Usability Violations with Comcast Digital Program Guide/DVR

February 5th, 2016

After picking up my first HDTV, I switched from the phenomal TiVo interface to Comcast’s built-in DVR. TiVo has recently announced an HD receiver, but I still haven’t decided if the improved interface is worth the extra cash. Either way, this won’t stop me from critiquing Comcast’s interface.

1. You cannot pause live TV while using the program guide. So, if I am paging through the guide and want to pause the show I’m watching — a pretty reasonable thing to do if something good comes on but I am in the process of looking for another program in the guide — pressing the pause button kicks me out of the guide. Then I have to start over trying to find my way back to where I was in the guide. (Finding things in the guide could also be easier, amplifying the problem.)

2. If I am watching something on delay, and the recorder needs to change the channel to record something, I will get kicked out of the program that is being watched on delay. This one is a bit difficult to explain, so I will use an example. I was watching a movie on TNT (Sleepy Hollow, if you must know), which I had paused for about 20 minutes and as such was watching delayed. The movie was set to end at 10pm, at which time I had two other shows scheduled to be recorded (it is a dual-tuner DVR). At 9:59, a message popped up asking me if I wanted to change the channel at 10pm to record my show. I selected yes. A minute later, the channel changed, kicking me out of the delayed program and causing me to miss the last 20 minutes of the movie I was watching. (If I was using TiVo, the channel would have changed but the hard drive would have saved the end of the movie as well, allowing me to watch both.)

I was going to make this a top 10 list, but I only got to 2. What are your gripes with this interface?’s New TV Campaign

March 16th, 2009

ESPN recently redesigned their website (not sure exactly when) and has launched a new TV campaign to promote the site. If you haven’t seen the ads, watch below, then read:

In general, I find it interesting that they have chosen to promote the subdirectory URL (i.e. aspect of the site, since, in my experience, novice users don’t always fully understand how to use those URLs (and clearly ESPN has to appeal to the entire population). Though I’ve found that people tend to find “” clearer than the other method — “”, in general they are far less likely to use a subdomain than to just go to the main site and look for the content they seek.

In spite of that larger issue, I noticed some other minor issues that could create big problems for the worldwide leader:

The voiceover states (verbatim), “espn dot com, slash… Bill Simmons, The Celtics, The Fighting Irish, Mike Golic, Serbian Table Tennis Sensation Biba Golic…” However, typing in does not work (caps for emphasis only). Nor does or! Ok, so maybe that last one is a bit of a stretch, and when they quickly run through the URLs at the end of the commercial, the “the” is gone (as is the “serbian…”), but still, shouldn’t the voiceover state the URL correctly?

I suspected another flaw was that they showed spaces in the names of multi-word items (i.e. Bill (space) Simmons), but typing the space into the URL actually works! Clearly somebody was thinking of these types of issues, so how did they miss the announcer stating “The Celtics”???

Another issue I noted is that when you go to, it automatically redirects you to, a relic of Disney’s failed “Go” network of the late 90s. From the homepage, however, if I type “slash” billsimmons on the end of the URL, it does not work. Only when I type the full URL from scratch (i.e. does it point me to the right place. It took me a minute to figure this out — and I’m quite good at this stuff. Would a normal user try more than once, or figure it out if they did? Doubtful.

Even if users are ready for the whole “slash” concept, these minor inconsistencies will surely create problems for some people and force them to have a negative impact on the overall campaign. It would certainly be enlightening to see how these commercials do in terms of audience response and traffic to the website, though I guess the only way to find out would be if some ESPN employee (you know who you are) would tell me.

This is OUR Country

April 2nd, 2007

I have to wonder if Chevy knows that everyone hates their “This is our Country” ads and continues to run them because there is no such thing as bad publicity, or if they really don’t know how poorly received they are.

CBS and the March Madness Experience

March 16th, 2007

Talk to any die-hard college basketball fan about CBS’ coverage of the NCAA Tournament and you’ll hear mostly grumbling about their lack of understanding of what the viewers want. I wonder if they actually do any user research?

– Their choice of which game to show and when to switch between games is generally horrible. Instead of trying to figure out what the people want, why not take NBC’s lead (with the Olympics) and ESPN’s lead with pretty much everything and show all the games on different channels? Viacom owns Spike, BET, and CSTV, all of which would be reasonable options.

– Their lead announcer team is generally despised by all the die-hards. Sure, Nance and Packer have the most experience, but if that many people hate them, doesn’t that tell you something?

– Not all the games are available in HD. With all the money that is spent on this event, how can they not show everything in High Def?

– Kudos to CBS for streaming the games online for free — this is a great feature. But why not use this to pilot some community features like live chat while watching the games? It seems that they are wasting an opportunity to really draw in their viewers.

