a Thesis Process | Research (3/5)

Or Leviteh
12 min readFeb 18, 2019


This medium series presents the process of creating my digital design Thesis, done during my MFA at Parsons’ Design and Technology department, 2013–2014.

Primary research and statistics

I have conducted a series of interviews and a comprehensive survey in order to find out more about people’s TV watching habits. While conducting the interviews, I tried to keep the conversations as open as possible, letting people talk about their own experiences regarding television. These experiences seem to vary substantially from one person to the next. I tried to find the common denominators and see what joint pain points my interviewees were experiencing. It was also important for me to understand what were the enjoyable moments of watching television and how they have changed with the emergence of new technology.
After a few interviews, I decided to compose a survey that would allow me to check my assumptions on a larger scale. Some questions about TV watching experience could only be answered in person, and so I continued talking to subjects while trying to get simpler statistics with the help of the survey.
I managed to get 50+ responses to my survey. The responders consisted mainly of peers of mine from Parsons and from my undergraduate studies fellows, friends back in Israel. This did not give me a very varied account in terms of age and socio-economic status but did manage to test my theories as they relate to the educated 20–35 year old crowd who accounted for 98% of the survey responders and most of my interview subjects.

Online TV vs. broadcast TV
One assumption I had and was happy to have validated was that my responders mainly used online resources in order to watch television. 65% of the responders stated that online TV is their main source of TV content. 29% stated that they watch both broadcast cable TV and online TV. Only 6% chose broadcast television as their only source of TV content.
The terms Online TV and Broadcast TV proved confusing to the subjects of my interviews. This was another proof that this domain has yet to find its new place in our day to day lives.

The tech
80% of the responders stated that they used their computer in order to watch TV contents. 80% stream from official resources, while 60% stated they used unofficial ones. 37 out of 50 survey takers used Netflix — by far the most popular. This conclusion is supported by Nielsen’s study from September 2013, indicating that 38% of Americans use Netflix.

Another interesting fact that emerged in my survey (and actually has been a widespread phenomenon) is the joint use of Netflix accounts. While 37 responders indicated that they used Netflix, only 18 noted they were paying for it. Netflix currently has 30 million subscribers, which do not account for 38% of the population of the US (313 million). We can assume that many users are actually sharing accounts with friends and family. This has been made possible by Netflix’s sensibility to not limit the number of users and points of access per account.

The busy viewer
One topic that emerged both out of the interviews and the survey responses is the television’s role in our lives. Because most of the interviews’ and survey’s subjects were either working or studying, it seemed that there was never enough time in their lives for “doing nothing”. It seems that watching TV was considered a waste of time and thus consumed in a few cases only.
One very common case is watching TV while eating: out of all the responders, only two stated that they did not watch TV when eating alone at home. 31% went as far as declaring that they could not eat alone without watching TV, while the rest were split between “Most times” and “Sometimes”. Among the interviewees, all stated that they used to eat in front of some form of TV content.

Clearly, among the busy viewers television was considered a waste of time, a desired activity which had to be deliberately limited. Many survey responders stated that they will only watch TV while doing something else, to “not feel like I’m wasting time”. This includes eating, doing chores around the house, working or right before falling asleep.

An interesting pattern that kept repeating was the “weekend binge”. About 80% of the busy individuals mentioned previously, binge watch on the weekends. According to the survey this was considered some form of an award for a full week of hard work, an opportunity to unwind. This was affirmed by the interviewers. In fact, after going through the survey responses and interview notes, I came to the assumption that there were a few types of watching manners:
• The “hurried watching” while taking a short break, usually for eating.
• The weekend reward of “binging” for a job well done.
The in betweens: the “movie night” and the “catching up” on favorite shows. These last two are less specific and can come into play at anytime during the week.

