC iPlayer, TED

There were a number of different flavours to this one. Users want to be alerted:

  1. When a TV episode or film is about to be removed from a service;
  2. When a programme is about to start (on video players which support simulcast, like BBC iPlayer);
  3. When a new episode of a TV show is added to a service;
  4. To remind them to watch a new video every day.

#9. Recently Watched – HBO NOW

Usually present on the homepage of VOD services, a user can quickly review the content they have most recently watched.

#10. UI Customisation – Netflix

A lot of time and effort is spent by broadcasters designing the most coherent and polished UI for their users, however some viewers wish for the power to customise their own interface. One Netflix user complained about the fact that “the screen keeps changing all the time” and wished that “it would just stick”; another wanted the option to manage their ‘continue watching’ section and delete shows which were no longer of interest to them; whilst a final viewer craved the ability to clear their history and start everything again from scratch.

Video Player

#11. Background Downloads – BBC iPlayer

Similar to the Continuous Audio functionality (see below), users of BBC iPlayer wish for a download to remain uninterrupted even if the application is exited or device locked.

#12. Continuous Audio – YouTube

Hundreds of millions of hours of video are consumed on YouTube every day – and a big chunk of that is dedicated to music-related content. Indeed, the Adele song ‘Hello’ has racked up over 1 billion views on the site in less than three months – the fastest ever music video to do so.

Whilst YouTube Music allows users to continue listening to audio even once the application is exited, the video service unfortunately does not do the same. For those who use YouTube as an alternative to Spotify this can be a big problem.

#13. Download to Device – ITV Hub, Netflix, HBO GO

One of the most frequently asked for features I found during my research. Of course the ability to offer this function ultimately comes down to the acquired content rights, but users now have the expectation that they should be able to enjoy programming wherever they are and with whatever device they have to hand.

This has been compounded by the fact that several well-known VOD services, such as BBC iPlayer and, more recently, Amazon Prime Instant Video, support download to device functionality.

#14. Live Restart – BBC iPlayer

Whilst BBC iPlayer does currently support Live Restart, where a viewer can rewind to the start of a programme, some users took issue with the fact that they could only go back as far as two hours.

#15. Multi-Watch – Blinkbox

A number of users from Blinkbox ( which was recently rebranded TalkTalk TV) requested the option for multiple people to watch programming on the same account, at the same time. Whilst for some this idea is quickly dismissed (each additional viewer using an account represents a potentially lost sale), a number of video providers have decided to take little action against the practice. Richard Pepler, HBO CEO, has said in the past:

It’s not that we’re unmindful of it, it just has no impact on the business. [In fact] it’s a terrific marketing vehicle for the next generation of viewers.

#16. Picture in Picture – All 4

HBO NOW introduced this functionality as part of Apple’s iOS 9 update back in September, meaning users are able to leave the application but continue to watch a movie or TV show. Also a very popular feature in sports services, as seen in NHL GameCenter which was built by online video technology company NeuLion.

#17. Resume After Stopping – All 4, Blinkbox, HBO NOW

Already present in a number of VOD services, this feature enables the viewer to pause their viewing session and exit the application before picking up where they left off at another time. Requires the user to create an account associated with the platform in order to work.

#18. Sleep Timer – Netflix

One of the more fun features to come out of my research, a Netflix user requested the ability to set a timer which would automatically shut down the service once they had fallen asleep. One would this think is so they wouldn’t miss too much of their favourite show!

#19. Integration with Film/TV Databases – Netflix, Blinkbox

Amazon purchased IMDB, an online database of film, TV and video game information, back in 1998 and, shortly after launching Amazon Prime Instant Video, leveraged the platform to enhance its video service. For instance, last year the company introduced X-Ray, which enables users to learn more about what they’re watching through providing trivia and context as an overlay on-screen. See screenshot below:

During my analysis, I found a number of viewers who requested a service integrate with other databases (such as Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic) in order to provide similar information.

#20. View Shows in Portrait – BBC iPlayer

Pretty self-explanatory – though why anyone would want to watch a 60 minute programme in portrait on iPhone is beyond me.

Support / Other

#21. Buy Content via the App – Amazon, Blinkbox

For some iOS TVOD services, the user is forced to visit a desktop website to purchase content rather than being able to do it directly via the application. Ultimately this results in a disjointed and frustrating experience. Whilst this makes sense from a financial perspective ( Apple claims 30% of transactions made via iPhone / iPad apps) it can risk alienating some viewers.

#22. Cellular Viewing – Amazon Prime Instant Video, HBO Go

According to Ooyala’s Q3 2015 Global Video Index mobile video views have increased by 616% since Q3 2012 and now make up 45% of all video views globally, representing a massive shift in consumer behaviour as content increasingly is consumed on-the-go. For this to happen, unless a service offers download-to-device functionality, programming has to be streamed over mobile networks.

Whilst it makes sense that in some instances a company would block this functionality (to prevent a viewer from racking up a hefty data bill inadvertently) it does also restrict users with more lenient internet packages. Perhaps a compromise would be enabling a user to place a cap on how much data they’d like to use and then informing them once it has been hit?

#23. Geo-Locked Content – Netflix

A large number of Netflix users bemoaned the fact that the content available on the UK service did not match up to that of the US one. To get around this problem viewers resort to using virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass geo-restrictions placed upon them, however Netflix recently reported it would be “cracking down” on such practices.

Whilst whether Netflix will make good on this threat is still yet to be seen, it does raise an interesting point – is it time that the industry re-evaluates the current content distribution chain? Read some of my thoughts on the matter here.

Tweet me your thoughts @consultVodkr


Kauser Kanji has been working in online video for 19 years, formerly at Virgin Media, ITN and NBC Universal, and founded VOD Professional in 2011. He has since completed major OTT projects for, amongst others, A+E Networks, the BBC, BBC Studios, Channel 4, DR (Denmark), Liberty Global, Netflix, Sony Pictures, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and UKTV. He now writes industry analyses, hosts an online debate show, OTT Question Time, as well as its in-person sister event, OTT Question Time Live

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