Many of us now have hundreds of channels available from our TV, not to mention all of the other entertainment choices from the web and other sources. We also constantly have our attention diverted from the television to what is referred to as the “second screen,” meaning you phone or tablet pc. With this option overload, it becomes increasingly important that we can sift through the choices to find those that match our interests, and even better is if we can find a way to unite the different screens vying for our attention in a way that they enrich the experience instead of competing for our attention. Peel is based around the idea that today we want to know what’s on that we might like, not just aimlessly surf through an immense selection of choices. It combines a personalized television recommendation experience with the ability to turn your iOS device into a universal remote control.
Peelis based around the thought that the days of someone looking at a TV guide to find something to watch have passed, and we now live in the age of personalization and of customization of the user experience. Peel seeks to bring this to the television viewing experience and makes it friendlier, making it easier to discover, control, and share.
This review will cover the iPhone app used as a next-generation TV guide; the Peel Fruit was not available to me in time to review for this blog. The Fruit adds remote control functionality and is an important part of the overall product strategy, but for the purposes of this blog and its social media focus the fruit is an add-in product that is not completely topical for this review.
Peel is the brainchild of the Silicon Valley startup of the same name, a company founded in 2009 by members of the iTunes store design team as well as contributors to the Netflix improvement contest. Particularly notable is that after early angel investing they have secured investing from Redpoint Ventures which has history of investing in entertainment related startups such as Netflix and TiVo that have gone on to significant success.
The Peel app is the core of their service, bringing a next generation television guide to your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. It is a free download from the iTunes app store and initial setup is quite easy. You select a location by zip code, a television provider (it seemed all major ones were listed), and then you are asked to select different genres of television that you are interested in, optionally answer a demographic question and you are ready to start using it. The reminder of the availability of setting up the fruit is prominent in the interface but not to the point of being intrusive. The genre question is a little tough to answer at first, (for instance, I sometimes want to watch a documentary, but I do not know if I would choose that as one my favorite television genres) but does a good job of bringing forward a set of initial recommendations.
The interface is easy to use, the timeframe you are attempting to view is listed along the top and tabs along the bottom lets you choose between top picks, TV shows, movies, sports, and search. The Top Picks grouping displays television shows or movies based on shows that you like (favorite) or dislike (cut). Touching on a cover art brings up detail around the specific episode of the show. No surprise considering the experience of the product’s designers, the app has the distinct feel of the iTunes cover flow.
From the detail screen, it is easy to scroll through the different choices by swiping, as well as make a show a favorite or cut it. From this screen there are a couple of underrated but very useful options around being able to set reminder on your phone with just a couple of touches, and the sharing button. The Peel app allows you to easily integrate with Facebook and Twitter and post about the shows about which you want to share. After authorizing the app, it is as easy to click the share button, then choose twitter or Facebook and it generates a post stating that you are watching or have favorited a show that some # of users have already favorited. (With a quick mention of @peel of course) The social aspect is basic, but effective in its ease of use.
The algorithm seemed to be effective at identifying shows that I liked based off my actions, (for instance it brought forward other animated shows effectively after I favorited Family Guy), and most importantly it stayed away from suggestions that were far away from my preferences, which is often my largest complaint with these experience-shaping algorithms. Few things are worse than spending time to make the algorithm learn about your preferences to have it frustrate you by making suggestions far outside of that scope.
Peelwas formed based on an idea best expressed by their CEOThiruAranchalanin this article in Fast Company magazine that “The Channel Surfing Paradigm is Dead.” While it is possibly an overreaching statement to make, it is true that the days of satisfying the consumer with the same universal experiences have definitely gone by the wayside. People connect and respond to an experience that is personalized to him or her. Peel as an application makes it easy to build the profile that allows the creation of that personalized experience. Unfortunately, by their own admission, their social experience does not have enough depth to it yet, but the community that regularly shares seems to be pretty dedicated and growing.
My personal experience with the product was hampered at least a little because a large part of the effectiveness of the app involves the integration with Peel Universal control aka “The Fruit” which allows you to use your iOS device as a universal remote control and really extends the impact of the Peel application. However, what did shine through was the potential this had to catch on as a way to further integrate personalization and by extension social media into the television viewing experience. With some many things pulling at our attention simultaneously, a customized television experience shaped by suggestions based on our preferences becomes far more attractive. From its outset, it felt like Pandora for TV to me, and so far, it has not disappointed, as its recommendation engine seems to be effective. These sorts of applications I think have a rather simple formula for success, take a good idea, add a good algorithm, package it in a simple UI, and then get the word out!