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Thoughts on a “Lean Back” Experience

I don’t know about you, but whenever the calendar rolls over to a fresh new year, I get the urge to work on something different for a change. Since I’ve been tinkering with the GoogleTV that Google was kind enough to award me with shortly before the holidays, I’ve spent a lot of time processing through the ministry potential of a 10-foot (or “lean back”) interface. Hit the jump for my thoughts on a new way to approach your ministry’s content on TV.


Simply put, a 10-foot/lean back interface is a specially developed web site or app that is created to be viewed on a television where the user is “leaning back” on their couch at about 10-feet away from the screen.


Probably the most well-known example right now is the Netflix app that can be found on the Playstation 3, Wii, Blu-ray players and a host of other set-top boxes. It takes the Netflix Watch Instantly library that was formerly only viewable in a web browser and translates it to a well-designed interface that can be easily navigated with a simple remote control.

But Who Really Wants the Web on Their TV?

Only the uber-geeks among us really want a web browser on their TVs, but my gut tells me that well-done web apps could be a big deal over the next few years. Mobile apps are a mainstream grand slam, and I think the trend of tightly-focused apps on consumer devices will continue to expand throughout our homes, but only where it makes sense.

Mentioned earlier, the GoogleTV I’ve been tinkering with (along with the Boxee Box, Roku, and the new AppleTV) is an interesting peek into the future. Although the interface definitely has some rough edges that only a nerd would love, it has made it obvious to me that the web has a lot to offer to the TV experience. The challenge for us is to figure out what translates the best to this environment.

What Matters in This Context?

The first thing that came to mind as I thought through some ministry applications was a pretty obvious goal: why not take our live video feed of our worship services and tailor it to couch-based experience? This is technically possible through our existing live site, but what works great on the web isn’t necessarily as usable on a big screen.

So, with a fresh slate established, what matters in the context of your living room? In my mind, the time you spent in front of your TV is spent consuming content, not creating it. I envision our church members watching a live service or quickly sifting through our sermon archives to catch up on a weekend they were out of town. Some paired down interactive options are welcome I’m sure, but I think large blocks of text and more complex interactive content is best left to other devices for now.

What’s Lost in Translation?

Until text entry becomes brainless on your TV, anything that requires your users to type something in will be a huge chore. I was originally thinking of doing some sort of live chat system to go along with our messages on the lean back interface, but I’m not sure the average user even wants to read text on their TV right now; unless it’s a huge typeface, reading still sucks on a TV (even in HD).

We’ll also have to come up with some clever new layouts and navigation schemas. Your users will want a clear UI with some nice big buttons that are easily accessible with just a remote control. It will be fun developing new ideas just to see what sticks and what’s thrown to the curb.

Where on Earth Do I Begin? Should I Even Look Into This?

Although this sort of project is really just an experimental diversion for now, I truly believe that the next two years will bring some compelling new opportunities for us to reach our communities through something as simple as their TVs. These devices are becoming dirt-cheap, and companies like Google are trying to get their software built directly into dozens of new TVs in 2011.

If you have the content to support it and an creative developer in your church that wants to play around with it, I would definitely consider giving it a shot. If you have your sermon archives cataloged through a service like Vimeo (like us), it shouldn’t take much effort to get that content to a TV screen. Even better, a well coded web app should do the job just fine and work across the board among devices (assuming Apple opens up the AppleTV down the line).

Keep an eye on MediaBLEEP, as I’m hoping to put all of these good intentions to use and actually build an interface like this in the coming months. Do you think this is all worth my time or am I just jumping on board of a “fad” technology? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. Eric Granata (Reply) on January 3rd, 2011

    I think it’s on the fringe for now but will certainly be more relevant as the technology becomes more mainstream. I also think that with Roku boxes as cheap as they are, there is potential for using them to help those in the congregation who are home-bound.

    I look forward to seeing what you do:-)

  2. David McDougal (Reply) on January 3rd, 2011

    I guess I need to classify myself as one of the “fringe geeks”. While I have not picked up google tv, I have moved all my files to the cloud, and as an existing android user the idea of all my apps from my phone, and my linux box being pushed directly to my tv for usage there is appealing. How cool to surf my fantasy stats while watching the game.

    Normal usage on the TV is probably not going to be for some time. Think about the iPad though, and most people thought they would never leave their desktop behind. Then they got a laptop and realized they did not need a desktop. Then they got tired of carrying around a laptop and got a tablet. Heck, I just sold me laptop and have a desktop and ipad (cannot wait for the new Android Tablets to come out) and use that for everything. The issue with the TV is that it is SO big. I have a 47″ LG LED and as nice as it is, from 6ft away reading an email is like being 95 with stigmatisms. You would go blind staring at it all day long.

    My biggest concern though as a man that struggle(d/s) with pornography is the filtering on the units. Currently on my Roku there are access to alot of Anime (big fan), but some of the Anime is authentic fringe anime with all the sexual exploits that are common in the anime world. Now couple that with the large screen and the ability to surf web and you open a whole new can of worms. I really hope the Craig Gross at http://xxxchurch.com and his team ports the X3 software to Android well, and possibly GoogleTV.

  3. Eric Murrell (Reply) on January 4th, 2011


    There’s actually a pretty good solution to filtering your entire house at the router level through OpenDNS. It’s what we use at the Murrell household (with 12-15 WiFi enabled devices right now), and it works awesome. I love not having to worry about that crap in my house. You can check out an article I wrote about it here: http://www.mediasalt.com/2009/04/23/enforcing-a-perimeter/

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