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Building Purpose-Driven OTT Products: Accessible UX Design

Natalie Nasajon

Product Designer

October 5, 2023


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Imagine being a fan of a popular series and missing the plot twists because the streaming platform lacks closed captions. Picture yourself unable to click the 'Next Episode' button because it is not keyboard-friendly. It goes without saying that these would be incredibly frustrating and exclusionary things from a user experience perspective. That's why accessibility in UX design is about so much more than just a box for companies to check; it should be a video service’s mission to make sure everyone can join the streaming fun, regardless of their abilities or circumstances.

So, how can video solutions providers, like Accedo, contribute to the creation of truly inclusive streaming experiences? 

Why accessibility in UX design is important

Inclusive design, sometimes referred to as universal design, is an approach to creating products, services, and environments that consider the diverse needs and abilities of all users. In the OTT streaming world, it goes beyond mere compliance with accessibility standards; it's about making the entertainment experience inclusive and enjoyable for all users. There are numerous reasons why this is so important:

Complying with legal requirements: In many regions, including the U.S. and the EU, there are legal obligations to ensure that digital content and services are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Non-compliance can lead to legal consequences and severely harm your brand's reputation. A cautionary tale example is that of Netflix, which was sued in 2011 by the National Association of the Deaf for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. The reason behind the lawsuit was the streaming giant’s refusal to provide closed captioning for “Watch Instantly” movies and television streamed on the internet, hence making it inaccessible for parts of the population.

Expanding your viewer base: By incorporating accessibility features, a service naturally expands its potential viewer base. According to WHO, over a billion people (16% of the world population) experience a significant disability, such as visual or hearing impairments, motor disabilities, or cognitive challenges - and that's not considering situational or temporary limitations such as a broken limb, an ear infection, or being situated in a loud environment. Embracing accessibility not only widens your market but also fosters a sense of inclusivity amongst your audience.

Enhancing the OTT viewer experience: Accessibility features often enhance the overall usability of your OTT platform for all viewers. For instance, closed captions not only benefit the hearing-impaired but also helps viewers in noisy environments or those who prefer watching content without sound.

Meet Jane, a tech-savvy individual who loves watching shows on the TV while she is cooking or cleaning her house. Often, her hands are busy or too dirty to use the remote control so voice commands have become a game-changer. She can simply say, 'Play the next episode,' or 'Search for action movies,' and the platform responds accordingly. Jane doesn't have to struggle with remotes or touchscreens; her voice is her remote control.

Cementing your position as an industry leader: As technology advances, so does the demand for enhanced accessibility. By building in accessibility from the start, you're setting up your OTT service to stay ahead, saving on expensive updates later. One example from another industry is Tesco. In 2001 they launched a separate e-commerce experience focused on being an accessible alternative to their main platform. This site was thoroughly tested by more than 70 blind and partially sighted people. The company discovered that sighted customers also found it easier to use this new interface, resulting in a significant increase in revenue from online sales - sales went from £52 million in 2000 to £235 million in 2001. 

How to design OTT experiences with accessibility in mind

It is clear that accessibility should be a central consideration from a UX design perspective. So what are some steps that video service providers can take to build user experiences that are more inclusive, and hence also more enjoyable, for a wider audience?

Integrate accessibility into the design and development process: It is important to emphasize that accessibility is an integral part of creating a user-friendly and legally compliant OTT service. This is not to be seen as an extra expense but rather an investment in user satisfaction and long-term success; much like how Asda is pioneering accessibility in their retail spaces. The retailer’s dedication to improving the shopping experience for blind and partially sighted customers is evident through their implementation of the 'GoodMaps' app which uses cutting-edge technology to help users pinpoint their location within the store. The solution also provides audio, touch-based commands, and enlarged visuals to guide them to specific product groups or areas.This is a remarkable example of how companies can proactively address the unique needs of their customers, setting a standard for inclusivity and inspiring others to follow suit.

Provide practical solutions for OTT providers: Instead of inundating video service providers with the technical intricacies of accessibility requirements, we need to present them with actionable solutions, explaining how accessibility features can seamlessly enhance their OTT service, making it user-friendly for all and ultimately driving viewer engagement. One case already covered in this post is the closed captions feature, other examples of actions include:

  • Accessible Player Controls: Ensure that video player controls are accessible and operable via keyboard shortcuts or screen readers. This feature can improve the user experience for individuals with mobility or dexterity challenges.
  • Customizable Interfaces: Offer more customization options, allowing users to adapt the interface to their specific needs. This can include adjustable font sizes, color themes, and layout preferences.
  • User Testing: Conduct usability testing with individuals with disabilities to identify and address any accessibility barriers in the OTT service. This feedback loop will lead to continuous improvement and an improved user experience over time.
  • Other features to be considered include pre-recorded sign language, voice control and concurrent input mechanisms.

Run accessibility audits: For existing OTT services, a product design team can be appointed to conduct an accessibility audit. This is about identifying areas that require improvement and construct a plan for how to address these issues - all with the ultimate goal of providing an enhanced user experience and boosted viewer retention.

Investing in accessible UX design

In the OTT services industry, inclusive design is no longer a choice but a necessity. Embracing accessibility is not just about legal compliance; it's about expanding your viewer base, enhancing user experiences, and safeguarding your service's future. 

By incorporating accessibility from the ground up, you're not only complying with legal standards; you're future proofing your service and setting it up for long-term success. An accessible platform is a competitive differentiator that can attract wider audiences and create loyal users. Finally, you're part of improving the viewing experience for a parent who can't enjoy a movie night with their kids because the platform doesn't cater to their visual impairment. Inclusive design can change that and contribute to a more inclusive future for the OTT industry.

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