z Margaret A Babington

Video Streaming for A+E Networks


At A+E Networks there was no singular application for employees to watch the 35 year old catalog of content. To view content, employees were using “watch” apps like History or Lifetime for work tasks.

Then-CEO Nancy Dubuc, launched an initiative to provide unlimited access to A+E programming for the employees around the world. I was tasked with designing a proof of concept application, titled Catalog, housing all of A+E Networks content.

Meet The Team

TechLab is an in-house research, design, and development group which finds opportunities to use technology to enhance the global business of A+E Networks.

My Role: UX Designer

The Team: Product Manager, Business Analyst, Design Team Lead, UI Designer, Dev Team Lead, Front End Developer, Back End Developer

Who's the boss?

A+E Networks is a conglomerate, made up of 10 networks and 52 global networks. Most notably, A&E Networks, Lifetime, History Channel, and Viceland. The company was founeded in 1984.


A major goal of the business was to increase employee engagament by stregthening the A+E brand. This A+E-branded video streaming product, where all networks' content would live together under the A+E umbrella, was in line with this company goal and became a high-profile project with C-suite oversight.

User Needs

Though the main initiative was to bring viewing capabilites to our global employees, it became clear during discovery and testing that this tool would also be very useful for work tasks.

How might we create an equal experience for both the "enterprise" user and the "casual" user?

One of Techlab's design principles is empathy – put yourself in your user’s shoes, understand their challenges, perspectives and needs.

Working in enterprise presents both perks and challenges. One perk is that the users are in the same building or accessible via skype. However the formal culture presents a major challenge when recruiting users, as it requires manager approvals to pull an employee away from their work.

User Research Strategy

Card Sorting – 13 participants

User Testing Session 1 – 7 participants

User Testing Session 2 – 6 participants

User Testing Session 3 – 6 participants

Card Sorting found...

Based on the findings of the card sort, the information architecture and taxonomy was solidified.

Designing from the Inside Out

Since I'm part of a product innovation group, we are tasked with pushing the limits of design and testing big ideas. We were inspired by a recent release of NBC's tech, science and innovation vertical, MACH . They built a design system by first designing components and pieces where you could take big swings. They also made a point to avoid overly structured templates. So we took a big swing, designing our video components first.

We forgot all assumptions of what a video streaming application SHOULD be and asked WHY at every stage of design. Why does a user click on a video card? What elements draw them in? What elements did they ignore? What elements make users recognize a 'video card' at all? Does it have to be 16:9 to be recognized as a video?

After ideating with component structure, we decided to test a mosiac layout on the brand pages for enhanced discoverability and a split-screen convention (similar to Youtube) on the episode pages for the enterprise user.

And we found...users prefer full screen viewing when using Catalog. The need for split screen only resonated with users when watching short clips

The mosaic was a big failure: though it enhanced Discoverability it decreased equal presence. It also enhanced technical difficultly beyond MVP status when discussed with the development team.

On to the Next One

In the next round of testing, we decided to focus on a mobile prototype. Taking the findings from the last round of test, we realized users had such a strong mental model from their home use of video streaming, that risks needed to be more concentrated. By using Flinto, I was able to design and test a card carousel which could still get increased discoverability because of the unique and larger shape while also making it easier for all 6 brands to share an area.

Major Takeaways

  • 100% of users swiped through 2+ cards

  • Sorting and filtering were major pain points
  • Strong desire to filter and view

  • Users questioned available content

  • Why a dark background?

  • Mimics a “movie theater” atmosphere, reduces distraction from video content
  • Creates additional layer of drama
  • Dark backgrounds encourage our minds to recall symbols. Catalog is in part a tool designed to aid employees in quicker brand/content association, and a dark background make logo recognition easier.
  • We see this across most major video applications: Netflix, YouTube (just switched to dark theme), Hulu, and so forth.

  • And so the story ends...

    Catalog was presented to stakeholders, succesfully proving the need and desire for a video streaming catalog at A+E Networks.