– Clark Kellogg smugly commented yesterday that “the selection committee must be pleased” about all the higher seeds advanced in what was one of the more banal opening days in recent memory. Hey Clark, what about your viewers — do you think they really care about the selection committee?

– This may be out of CBS’ control, but on Saturday there is one game starting at ~1pm and three starting around 5. Why not have 2 and 2 so more people get to watch more games?

I’ve listed out just a few examples, but I could go on and on — CBS consistently shows that they don’t understand their viewing audience. Perhaps they should conduct some field testing and surveys in the future.

Affordance of Comcast Guide

February 26th, 2007

I’ve noticed an interesting issue with the use of Comcast’s onscreen guide, related to the fact that the channels move from low to high on the screen. To some extent, this makes sense, because we read content from top to bottom. On the other hand, when I scroll “down” through the guide, I am actually scrolling “up” through the channels, creating a visual mismatch.

For example, in the screenshot below, as I scroll through the guide I notice that the “Daily Show” is below “Dead Like Me”. If I were to want to check out both of these shows, I’d click on the first one and then click “down” on the channel button. Only problem is, if I’m on channel 59, clicking “down” will bring me to channel 58. Though it is certainly logical that when on channel 59, clicking down will bring me to 58, the visual display on the screen tricks the mind into thinking otherwise.

comcast guide

As I mentioned before, humans read from top to bottom, so switching the guide to read bottom to top — while solving this problem — would create another one. So, I guess I’m not really sure what the answer is here, but it is an interesting issue nonetheless.

Happy Festivus!

December 21st, 2006

In honor of the great Festivus holiday, today I choose to air some of my UX related grievances. In the infamous words of Frank Costanza, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people!” Feel free to post your own grievances below.

To, for having the worst search engine ever. Searching for “roger clyne and the peacemakers”? That brings up nothing. But “roger clyne & the peacemakers” — we’ve got a match! (Just “peacemakers” brings up nothing too, btw, so we’re clear.) Cool site otherwise, though.

To Lotus Notes, for “finding” (Ctrl + F) messages off the viewable area of the screen, so I have to exit out of the “Find” dialog and scroll down to see if the message found is the one I’m looking for, and if it is not (usually the case), having to re-enter the dialog and start over. (I could have an entire list on Notes, but that’s enough for now.)

To the Chester County Library System, my library, for requiring “www” in front of their url, Typing only times out. University of Richmond ( and Colgate University ( are two additional culprits (out of many, many more).

To MySpace, for putting my password in plain text in my account confirmation email. I just registered guys — I remember my password. Please don’t send it to me through one of the least secure channels on the entire internet!

To everyone who has a MySpace page that plays music when I visit it. Aside from a specific band’s page, I can’t recall ever enjoying the song that plays. Why must thou force it on me?

To every retail site that doesn’t remember that I like to “view all”. It is so simple to remember this — why make me click the damn link again and again???

To the new Yahoo! Mail, for — despite being the very best webmail — not having an advanced search feature, so everytime a person is copied on an email, that email appears in the search results. I’ve got 4,000 emails people, I need some additional search functionality! While we’re at it, why does it jump to the very top of the list when I sort by Name or Subject? How about jumping to the selected email? Even Lotus Notes can do that.

To Firefox’s developer toolbar, for only having “800×600” as an option for browser resizing. Clearly developed by someone working at 1024×768, who didn’t think about those of us who develop at higher resolutions and want to test 1024 as well. Yes, I know that I can type it in manually, but that isn’t very convenient, is it?

To Comcast’s DVR, for not being TiVo. I like that you record HDTV and integrate into my channel guide, but after that it is all downhill.

To my DVD player, for not having a shuffle option when playing MP3 CDs. How am I supposed to celebrate Festivus without good music?

What problems do you have? Comment below.

Apple’s iTV Announcement: A HUGE Day in HCI History

September 13th, 2006

Mark it down. September 12, 2006. The day that changed everything. The day that brought the TV/Internet convergence era from a theory to a reality.

Amazingly enough, it came as an afterthought to a press release about the new iTunes software. While it is cool and interesting that Apple is now offering more TV shows than ever and feature length movies for download, this is not the groundbreaking news I’m talking about.

No, I’m talking about the announcement of the tentatively-titled ‘iTV’, a novel-sized device that allows users to wirelessly stream iTunes video to their TV sets. Just like the iPod didn’t invent the mp3 or the mp3 player, iTV does not invent this technology — I could rig this up on my LCD TV today quite easily. It will, however, just as the iPod did, bring this technology to the mainstream. (And I’m not even one of those crazy Mac people!)

According to Apple, the videos will also now be offered at near-DVD quality, which pretty much makes this new device and software package an immediate competitor to Cable OnDemand services and DVDs (rentals, sales and online memberships). It pretty much turns the world of TV on its head!