How we watch

While conducting my primary research, I began to form a new way to look at how we watch online TV. The way we watch online TV is fundamentally different from how we are used to watching broadcast television. The main difference relates to the extent of the viewer’s awareness: When watching online TV, the viewers know what they want. They do not necessarily know what content they will watch but they know what type of viewing experience it will be. Basically, the viewers know if they want to watch something quick with lunch, or they want to binge in “couch potato” mode for the next 5 hours. They have a kind of an idea of how they would like to watch and go look for options.
The experience is different every time, depending on the viewers: what mood they are in, how much time they have got, how much they know in advance.
By redesigning the interface for online TV I wanted to focus on the interaction and not on the content. I wanted to focus on this emotion, the fact that we know what experience we are looking for. So, if we are in the mood for a movie, we won’t have to parse through unnecessary content and if we are dying to catch up on our favorite shows, we won’t have to look too hard. I came to the conclusion that the viewers’ first interaction with the product should not be with the content itself, which could be endless and irrelevant.
I think that first the viewers should be invited to tell the service what experience they were looking for, thus narrowing down the overwhelming options into relevant suggestions only.

Attention levels

I realized that there is a different level of attention required from the viewers for each show. This difference between a high, medium and low attention, often affects the selection process of the viewers. Although the level of attention is entirely individualistic, I tried to make some generalizations:
A show like Game of Thrones would require a high level of attention and concentration; the viewers are atent, sitting on the edge of their seat so to speak.
Medium attention shows would be very personal. For me, it would have to be a show in which I know all the characters, the plot is familiar, with no overwhelming consequences.
The low attention shows require little from the viewer, no complicated dialect, or little interest in said dialect. These shows give the brain a well deserved break for life. Sometimes these can be previously viewed episodes of a favorite show. Allowing the viewer to “half listen” and still be reminded of the familiar plot.

Categorizing types of watching behaviors

Based on my research, I attempted to define different types of shows or watching behavior.

Filler shows
The act of re-watching already seen episodes has proved very wide spread. This type of “filler show” viewing (as I named it) is usually utilized only when there is nothing else to watch. Viewers will often turn back to the beloved old series that they can watch over and over again to fill that time of empty screen.

Binge watching
As mentioned before, about 80% of the survey responders binge watch on the weekends. This was considered some form of an award for a full week of hard work, an opportunity to unwind. This was affirmed by the interviewers.

The dessert show
I identified an interesting behavior that had to do with the content of the show. Many participants in my interviews mentioned that after watching a gloomy show (like True Detective), they have the need to feel better and so they watch a happy short show. I equate that behavior to eating a dessert — the need to leave a good taste in ones mouth after a meal.

Guilty pleasure
One other behavior that surfaced is viewers’ “guilty pleasure” shows. These shows are usually regarded by society as “trash” and thus make viewers feel shame about watching them. From what I’ve encountered, viewers prefer to keep these shows private.
A great moment was when I’ve witnessed fellow viewers discover that they have a mutual guilty pleasure show and all shame vanishes.

Technology affects the watching scenarios

As these new technologies are constantly being added on top of each other, we are currently facing a very strange, very individualistic way of watching TV. We each have our own different devices and use different services in order to consume entertainment so that each interaction looks and feels different. Following are a few examples of non-traditional TV watching.

Scenario 1
I am browsing Facebook on my iPhone. I am reminded by a post that a new episode of True Blood has aired yesterday. I open HBOgo in FireFox on my PC laptop. I log in with my cousin’s account. I connect my PC to my monitor, take the wireless mouse with me and go watch on the couch.

Scenario 2
It is Saturday morning. I open the iTV Shows app on my SmartPhone to check out what was the last episode of Breaking Bad that I watched. I have 3 episodes to watch. I google “watch breaking bad online” in Chrome on my Macbook. I open a couple of links in different tabs, test them out and let all the episodes load. I binge watch in bed on my laptop. I pause in order to go on Facebook to share my amazement of this episode’s events.

