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CES '18: Hulu Gives a Sneak Peek at Upcoming UI Improvements

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When Hulu drastically redesigned its user interface (UI) in May 2017, it took a big risk, moving from the scannable grid model shared by many services to one that focuses on individual programs. It wasn't a huge hit with many subscribers, and while it's led to better overall viewing metrics, Hulu continues to tinker with it to add or surface content viewers expect. At CES, Ben Smith, Hulu's senior vice president, head of experience, gave a look at what worked, what didn't, and what changes subscribers will see in 2018.

2017 was also the year Hulu began offering live TV, and that meant packing a lot of information into its UI and making it all accessible. "At the end of the day, it exceeded our expectations," Smith says of the new UI. People were watching more content and a greater variety of programming, and that was the goal.

Even when subscribers get both live and on-demand video from the platform, Hulu doesn't want people thinking about where their video comes from—it wants all content accessible in one place, regardless of its source.

No doubt the biggest problem with the new UI is that many viewers simply can't find things that are important to them. Some live TV subscribers, for example, are unaware the service offers a 50-hour cloud DVR because it isn't surfaced well. A fix is in the works. And some subscribers get tired of scrolling through movies or shows one-by-one, so the UI now offers a grid view after a little scrolling.

Soon after launch, Smith's team reduced the intensity of the UI's colors and made fonts bolder, all to make screens easier to read.

Through trial and error, Hulu learned that its first screen, Lineup, works better when it sticks close to what people have already watched. People don't want to discover new content on this screen, but find things they're sure to enjoy. That screen now shows sure-bet recommendations and programs that are part of the cultural zeitgeist. The second screen—Keep Watching—is responsible for 45 percent of all viewing.

In 2018, subscribers will see changes to the top bar of the UI offering more personalization. Subscribers will also gain control over recommendations by removing unwanted suggestions, removing content from watch history that they don't want used for recommendations, and marking content they've already seen. These feature are either being beta tested now or will be soon, and should debut in the spring.

Hulu pays a lot of attention its Show Diversity metric, which reflects the number of unique movies or shows viewers watch. The UI overhaul raised that metric, which averages a little over 1. Smith's team has found viewers will tune out if discoverability takes too long. After 35 seconds of searching, there's a 50/50 chance the viewer will go somewhere else. After 3 minutes, there's little chance the viewer will stick with the service. Smith's goal is to make sure viewers find something in that first 35 seconds.

When Hulu began offering live TV, the UI didn't offer a program guide view, something sorely missed by people transitioning from cable. As a result, the simple act of seeing what's coming up on a channel takes far too many clicks—19, Smith says. While Hulu won't offer a standard electronic program guide, it will debut a simple, filter-able guide view in the spring.

The 2018 Winter Olympics will come to Hulu, which is no surprise since they're being carried by NBC in the U.S., and Comcast owns NBC and 30 percent of Hulu. Smith has a lot of personalization planned for viewers, who will be asked to choose their favorite winter sports and then get custom highlights and watch lists. Hulu may also offer notifications that pop up on the subscriber's phone to say when an event is about to start, but Smith wants to be careful that notifications don't become too overwhelming.

Transitioning to a boldly different UI hasn't been an easy process for Hulu, but by continually testing and implementing modifications it's creating a way for viewers to experience live and on-demand streaming TV in a new way.

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