So, a few years from now, when the way we acquire and watch video content is totally different than it was in 2006, remember this day. And remember that you heard it here first.

Nearly 25% of Hispanics Subscribe to Mobile TV!

August 12th, 2006

I was reading Electronic Retailer, one of those free industry rags, at a break during the recent eTail conference, when a headline blared out at me from the page: “Study Shows That Nearly 25 Percent of Hispanics Subscribe to Mobile TV”

WOW, I thought. That is an amazing number for a technology that is so new. How could this many people be subscribed without this mobile feature getting more fanfare? Of course, this number is nowhere near true. It turns out that 23% of moblie TV subscribers are Hispanic, which, as you may have already guessed, means that far less than 25% of all Hispanics subscribe to mobile TV.

Talk about a quick way to lose credibility — Electronic Retailer quickly lost it with me.

Are the Networks Fighting TiVo with Commercial Placement?

May 15th, 2006

I’ve noticed recently that many of the networks are leading the commercial breaks with a movie preview. Most people, it is not crazy to assume, are far more interested in seeing an ad for the next summer blockbuster than a minivan ad. It’s a subtle move, but it draws the watcher into the commercial break, and postpones the inevitable reach for the TiVo remote. Personally, I’ve even ended up watching an extra commercial or two because of this tactic.

I have no proof that this is being done intentionally, but it certainly makes sense, and seems to be working.

PVR/DVR Recommendations

February 3rd, 2006

A friend of mine asked me to help him figure out the best digital recording solution (VCR Replacement) for him recently, so I figured I’d repurpose that email here…

There are basically 4 choices:

1) TiVo — the best interface/software and features, but expensive because you have to buy the TiVo unit and pay a monthly fee to get all the program guide data and use the advanced features. (You can actually get a tivo for less than $50, but its kind of expensive to subscribe – $12.95/month or $300 product lifetime.)

2) DVR through the cable company: Pay $9-10 a month and it is integrated into your existing digital cable tv guide.

3) DVD-Recorder: burn shows from TV directly to DVD. There is no subscription, but you would have to buy the player ($200) and the media (discs ~ $1 apiece). It would be very cumbersome to record onto a disc every time you wanted to record something — this would really be more for people who want permanent copies of the things they record. In addition, you don’t have the program guide information so you’d have to record by day and time like a VCR. There are some DVD-Recorders that come with a program guide and a hard drive, but I really don’t have any experience with the interface or usability of these units.

4) Put a PVR card in a computer — they are pretty cheap and the schedule software is free. However, these don’t work that well and you can only watch on your computer. Not a great option for most people. (Although I use as a second option, and to capture MPEG video.)

To me, for most people it is a no brainer — get a DVR through the cable company. Its the easiest to set up and use, you don’t have to buy any extra equipment, and it will be integrated into your normal TV watching. Yes it is $10 a month, but that is cheaper than TiVo and it’ll take 2 years to catch up to the upfront money you’d spend on a DVD-Recorder & media (not to mention how much easier it is to use without having to worry about discs and all that junk). If you have the money and are an early adopter, TiVo has the best interface and advanced feature set. When Comcast and TiVo join together later in the year for the integrated DVR, that really may be the ultimate solution.

Whatever you choose, a DVR is the most important gadget in any home entertainment arsenal. If you haven’t picked one up yet, what are you waiting for?

TV As We Know It Just Changed

November 8th, 2005

Today CBS and NBC announced deals to offer replays of prime-time programs for 99 cents per episode. This is the big one — the announcement that will change the TV landscape forever.

TiVo, DVR and OnDemand have been around for a while now, but this, along with ABC’s recent deal with iPod Video, finally brings network TV into the new world. I pine for the days when TV is completely on demand and schedules disappear. Perhaps this will never happen completely, but today’s announcement was a big first step.

Channels Must Be in Sync!

November 6th, 2005

I was watching ESPN’s NFL Countdown this morning and they ran a graphic across the bottom of the screen. It read:

Now on
Why Packers aren’t focused on their record
Search: RECORD

Although I wasn’t all that interested in what the Packers think of their record, I already had the site up on my laptop, so I entered the search term. On the first page of search results, there were no results that related to the Green Bay Packers.

How does something like this happen? How does a major network like ESPN run a graphic on one of their most popular shows without confirming that what they tell customers to do will yield the desired result?

One of the most frustrating experiences for me as a customer is when the channels of a multi-channel organization do not communicate with each other. Years ago, I purchased a Sears product online for in-store pickup, and the resulting horrible experience I had (because the channels were not communicating) has kept me away from or stores ever since. ESPN runs this type of graphic all the time, but the two times I’ve actually tried it, I haven’t been able to find the article they were promoting. I won’t do it again.