Scenario 3
We are looking for something to watch, maybe a movie. I go on my IMDb watchlist on my phone while my partner looks on Netflix on his computer. We finally find a movie we both want to watch that is also available on Netflix. We turn on the TV, and the Xbox. We go into the Netflix app and log into my partner’s mom’s account. We find the movie we agreed on, lean back on the couch with the Xbox controller and watch.

Scenario 4
My roommates and I are hanging around the living room together, each looking at her own mobile device. I find a funny clip on youtube from BatDad and start laughing. As my roommates are intrigued, I turn on the TV and press the ChromeCast button on YouTube, sending the content to the big screen for everyone to enjoy. We carry on and binge-watch random videos for an hour.

The pain points of watching online TV

Each viewer’s interaction with online TV content is different because of the abundance of services and devices. This creates a situation in which there is no one mainstreamed way to consume content. There are more popular methods like Netflix and AppleTV and more obscure ones like individual unofficial streaming websites. The services require different levels of effort from the viewer: registering, paying, filling out profiles, and so on. In any case, the viewers have to go and search for the content they want to find, and in many cases this means searching through multiple sources. A viewer might look through the resources in Netflix, as well as on Vudu and YouTube. Often viewers do not know what the resources and options are. Most of the subjects of my interviews were surprised to find out that many networks provide recent episodes of their shows online for free.
Consuming media online also requires a certain level of technical proficiency. Some users opt out of online television simply because it seems daunting to them to search for content online.
The viewing process sometimes entails additional hardware hookups and purchases, like connecting a computer to a television, or using over-the-top devices. This too presents a pain point.
Another main disadvantage of online TV that discourages viewers is the lack of live events. During my primary research, a subject that kept repeating was the use of broadcast television for the consumption of live events like sports and news. As this subject has yet to be resolved fully in online resources, some progress has nevertheless been made. Many events are now broadcasted live online, parallel to TV, and many news networks offer free live streaming under special circumstances.

The main issue: Fragmented experience

The situation nowadays presents many devices that allow viewers to consume TV content by accessing endless content providers, both paid and free, official and unofficial. The sources of contents are not important to the viewers anymore. The origin of a content is not relevant to the viewer, but only to the companies and networks that produced it. What viewers wish is to consume the stories presented to them in their own time and according to their own comfort.

This abundance of options leads to a fragmented, ineffective and frustrating viewing experience. Content and information are spread out over multiple devices and sources, forcing the viewers to parse through said sources, going back and forth through different devices.

Fat Future Lisa Simpson
“Lisa the Simpson”, Season 9, episode 17, 1998

Why does it matter?

I believe that this lack of one clear easy way to watch content online deters viewers from consuming online TV. I would argue that more control over content and ads time provide a better watching experience. I feel that traditional TV watching makes viewers accustomed to being unselective in what they watch, flipping through the channels and passively watching whatever is on. Online TV drives the viewers to be selective in what they watch and forces them to have a more proactive approach in picking their content. I personally feel that this approach leads to a higher level of content quality, since there is less chance of “stumbling on” content and passive “trash” watching.
As for my personal experience, online television has changed my habits to the point where everything I now watch is “on purpose” and under my full control.
However, I feel that most viewers prefer to have less control over content when more control means a higher level of effort. This effectively discourages viewers from switching over to a fully controlled TV experience through online television.

We don’t want to work so hard to watch TV
An interesting phenomenon came to my attention as I was conducting research about watching habits in the United States: America is not fond of searching online for streaming content. US was not even in the top seven countries to appear in Google Trends’ search for the terms “watch online”, “stream for free” etc. Based on this, I suspect that most Americans prefer to consume their content online through services, making it a painless experience.

Google Trends, February 2014

It’s also a matter of cost
Online TV also presents a cheaper alternative to cable television, providing an abundance of free content and charging only around $10 a month for sizable services like Hulu Plus and Netflix.

Part 4: Concept

Back to Part 1

This medium series presents the process of creating my digital design Thesis, done during my MFA at Parsons’ Design and Technology department, 2013–2014.