I don't have cable television, so I rely on my Apple TV and mobile devices to stream a lot of TV shows, movies, and sports. Before the Apple TV, I used a game console or computer. I've also tested out the Chromecast and products from Roku. All of these devices are perfectly adequate for watching Netflix, Hulu, or watchESPN, but they leave a lot to be desired in the user interface and content discovery departments. When the Apple TV only had a few apps it seemed appropriate to display them in a grid on the home screen. It was also familiar to iPhone or iPad users. However, as the number of apps grew, this interface started to feel dated. (It is possible to move or hide apps, which I've done, but that doesn't fix the underlying problem.) Roku and its 1,000+ channels faces the same issue, perhaps more so. Further complicating matters, there is no simple way to see what content is available through the various apps on these boxes. When someone sits down on the couch to watch something they might check Netflix, Hulu, ABC, PBS, HBO Go, and Amazon Prime before finding something to watch.
Think how ridiculous it would be if TV guides worked this way, only showing a grid of all channels currently broadcasting. Instead, a TV guide displays a list of what shows are on, whether they're new/live or reruns, and perhaps some info on the plot or cast. TV guides are far from ideal, but they are fairly accurate and informative across hundreds of channels.
Roku's universal search feature does a much better job of content discovery across multiple channels than anything on the Apple TV or Chromecast, but it still puts the onus on the user to think of a title and enter it through a remote or companion mobile app. Can I Stream It? is a great service to see where movies and TV shows are streaming, but it's still up to the user to manually navigate to the title after finding out what app it's on. Neither of these is an ideal input method or user experience.
It's time to bring streaming video boxes out of the internet dark ages. Why can't a 'now playing' guide be integrated into the home screen, showing new or popular content from the apps and channels I select? Even better if the content is custom tailored to my tastes. This guide could alert me when new episodes or seasons of my favorite TV shows are released, display titles from seldom-used free apps such as Crackle or SnagOn that I may enjoy, big events currently live streaming, and display titles in my queue expiring soon. It should allow me to jump directly to the title with one click. I'm unaware if Netflix or other services have an API for their content recommendation engines, but this would be a natural fit if they did.
This guide could also enable an additional revenue source. Sponsored content or advertisements could be listed along with the titles automatically being displayed. Sponsored listings could take the form of native advertising, which advertisers seem to desire on today's web. The Roku does display some titles on the home screen, but it was always unclear to me if these were at random, ads, or something else.
I love streaming videos on my Apple TV, but the experience of finding and selecting something to watch could be much better. It could also generate more revenue for manufacturers and indie content producers. I really hope Apple, Roku, Google, or someone else is working on this.