Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dear The CW: GRADE F - Video Player User Experience

My wife and I do not subscribe to cable.  We subscribe to Netflix and use the instant play a few times a week for "catalog" shows.  For current shows, we use Hulu.  However for my wife's Gossip Girl obcession Hulu sends you to CW network website.  The CW offers recent episodes with commercials cut into the normal broadcast commercial breaks.  This is normal and expected for "free" content and I'm not bothered by it.

My first impressions of the CW network's video player is that is a step up from Netflix because the CW uses Flash instead of Silverlight that Netflix uses (yeah, it's the web developer in me).  The honeymoon lasted all of 20 minutes because their player user experience is down right frustrating.

The player has all the normal features you see at Hulu and Netflix: full screen, pause ability and chapter navigation.  It fails in most areas which I'll get into later.  The first question I ask of the CW about their video player is: Why do you bother offering video online at all?

The user experience is horrible not to mention the bugs it has.  Let's get into the user experience before the bugs:

  • Duirng commercial breaks, you cannot pause the video, exit full screen or change/mute the volumn.  FAIL: I can understand not letting people not watch the commercials, but to hold a computer hostage by not allowing pause or muting is horrible.

  • When the player actually works long enough to finish an episode, the behavior is to play the previous episode in the season instead of the next available episode. FAIL: Why would the default behavior to play episode 2 if you just finished episode 3?  I just watched episode 2 before finishing episode 3!

  • When you start an episode, a series of commercials plays.  During this period you cannot put the player into full screen mode. FAIL: Why do I have to wait to put the video into full screen until the actual show starts?

  • If you stop an episode or experience a player bug where you have to restart an episode in the middle, you cannot do that easily because you have watch the commercial breaks that ensued before the section you want.  FAIL: So if the player fails in the fourth act, you have watch the initial commercial series, click to the fourth act, watch break #1, notice that now the player decided to start in the second act, click to the fourth act, watch break #2, notice that now the player decided to start in the third act, click on the fourth act, watch break #3 and then the fourth act starts.  Hopefully the player didn't mess up with a "bug" during all of this and you have to restart the process again.

For unkown reasons, the video player behaves badly:

  • Sometimes the episode just ends in the middle (from 1 -39 minutes) and it stops and just starts playing the previous episode as if the episode ended.  This usually happens 1-2 times per episode.

  • Sometimes during the commercial breaks, it plays the same series of commercials two, three or four times.  So you end up with 6-9 minutes of commercials.  If I was an advertiser on the CW online video network, I'd be upset for all the additional times I'm paying for these plays.

  • Sometimes the player just hangs.  No message that "your internet connection slows" or anything.  We have solid 6MB internet connection and it plays HD from Netflix and Hulu just fine.  Getting back to where you were is just a PITA as I outlined above.

Ultimately, the CW does not care if people can actually watch content from their network.  Dare I say all they care is repeated watching of commercials to get money from advertises. Bottom line is their player sucks.

User Experience