By Nigel Walley – Sept 2010
Went to IBC (the International Broadcast Conference) in Amsterdam at the weekend to get a taste of the future of TV. Here’s what we found:
First thing to note is that IBC is a very techy show for a marketing people like Decipher to walk around. 90% of what is displayed at IBC is not relevant for us or most of the people we deal with in the industry. But we go to see the 10% that is interesting. … and we go so that you don’t have to. Out of all the things that were relevant or interesting to us (that’s the big ‘us’ that includes you!) two big themes stood out. The first was that web capability has truly arrived on TV and will probably mess up our understanding of the consumer ‘TV experience’, and the second was that home networking has finally become a TV issue. Why should the TV industry care? We’ll explain at the end.
With the first of these – web capability – I am not talking about on-demand video on TV, as that has clearly been with us for a while, and I am not talking about using the internet to deliver content. I am talking about web applications like YouTube and Google style search, and social media. (If you are unsure of the difference between the Internet and the web, have a look at a previous blog – Is it the web or just the Internet?). Every set top box that we saw which looks destined for the free-to-air market in the UK, seemed to have ‘player’ apps (like iPlayer) as standard, as well as YouTube and Facebook built into the EPG. Companies like NetGem (who make the FetchTV box) have worked really hard to design versions of the YouTube and Facebook interfaces so that they integrate properly into the TV experience. They understand that consumers are increasingly going to be offered YouTube via every connected device they buy, so it is better to bring YouTube into their own EPG (and therefore control it), rather than having consumers turn off their EPG to find it on their connected device. (We touched on this on the blog below Why Do I Keep Turning Sky Off).
The second big area of interest was how the humble home network is beginning to affect TV around the home. Again, this has moved quickly from being an early-adopters wet dream to being a mainstream product. The big idea is that any company looking to control the consumers’ TV experience has to offer a complete TV ecosystem for the home. (We like the word ‘ecosystem’ and have used it all weekend!) From a consumer point of view this means that if you have some content on your main box in the lounge, then you should be able to access it anywhere in the home, on any device. All the manufacturers have quietly agreed a standard that lets any bit of kit you buy in Curries, talk to any other bit of kit. The standard, called DLNA, is now built in to any new consumer product. Have a look at www.DLNA.org . The over-the-top (OTT) box manufacturers were all demo-ing this capability, as its something that they can use to compete against the pay platforms with. Once again, you have to ask when this capability will be included in Virgin and Sky.
From the perspective of the broadcast industry what does this all mean. It certainly puts the TV at the centre of all media innovation around the home, which is good. And these features will probably increase total TV viewing. But they will also continually make it easier to watch non-broadcast TV content on any screen, at any time. Good for the consumer, but not so good for anyone whose careers depends on big live audiences on broadcast channels. The debate on how to monetise non-broadcast content in these new TV environments has fallen seriously behind, and is being messed up by the BBC throwing free content into every service and device that launches. We also believe that the TV industry needs a serious conversation about what can make people watch live vs recorded shows, and to instigate some R&D into it. (Interactivity will have to come back onto the table).
These developments also starts to show the competitive battleground that is being laid out between the device manufacturers, the OTT players and the pay platforms. What is interesting is how far many of the interfaces and services we saw have developed since CES in January. TV innovation is starting to happen at ‘web-speed’ which will make life difficult for the pay platforms who depend on their own closed environment software – and therefore can’t benefit from the frenetic development activity that the global network of web developers brings. The pay platforms have always majored on having the best functionality, and that is no longer necessarily the case. What they do have, is the best story about integrating it neatly for the consumer, and having brands which offer service and support. In this confusing consumer landscape that is emerging, a re-assuring service brand will be a key differentiator – the question is..for how long.