Could video-on-demand actually become user friendly?

There’s one simple reason why video-on-demand hasn’t become more successful on cable and satellite systems: It’s a major pain. Finding a VOD menu, knowing what shows are available, and ordering them requires clicking through way too many confusing menus. Especially when compared to the ease of using most DVRs. But networks, studios, and cable/satellite providers would very much prefer that viewers use VOD, since they can block ad skipping or, in some cases, charge extra money.

Pay channel Starz showed off a simple but ingenious solution today at the Cable Show in Washington D.C.: Let users start any program over via VOD. Called “Enteract,” it generates an on-screen menu if you tune into a movie or TV show that’s available on VOD. Want to start “Hancock” or an episode of “Crash” from the beginning? If it’s available, you can do it with a single button push. And there’s another button to view other VOD programs and movies available from Starz.

Enteract uses an open specification from CableLabs, the research joint venture formed by the big cable companies. So there’s no reason every channel with VOD couldn’t do something like it.

Of course, it doesn’t making browsing through VOD options for shows or networks you don’t happen to tune into any easier. But as anyone who has found themselves watching a movie or TV show and wondering what happened at the beginning, or who has made their way through through awful VOD menus, can attest, it’s an important step toward making a valuable service actually consumer-friendly.

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