How to build the TVNZ OnDemand app

TVNZ’s OnDemand app has been a year in the making. And almost exactly one year to the day of its launch on Monday, TBWA’s Digital Arts Network (DAN) won the pitch to build and service the app.

DAN creative director Ross Howard says it’s been an experience in managing three development teams across several time zones.

The Video Player

OnDemand for iPhones and iPads has taken as long as it has to because TVNZ’s web version of the service uses Flash, which (for the most part) isn’t playable on iOS devices. Apps like Skyfyre can translate Flash videos into iOS-viewable content, but TVNZ’s geolocking digital rights management (DRM) system blocks it.

Development on the app began in August, after a six month research phase. Howard says Boston-based cloud video company Brightcove built the media player at the heart of the app, along with the DRM technology, and a plugin into TVNZ’s asset management system to transcode TV shows for the app. TVNZ, DAN and Brightcove shared a codebase during this period.

The app package was uploaded to Apple just over two weeks ago and Howard says this early product wasn’t the completed version of the OnDemand app.

“We wanted to see if there were any bits that might not get through Apple’s screening process to save us that time when we actually wanted to launch,” he says.

The DRM portion of the app was the last to be added and Howard says quite possibly the most important. TVNZ’s programming rights hinge on its ability to section off content from overseas viewers.

“The aim was to make this layer invisible to the user. They shouldn’t have to be aware of any digital rights issues,” he says.

The Layout

DAN’s major involvement was in the design of the app’s layout. Howard says from the get go responsive design was adopted instead of creating different versions of the app for different screen sizes.

“We started building this app before the iPhone 5 [which has a different aspect ratio to the previous version of the iPhone]. We didn’t know what size it would be, so building everything responsive kept us prepared for what ever device Apple comes up with next,” he says.

User testing played an important role in the design elements of the app. For instance, the programme calendar was initially a vertical list, but testing showed users had become accustomed to left-to-right scrolling from using electronic programme guides on Sky TV and Freeview.

Creative Sandbox Advertising

Alongside the app, DAN developed a platform for advertisers to utilise mobile and tablet-specific functions such as the accelerometer.

Built using HTML5, the framework allows a brand to create and host its own collateral, which is displayed remotely inside of the app. 

Howard says the technology itself is “nothing groundbreaking” and could easily be replicated by other dev houses for similar apps. However, giving brands the ability to better control their assets makes the OnDemand app more attractive to advertisers, he adds.

“What we didn’t want to have is a standard execution with just a static tile. These devices give you so much more to work with, and we wanted to leverage that,” he says.

What’s next?

Firstly, to appease the Android fans amongst the StopPress community, Howard confirms there’s an Android app in the mix and it’s “not too far away”.

One idea for a new feature which Howard suggests strikes me as particularly exciting, and involves integrating social elements into the app beyond just the ability to ‘like’ programmes. Howard says placed firmly on the ideas board is creating consumer channels with the users’ favourite shows, which can be shared and viewed by friends.

“Much like Spotify playlists, but for on demand TV. I think it could have a massive impact in creating a community and engagement around OnDemand ,” he says.

“It’s still firmly a case of figuring what role it might play in OnDemand in the future.

“We have to look closely at what’ll be valuable to users. Some of the user base is really social across networks, but others might be uninterested in sharing. We have to balance what will be appealing to the most people.”

Apart from that, the focus for the next few weeks is optimisation. Rather dull, but undoubtedly important for viewer experience, says Howard.

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