Every now and then we get a mysterious call from a client out of the blue.
It usually goes something like this:
Hey guys, we have a great opportunity. You’ll have to sign an NDA. We can’t tell you who or what it’s for. And the project needs to be done in about 4 weeks….start to finish. Interested?
Um…interested. We would like to know more.
Okay, I’ll tell you who it is, but you can’t tell anyone yet. It’s for Amazon’s FireTV.
Okay. Sounds great. Can I ask why you came to us?
A.) We got turned down by three other studios who didn’t think they could get it done in this timeline” (that was this project), or usually B.) We trust you because of the previous work we’ve done together.
This project was based on previous work. The challenge was to get Gaiam TV, now known as Gaia, ported to the pre-launch Amazon Fire TV before the product announcement. We were uniquely ready to get Gaiam TV ported to pre-launch Amazon Fire TV before the product announcement.
- We had recently launched the Android tablet product, which would rely on much of the same backend and middle code, with the bulk of the work on a new front-end.
- We had done several TV projects for different platforms and had deep experience on UI considerations for the bigger screen size and navigation with remote control.
- Good preexisting relationships with Amazon and online video platform Brightcove helped us move quickly. The Amazon thing was actually kind of funny. One of our west coast friends of the company had been working on a mysterious product at Amazon’s Lab 126 for over a year. We had no idea what he was working on. After the NDA, it was great to get the full scoop.
Information Architecture & Visual
Migrating a tablet experience to TV involves much more than just stretching out the UI. Think about how different HBO Go and Netflix are from iPad to TV. Every pixel, from the size of buttons, to the background patterns must be considered.
Some of the primary considerations we looked at were:
10′ distance from the TV rather than 18″ requires larger items on the screen, and less choices
The remote control with its limited up/down/left/right navigation means all movement has to be considered on simple axes like the old game Frogger. Items like top-right corner navigation or “hamburger bun” menus that people are accustomed to in mobile just don’t work.
Colors and type choices are extra tricky. Fine patterns, stripes and complicated textures must be avoided. Light on dark is usually better than dark on light.
Fire TV Development
It was only a few weeks before the Fire TV launched, but we couldn’t even get production hardware and had to rely on two mostly-functional test boxes for development.
Once again we ran into some HLS playback issues on Android. This time we had Amazon to help, which was nice. Dev and QA was trickier than usual because we did not have the product in hand and relied on a simulator and pre-production hardware. The Cainkade team thrives on new technologies, problem solving and blazing a new path. It was very rewarding to help Gaiam TV with this great milestone and gratifying for the team to work so quickly and decisively.
The future of TV is in major flux.
It’s clear that viewers expect choice, control and quality from their TV services. For publishers and content owners like Gaiam TV, it’s amazing that they can compete on a somewhat level playing field with large media companies. And without legacy distribution limitations, they may even have some advantages. But this world is changing quickly. We are working closely with Gaiam TV to rebuild their underlying systems so they can be ready to support the platforms and distribution partners that their viewers want the most.