Hulu must be banking on people cutting the cord and walking away from their TV’s. They’ve had a UI in beta since May on a few of their platforms like the PlayStation, Fire TV, Xbox One and Xbox 360. The big revamp coincides with the integration of recently added Live TV to previously streaming video on demand (SVOD) only platform.
The company’s live TV service launched on a limited basis in May, offering consumers access to more than 50 channels for $40 a month and the capability to do add-on premium channels like HBO and Cinemax.
Hulu appears to be differentiating themselves from the crowded marketplace by blending a Live TV-shaped round peg into an on-demand square box. They’re going for a seamless blend of live and on-demand content that requires careful planning and a delicate balance all held together by an intuitive user interface.
They want to encourage users to watch Live TV through the looking glass of a SVOD, rather than making a clear divide between the two content sources.
The goal of the UI
The UI was designed with this unique niche premise in mind: consumers don’t care if their show is live or SVOD, they just know they want to watch it. Hulu interpreted this and responded with a rainbow-sherbet colored home screen with a blended “lineup” of shows it wants you to watch based off of your past viewing behavior, what’s currently playing and Hulu exclusive content.
This experience is unique by profile, so each family member will have a unique Roku-recommended lineup of about 6 items. In addition, each user to have a unique list of shows that they choose in an area called, “My Stuff.” There are also browse and search functions.
Everyone should see the same thing
No matter what product offerings you get from Hulu, they wanted to make sure it wasn’t a disjointed experience that changed based off of your products. Having the app launch into a live feed if you subscribe to Live TV and into a pastel UI if you don’t have it seemed awkward to the design UI team.
From a conceptual point of view, it makes sense to integrate a shrinking viewing platform into a growing one. Cord cutting has become more popular, so on-demand platforms are growing, and traditional pay TV is losing market share.
Since Hulu is relatively new to the Live TV market, though, roughly 75% of their current users have a pay TV subscription, like cable.
When can I see it?
Hulu released its new UI on 9/19/17 on Roku. It went out to all recent-generation Roku streaming boxes and sticks, including the Roku Streaming Stick, Roku 3, Roku 4, as well as the newer Roku Express, Premiere and Ultra models.
How does it look?
It’s a very bright, strikingly minimalist design with white text. It’s a very big change from the previous interface. Oversized graphics feature text-based descriptions in sans font with all caps, making it difficult for me to read.
The background color shifts distractingly with every click, and these color-shifting transitions are a bit clunky and slow to load.
My first impression was that it was a pretty but cumbersome interface. Kind of like seeing your favorite ice cream, only to open up the tub and find it a melted, unpalatable mess.
What’s the reaction?
The customer reaction has been so violent and overwhelmingly negative, it’s amazing that the media hasn’t picked up this story. Hulu is in the midst of a customer revolt the likes I haven’t seen since New Coke.
It’s not just that a few people don’t like it, the feedback I’ve seen is 100% negative. I haven’t been able to find a single comment from any user that wasn’t filled with frustration, disbelief, requests for rollback and threats to cancel. I personally sifted through the first 30 pages of comments and votes on comments regarding the new UI.
The customer service reps are doing their best to keep everyone calm and focused on providing feedback. Hulu discontinued their customer service email address that used to accept feedback and ported it all over to a uservoice forum which is labeled “Beta Feedback.”
The support twitter account @hulu_support shows an overwhelming failure for the UI to download for most customers, with the CSR’s retweeting the same instructions to users to power cycle their Roku. The planned port of many users’ queues to “my stuff” also had a high failure rate, based on complaints and support replies that I read.
You can investigate customer reactions by searching for #huluupdate.
Hulu customer service reps have been unfailing in their direction to users: “please post your feedback in our user forum.” I compiled a few of the less colorful user suggestions here regarding design and performance:
- Slow to load and screen transitions lag
- Won’t load at all (CS recommends reboot)
- So much scrolling and it takes at least 7-20 clicks before I can get to anything
- The focus on landing on a page is always at least one more step away from action
- Can’t manage content from an episode level
- Font is too big for the TV
- Background color shifts are distracting, headache-inducing, and produce motion sickness
- Subtitles appear in a font that is so slim that it’s impossible to read on the screen
- From 12 titles per screen to 2
- No picture in picture functionality anymore
- My queue disappeared (CS actually has a fix for this)
- No obvious way to disable autoplay (CS has a workaround for this)
- Screen overlay darkens when I volume up/down
Hulu’s customer service replies are adamant that the service does not plan a rollback to previous features. They are saying that feedback submitted to the user forum will be used to make improvements. The last release they had was on September 8th.
I’ll be watching to see how things evolve and seeing if the threats of mass cancellation really do unfold. One thing is sure with this update, Hulu missed a few critical steps that could have smoothed the way when rolling out this new UI to a loyal, happy user base.
It’s hard to change direction, and users never like change. Change is even harder when you don’t involve and educate your customers or listen to their feedback.
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