After a few years of Youtube showing the world how to do video on the web, lots of traditional broadcasters and studios have started putting their content online. Part of the reason is to try to steal YouTube’s thunder – a more market-friendly tactic than just lawsuits. Many of these sites are trying to figure out an advertising model and make money, while others are obviously trying to get viewers more engaged by joining social networks, making mash-ups, etc.
But enough about their goals, what about user goals and experience? In web video the content may be king but usability is almost as important. If your user interface is difficult, confusing, or unpleasant, users will leave your site to get the content elsewhere.
So I’m going to try to do a usability review of various web video sites over the next few weeks. These won’t be formal reviews with user tests and cool eye-tracking heatmaps. Instead I’ll point out some user goals and hold up each site to the same rubrick.
The first site: SouthParkStudios.com
So, what do users want out of web video? I can think of a number of scenarios: finding a particular clip or episode, watching recent episodes, sending a link to a friend or embedding a clip in a blog, and , well, just enjoying the show.
Score: 4 out of 4 points. This site has everything – every show from every season.
Finding Particular Videos
Method: I’m taking a cue from the creators of Friends – people don’t remember episode names. So I’ll be doing a Google search for the show name and “the one where” and taking the first relevant result. In this case it’s “the one where Ben Affleck has a relationship with Cartman’s Jennifer Lopez hand” (without quotes).
Score: 2 out of 4 points. The search fails, but a simpler query for “Ben Affleck” leads us right to the clips. The full episode is available.
How easy is it to watch videos? What’s the quality?
Score: 4 out of 4. It’s immediately apparent what to click on to see an episode or clip. You can watch videos full screen and South Park’s animation lends itself well to compressed video. The navigation between episodes is pretty nice, with thumbnails of all episodes for that season along the bottom of the window.
Linking to Videos
Score: 3 out of 4 points. The URL for each clip and episode is available by clicking the “Share” button. Clips open up in the main window so if you can get the link like any other web page. The only lost point is the fact the episodes open in new windows – what is the point? It takes away my browser toolbar and any social bookmaking toolbars or extensions I might normally use.
Let’s give it a try:
Score: 3 out of 4 points. Once again use the Share button to get the embed code. They lose a point for not allowing embedding of full episodes – they probably have good reasons for not wanting users to do so, but we’re only concerned about the user’s side of things right now.
Score: 3 out of 4 points. Ads are shown before the video (for clips) or at two break points about halfway through (for full episodes). Commercials are short and don’t obscure video or interrupt the show more than normal TV commericals would. They lose a point, though, because of the lack of variety – I watched a few episodes and plenty of clips and only saw two different commercials, over and over again.
I’m going in go with a slightly different scale this time: introducing the patented Bleeding Ear Scale of Web Video Volume.
You may have noticed that some TV stations play their commercials a little louder than the show. The theory I’ve always heard is that they want you catch your attention even if you get up to go to the fridge.
Unfortunately, most people don’t watch web video the same way they watch TV – they’re usually sitting much, much closer to the speakers or wearing headphones. The bone-shattering difference in volume between the video and the commercials on SouthParkStudios.com earned the site four bleeding ears.
Total score: 19 out of 24 points, with a special note to dive for the volume button whenever an ad is coming up.