Inside UX: Creating a more engaging way to experience Bloomberg Television

The uniquely collaborative approach of Bloomberg’s UX team transforms the way Terminal subscribers interact with financial news and data

UX designers at Bloomberg design with power and speed always in mind. As a service, the Bloomberg Terminal moves global financial markets and its subscribers require instant access to information, meaning that smart design across every step of a user’s workflow matters to both their business and career success. Because workflow is paramount at Bloomberg, our UX team is uniquely influential—approaching every design challenge with an intense focus on Terminal subscribers’ need for efficiency.

One crucial stream of information for Terminal users is the Bloomberg Television media player, which can be placed on their desktop side-by-side with news feeds, alerts, charts, messaging and market monitors. For Terminal users, it’s not simply about watching TV, but the context in which they consume—and ultimately use—information from Bloomberg Television.

In the chaos of a fast-moving day, it’s common for Terminal users who watch Bloomberg Television to tune in to a segment late, thereby missing critical information about a guest or explanations of Terminal functionality. So how do you enhance something as age-old as TV? To get the answer, a highly collaborative team of engineers, product specialists and UX researchers—led by interaction designers Steph Grace and Stephen Cook—set out to define the future of the TV-viewing experience on the Bloomberg Terminal. These explorations ultimately lead to the creation of Interactive TV.

“Interactive TV puts the information presented on Bloomberg TV in context and firmly in the control of Terminal users,” said Cook. “Design decisions for Interactive TV were weighed with the goals of the Bloomberg Terminal subscriber at its core—which meant we had to develop a deep understanding of the viewing habits of Terminal subscribers.”

Observing the User: Understanding Bloomberg Television in Context

Interactive TV, as an idea, didn’t emerge fully-formed from the mind of the UX team. It took months of observing users in the context of their workday to develop a deep understanding of their needs—and the different ways in which Bloomberg Television is consumed.

“Take, for instance, what we’ll call the ‘passive’ viewing experience,” said Cook. “On a trading floor, Bloomberg Television is consumed as a passive, ‘lean back’ experience. Viewers watch for longer periods of time—intermittently checking in throughout the day—but are less actively engaged.”

During UX research, the team discovered that engagement with Bloomberg Television is a function of proximity. On a trading floor, the experience is more passive. But up close on the desktop, users are actively seeking to use the information being broadcast.

But this changes when Bloomberg Television is situated in the context of the Terminal’s suite of financial data applications on a desktop. Suddenly, a unique opportunity presents itself in the form of a captive, knowledgeable audience—an audience that is seeking to use and manipulate any and all breaking news and data.

“For active viewers, they place Bloomberg Television on their desktop’s second or third monitor,” said Cook. “They often mute the volume and turn on closed captioning. When a segment piques their interest, they increase the volume and dive into the segment to extract actionable information.”

Some viewers would go so far as to search for specific words within the captions in an attempt to find relevant information in the quickly moving scroll of dialogue. If the viewer tuned into a segment halfway through and wanted to re-watch it, they would need to search for it in the Terminal’s video archives or request help from customer support.

In all, they found that Bloomberg Television was a crucial real-time stream of information in subscribers’ daily workflow—but it was difficult for users to make active use of the information they were observing.

Designing with The World’s Most Powerful Users in Mind

Imagine you’re an analyst at a hedge fund during the height of Brexit uncertainty in June 2016. You’re monitoring Bloomberg Television while actively consuming fast-moving financial information across multiple monitors about how Brexit is impacting specific industries and indices.

As you watch Bloomberg Television, the anchors mention a specific Terminal function that will help you surface a chart you need to contextualize an imminent investment decision—but you missed what they said. What do you do? Suddenly, you’re scrambling for a way to re-watch the segment so you can make an informed decision with the most recent data.

Based off of stories like the above and in-depth contextual inquiry, the UX team established three clear design goals to turn Bloomberg Television into an actionable data stream:

  1. Create an easier way to see recent segments of content, along with a way to re-watch them on demand;
  2. Provide users with easy access to on-air content, like charts and Terminal functionality; and
  3. Design a better experience to keep track of what’s being discussed on Bloomberg Television while it’s muted.

After multiple design iterations, the concept of a running sidebar and log of past broadcast segments was decided on as the ideal approach.

An early wireframe of Interactive TV, featuring the Bloomberg Television player (left), an active live feed of information to better contextualize information (right) and a tab for closed captions for easy search and monitoring.

“The idea was that a viewer could see a running feed of what’s happened throughout the day, click back to watch previous segments to catch up on news stories they missed or re-watch portions of the programming where anchors both analyze financial data and discuss Bloomberg Terminal functionality,” said Cook. “When an on-screen personality comments on a chart displaying financial data, the viewer can click a link within the Interactive TV scroll to launch the Terminal’s charting application and follow along with the anchor’s analysis, while editing and customizing their own version of the chart as they see fit. Similarly, when a Bloomberg Terminal function is discussed, a viewer has easy access to visit the function and explore it further.”

Settling on a design direction was only one step—the team still needed to make sure it was feasible.

Making it Happen: Partnering with Bloomberg Television

Observing users is a foundational step in the process—but, when it comes to enhancing Bloomberg Television, understanding the workflow of the team that produces the live television broadcast was just as important.

“We had lots of great ideas for how to enhance the Bloomberg Television experience,” said Cook. “But, after shadowing television producers during live broadcasts, we realized just how much work goes into creating a live television program.”

Cook and the other UX designers realized that asking producers to assist in creating a running log of content on air was simply not feasible. The major question became “where does the metadata produced for a television segment come from and can it be displayed?”

It’s not enough to have a design idea—in the case of Interactive TV, it required pairing the needs of users with the technical constraints of a global television operation. Identifying a method to automate the data stream was the key breakthrough.

Content displayed around a broadcast ranged from automated to human-driven. Some information, like biographies of guests were automated. But many aspects were done through human inputs.

After observing the workflow of the television producers and understanding the nuances of how Bloomberg processes the metadata associated with produced pieces, the team had a breakthrough.

“Figuring out that we could automate the process was a game changer,” said Cook. “We realized we could intercept signals as producers created on-air graphics and integrate that information into the running feed of contextual information.”

Launching Interactive TV

Bloomberg Interactive TV was released in Q1 2017 and is now available globally for the flagship shows based out of New York that are broadcast during the operating hours of European and U.S. financial markets.

Reflecting on the process of launching Interactive TV, Cook notes that it was only made possible because of the close integration of the Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg Terminal teams.

“The UX research and design process is inherently collaborative,” said Cook. “To design something innovative that enhances the workflow of our powerful user base requires both a deep understanding of user needs and our own technological constraints. Creating something this dynamic and complex doesn’t happen in a vacuum—it requires partnerships across all of Bloomberg to get it done.”