A Family Affair: Implications for VOD Recommendations

It’s now standard practice for Video on Demand (VOD) services such as Netflix or BBC iPlayer to integrate personalisation for viewing decision support. However, VOD viewing switches between a solo and group activity, and recommendations mechanisms typically don’t reflect this.

Compromise watches can result in future recommendation pollution

Compromise watches can result in future recommendation pollution

Personalisation, and viewing recommendations in particular, are now expected within VOD services. Their value in supporting viewers is demonstrated during 2019 by TiVO who reported that “Providers that use personalisation technology like the Personalised Content Discovery platform, churn up to three times less than providers who manually merchandise their content.” So recommendations are clearly here to stay, but they’re currently a one-size fits all solution. We’ve found that programme choices do vary by device. Mobile phones and tablets are more suited to solo viewing, both due to size and the context they’re used within, so personalised recommendations are a strong fit.

However, this starts to break down when viewing is on the TV, where viewing is much more likely to be by multiple household members. In fact, over 75% of all VOD consumed in the UK happens on a TV. Household viewing is a compromise, seeking the safe middle ground. It’s often led by one person, who makes viewing suggestions based on knowledge of individual tastes and perhaps even having spent time on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes finding good compromise watches. Provider recommendations can thus be caught between highly singular viewing and compromise viewing needs. This also causes Recommendation Pollution, whereby the usefulness of recommendations is further degraded as compromise watches influence future recommendations on their profiles. Parents with young children may find Peppa Pig or My Little Pony popping up within their recommendations alongside the latest episode of Vikings or Narcos for example.

An explicit family viewing profile offers the best recommendations for the context, but adds more complexity to viewer lives

An explicit family viewing profile offers the best recommendations for the context, but adds more complexity to viewer lives

How can VOD recommendations support this duality of viewing? Well, the idea of household and individual accounts within products isn’t new. It’s supported by the likes of Apple, although the inherent complexity of family dynamics can make it difficult to do well.

One option is to focus on optimising recommendations by device, so reality TV and more singular pleasures feature more prominently on solo devices for example. This requires no user effort, but would be least effective and most prone to recommendation pollution.

Some households do create profiles for household and personal use, with the family profile (containing more compromise views) predominating on the TV. This places the greatest burden on the viewer, as it requires more profile switching at the start of viewing. It also involves other trade-offs, for example it may become slightly more difficult to continue watching a partially viewed programme on another device.  This is unlikely to be practical in all but the most diverse households.

The other option is to incorporate a family recommendations panel in any profile on the home page, so it’s always available within a personal profile, but doesn’t predominate. A similar concept exists within Spotify, with Family Mix, which draws on listening history from all members within a Family account. This also includes a mood qualifier to help listeners achieve a further level of depth to recommendations (we’ve found mood a key decision point for joint viewing) and feels an interesting direction for combining personal and household viewing.

Spotify’s Family Mix offers a link to compromise playlists from the home page

Spotify’s Family Mix offers a link to compromise playlists from the home page

Overall, the Spotify model feels the most interesting. In any instance we’d recommend allowing users to fine-tune the recommendations by deleting inappropriate ones, to reduce  recommendations pollution and increase their effectiveness. Effective tuning of auto-recommendations is always challenging, and combining these across a household is an added layer of complexity, but it does reflect how we watch VOD. Even as the number of devices proliferate, singular and joint viewing are likely to remain fundamental behaviours.

Director of Design Research

Sutherland Labs
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