Designing Sky TV’s Neon: the art of making a streaming service

With Sky’s Neon video-on-demand product having launched, Idealog talks to the designers about developing a streaming service people actually wanted to use

When Sky set out to join the crowded video-on-demand landscape with their product, Neon, they had a challenge ahead of them: stand out from the likes of Spark’s Lightbox, Australian companies Video Ezy and Quickflix and soon-to-be-released Netflix New Zealand. 

To make the design of their service unique, they enlisted the help of digital service design studio Wilson Fletcher, a company that works with organisations to create services for digital platforms.

Wilson Fletcher worked closely in New Zealand with Sky’s team and a handful of customers, who helped “co-create” the final product.

Wilson Fletcher Australia managing director Jessica Ross says bringing customers into the design process as early as possible is one of the company’s important differences compared to other businesses.

“Often the feature you think would be of most value to the user is entirely different to what you originally assumed and that’s really where the value of co-creation lies. The customers can be instrumental in helping you understand the crux of the problem you're trying to solve.”



What the Neon watchlist looks like on an iPad

As watching TV and movies is often an activity done with more than one person, the Wilson Fletcher team put participants at the Neon co-creation workshop in pairs to understand the dynamics involved in group watching.

The customers then tested the prototypes on different devices and gave feedback.

“We wanted to take a holistic approach from the get-go so we could understand how to tailor a service to each of those different platforms and to deep dive into consumers in New Zealand and understand their expectations and key behaviours as well,” Ross says.

The feedback helped Wilson Fletcher to understand what did and didn’t work – such as when the customers gave feedback on mood-based filtering. They disliked it and it was discarded.  

“While people often choose content based on the mood they’re in, actually spelling it out for them was not received well. Perhaps a reason for this is the fact that people deal with emotions differently,” Ross says.

“Some people want to lighten the mood with a comedy, whilst others may want to release emotion with a good old fashioned tearjerker.”

The design was also altered to tone down some of the social features, as customers said they considered movie and TV consumption a private activity they didn’t want shared.

Ross says that tailoring the service to cater to New Zealanders’ changing viewing habits was crucial to the design being a success.

The design was focused on making Neon feel familiar on any device and some ended up influencing others, such as Xbox 360 interactions being bought into the tablet version.



What the Neon watchlist looks like on a smartphone

Ross says this makes the overall experience across devices feel more seamless.

Unlike other streaming services, cinematic thumbnail images are used for the titles instead of DVD covers so it feels “premium”, she says.

Another point of difference with the design is the navigation around the site. The content is layered, instead of people having to reload pages and potentially getting lost.

“For example, the content detail pages slide in over the top of the previous content, helping the user retain their sense-of-place and intuitively step back to where they were,” she says.

Neon has separate TV and movie sections after users said they like to keep the two distinct. The final product has a selection of hit shows such as Game of Thrones and True Blood on offer through an exclusive deal with HBO.

Neon is currently available on smartphones, tablets and computers with a free trial for the first 30 days then $20 a month, with Neon for Android and Xbox 360 coming later in 2015.