Yahoo! is attempting to improve and expand the reach of its television content amidst an increasingly heated Internet television distribution market, as the company launched a new design for its TV section of the Yahoo! search engine this week. This marks the first effort to improve the design of Yahoo!'s TV services in five years, according to Daisy Whitney with TelevisionWeek, who cited the reason for the design change as "part of its effort to keep pace with new ways of consuming television online" which "follows efforts by small and large video sites in the last several months to introduce new features in what's becoming the increasingly competitive online video business."
What are these changes? They include an embedded video player for Yahoo! TV that allows viewers to navigate around the page while the video is playing on the page, rather than having to be static in searching for content while the video is playing. The product also includes links to the most popular show on Yahoo! at any particular moment, as well as videos grouped by themes and "a personalized TV grid that follows users as they navigate the site."
Whitney points out that Yahoo! is unveiling the new look at a time when the service is surging in popularity, as Yahoo!'s TV traffic went up 25 percent in October compared to this time last year, but its video services have lagged behind the popularity of YouTue and MySpace, as well as the massive gains by Google in the video space.
On her reporter's blog, Whitney provides a more subjective account of the site's improvements. She writes, "But as a consumer, all I can tell you is the site simply looks good. As in gooooood. Of course, I must admit the old site in comparison looks very old school, very 1999, very boxy. The redesigned look in contrast is smooth, current, topical." Whitney takes us through her navigation of the site in this first trial run, pointing out what she considers delightful surprises--the video doesn't just start on its own, for instance--and disappointments, such as the lag time in trying to use the personalized grid on the site.
Coupled with the recent gains in advertising plans with a consortium of more than 150 newspapers, these improvements to Yahoo!'s service signals an attempt to create a more aggressively competitive media company, both in terms of online and traditional media forms.
Mashable! points out that the service also includes a personalized TV schedule that you can then sync with a TiVo to automatically record shows. They write, "The redesign is reminiscent of the Yahoo Food relaunch, adding lots of Flash, images, rounded corners and that all-important "beta" label. Shows now have photo galleries, ratings and user-generated reviews, plus links to the latest news articles on that particular show and the option to buy DVDs on Yahoo Shopping."
However, Mashable! believes that Yahoo! has "stopped short of creating something truly great." Their criticism is that "all of Yahoo's recent relaunches have been about repackaging the content with a beautiful, shiny "2.0" interface, but they miss out on what makes those sites compelling: content and community" and that "in some ways Yahoo is over-designing these sites, which distracts users from the content."
But, keep in mind that this is considered a Beta site. While some have indicated that they feel the redesign is more sizzle than steak, but the criticisms at this point seem to depend on how deeply engaged with the site people plan to get. It will be interesting to see what niche of Internet TV folks center around the redeisgned Yahoo! TV search options.
Full disclosure: Yahoo! is one of our research partners here at the Convergence Culture Consortium but was not consulted in any way on this post.