My TiVo Story

May 23rd, 2005

Every convert has one… here’s mine:

It was July of 2000 – I was in New York City to see the culmination of a 2-year odyssey that was the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band reunion tour. My collegiate pal Hank (from DC) and I (from Philly) traveled up to see the last two shows of the 5-night stand. We met up with this other guy from college, known only as “Shoats”, (because his shoes were as big as boats), who I didn’t really keep in touch with anymore but knew relatively well back in the day.

When we arrived, I was introduced to this girl – a friend of Shoats’ – called “Swish”, who was also heading to the show. She was one of those mysterious girls who may have been appealing or attractive, but I can’t say for sure. After the show, a bunch of us went back to Swish’s pad to add another beer to the too many we’d probably already had. To this day there are two things I remember about Swish’s apartment: 1) it was the most disgusting apartment I’ve ever set foot in, and 2) she had TiVo. Read the rest of this entry »

Cox joining the iTV fray

April 25th, 2005

Cox announced plans to roll out iTV services to five systems by the end of this year. Much of the services, which will be free to customers, are web-like functionality, such as weather forecasts, movie listings and news headlines. The most interesting service on the list is the ability for customers to pay and manage their accounts through the tv — which could lead the way to eCommerce down the line. Cox is working with MetaTV, a susidiary focused on iTV, on this new venture.

On a slightly related topic, it is very interesting how many players are out there right now for iTV. Cox and Comcast just purchased another iTV provider, Liberate, through a joint venture called, cutely, “Double C”. There’s also openTV, GoldPocket, and several others in the market. At some point, we should see mass consolidation.

Interactive TV Purchasing a Reality

April 20th, 2005

About a month ago, Home Shopping Network announced a joint venture with GoldPocket Media to develop a “click & buy” interactive TV application, allowing customers to purchase items being shown on the network via their TV remote control. The company’s press release calls this new technology an “unprecedented blend of interactive television and TV shopping” and a “groundbreaking initiative”, all of which would be true if their biggest competitor (starts with ‘Q’, ends with ‘VC’) had not already launched this functionality last summer with iTV provider OpenTV and Charter Cable.

Regardless, this new functionality may finally take interactive TV out of the theoretical and into the real for the first time. For a while, many industry insiders have speculated as to the implementations of interactive TV, with the click and buy functionality at the top of the list. Fox already lists the songs played during each week’s episode of “The O.C.” before the credits — imagine if viewers could buy them through their remote controls without even leaving the couch? Once that’s in place, the product possibilities are endless — at the very least I’d expect to see every piece of clothing that Marissa and Summer wore during that same episode up for sale.

These ideas have been around for a while, but the progress of iTV has really stalled in this country, most likely because cable companies have focused on other enhancements like digital programming and onDemand movies instead of iTV buying capabilities. However, as I mentioned earlier, with Verizon and SBC entering the market, added competition could encourage all the players to ramp up their schedule for further interactivity.

It makes complete sense for the TV shopping channels to act as guinea pigs for this functionality, as they would most likely not feel the backlash that in-your-face product placement may initially have on network TV. People watching these channels are at least somewhat interested in shopping for products, and will be far more likely to adopt a remote control click-to-buy process early on.

These new product placement possibilites do come along at a perfect time to offset the loss of commercial viewership due to DVRs and TiVo. Now that Comcast offers a usable DVR for just $9.95 a month with no setup fee, more and more people are learning how to fast forward through commercials every day. Savvy content producers will ignore the urge to squelch progress and will get the message customers are sending: we don’t like watching commercials. Customers do, however, like to watch actual TV shows. Product placement within shows kills two birds — it keeps advertisers happy and ad revenues high while reaching receptive viewers in a timely, efficient manner.

Clearly commercials are not going away any time soon, but it seems to me that the Truman Show was prophetic: it’s much easier to reach a teenage girl through her favorite character on The O.C. than through some commercial that she’s probably not going to be watching even if she doesn’t have access to a DVR. Allowing her to buy the item instantly will only make it that much easier.

Verizon Stepping up Channel Lineup

April 18th, 2005

Verizon announced that they have reached an agreement with Starz to carry the movie channels 13 stations over its fiber-technology network. Sources also say the company has reached agreement with at least 100 additional content providers.
Read more here

If Verizon can truly make their TV network available to three million customers by the end of this year, it will turn the cable business on its ear. One thing to really watch out for is the effect this could have on interactive TV, which seems finally to be gaining some steam within the industry after years of speculation. Creating competition in the marketplace could force both cable and phone companies to use Interactive TV features as differentiation points of their service, and would push the market forward. (It seems that in recent years, the near-monopoly held by cable TV companies has allowed them to rest on their laurels as far as interactive TV progress is concerned.)