Thursday, 17 December 2009

Screen your calls

Verizon has launched a Caller ID application for the TV. The application which will be available on the FiOS TV platform enables TV viewers to see who is calling them in an information box in the corner of their screen. The information appears for several seconds allowing viewers to decide whether or not they want to pause the TV program and answer the call.

Caller ID is being implemented by an increasing number of operators and represents an opportunity to add value to an existing service in a competitive marketplace. It’s also another example of next generation widgets and applications being aimed at a TV audience.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Hybrid TV services on the rise in US

According to a piece of research by IMS nearly 55 per cent of all TV households in the US will have access to internet video by the end of 2010 and 25 per cent of these households will be capable of hosting internet video on the TV set.

As IMS Research consumer electronics analyst, Rebecca Kurlak points out, the games consoles are already addressing the internet video market with gamer demographics well suited to experimenting with new services such as Sky Player for the xbox.

Away from the games consoles, Connected TV’s have the opportunity to aggregate digital media from around the home into one device accessed via a portal. As the amount of content available increases, only a poor user experience can limit mainstream adoption by consumers.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Shop by Remote

Christmas is around the corner and what is the one thing we all do at Christmas? Shop! So, instead of travelling to your favorite department store, would you shop through the television?

In the US, HSN has teamed up with Comcast to roll out an interactive television shopping application to 8 million of Comcast’s users. TV viewers can browse for products that range from clothing to home products and electronics. Shoppers can then select the quantity, colour and size of objects using their remote.

With the average transaction time estimated to be less than 60 seconds, it looks like the TV is shaping up quite nicely for online shopping.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

HbbTV Marches On

IRT has just announced that it hosted the first HbbTV interoperability workshop last week and that version 1.1.1 of the specification has been submitted to ETSI.

Representatives from ANT attended the event and have commented that it was extremely successful. Live satellite feeds containing HbbTV signals, plus test feeds generated by IRT provided the framework for interoperability testing against 17 different applications.

The speed at which HbbTV has grown is great to see, especially as we have seen strong interest in our own ANT Galio HbbTV Platform. The submission of the specification into ETSI is another important milestone and demonstrates how well the group is working together.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Wikipedia on the TV

Vudu has announced that it has integrated Wikipedia into its service, meaning movie buffs can select the Wikipedia item from a menu to find out what the website has to say about the movie. They can then navigate through the website as they would on a computer.

It’s another example of how digital TV is being used to aggregate content from a variety of sources. OTT widgets and applications are paving the way for fully integrated TV services delivered over broadcast and broadband.

As more digital media content becomes available to consumers the user interface and user experience become increasingly important, understanding the different ways in which a consumer interacts with a PC and a TV for example is essential.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Come Dine with Me

Just spotted Channel 4’s live online play-along, for fans of Come Dine With Me. By logging onto, when the programme is scheduled for live viewing, fans can score the Come Dine With Me contestants while they're watching the show on TV at home.

Viewers can try and predict the outcome of the show and rate each night's contestants on food, personality and atmosphere. This level of interactivity when viewing TV programmes is a signal of what’s to come in the future. But, not on the web, but with content shared through the television.

The question is, which TV programmes, do we want to get interactive with? Top Gear, Who wants to be a millionaire, Ten Years Younger... Anymore?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Five things I like about the new Wii iPlayer

First thing yesterday morning, before I'd even had breakfast, I downloaded the new iPlayer from the Wii shop, eager to try it out. I haven't given it a lot of testing yet, but so far there are many things I like about it:

  1. It now appears in the top-level Wii menu, which makes it obvious how to access it. Previously it was four clicks away.
  2. The interface is similar in style and function to the one I'm familiar with on my PC, but adapted to the context of use.
  3. It's fine if I start it up knowing specifically which programme I want to watch and also has the beginnings of some recommendation elements in the "Most Popular" and "More Like This" functions, which is good if I'm just looking for something to watch.
  4. The frame-rate is better than the old version, which was uncomfortable to watch for more than a few minutes. The resolution isn't quite up to standard definition, but that's less important.
  5. Navigation is by pointing the Wiimote, which rumbles as the pointer moves over clickable things. It's a subtle but important bit of tactile feedback that I suspect helps to subconsciously tune your movements to steer the pointer efficiently.

A few things I would like to see in a future version (tut! Never satisfied eh...?):

  • I'd like to see still-frames as I drag the play-position slider. Buffering for video playback takes several seconds each time the slider is moved. If I want to skip to the part of "Later..." where Norah Jones sang for example, it's a tediously slow process.
  • The ability to watch live channels. I know there are technical reasons why that would be a bad idea, but let me talk about wishes for a moment, and forget technical feasibility. I'd like live channels to be included so that everything is in one place, and I only have to learn one style of interface. I'd like to see the broadcast schedule displayed in the same UI, and for the programmes in it to contain links to previous and related episodes.
  • A recommended viewing schedule. Programmes aren't available forever in iPlayer, so to help me organise my TV-viewing time I'd like to indicate which programmes and series I'm interested in, and have the system recommend to me what to watch next and by when, so that I don't run out of time to watch anything.
  • Finally, I'd like more to help me find new things to watch - for example, user-provided ratings, and editorial content about programmes and series.

Dr Rob.

Twitter on TV

Orange announced earlier this week that it has struck a deal with Twitter to enable users to send messages direct from their TV’s. As a consumer it’s great to see new applications being added to a TV service to enrich the offering.

On screen chat is a use-case that we’ve supported at ANT for some time, in March 2008 we demonstrated a new concept called ‘Footie Friends’ at the IPTV World Forum, which also used a Twitter style application. This enabled viewers to chat to each other both on screen and via mobile while watching football on their TV’s.

I expect to see further social networking applications appearing on our TV screens as the industry experiments further. I’m keen to see how this can be tied to the content that’s being viewed such as the X-Factor. This has proved a popular topic in social media forums providing a great opportunity for broadcasters.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Details of the new Wii iPlayer

Last week, Rahul Chakkara posted some details about the new iPlayer for the Wii on the BBC Internet Blog.

We tried the old Wii iPlayer (before it broke) in our household a few times, but we haven't used it much because we found the lower-than-normal framerate was uncomfortable to watch - I'm hoping the new version will do better.

Rahul mentions some technical challenges including, "limited processing power and memory available on these types of devices," which is interesting given that the Wii is far more powerful than most STBs...

I'm looking forward to trying the new version tomorrow.

Dr Rob.

Sky moves into the mobile market

Following the recent launch of Sky Player for the Xbox, BSKYB has also been busy targeting the mobile market with the launch of the Sky Mobile TV service. The app is available on both the iPhone and the iPod Touch and will allow users to stream live TV through a wifi connection.

Sky says there has been 2 million downloads to date, so the service is proving to be popular. So far they have targeted live events with a selection of news and sports channels available. Will this open the way for further mobile TV apps?

It will be interesting to see what the long term impact of this service will be on SKY’s traditional subscription model and if the new service will drive new subscribers to Sky or will current customers opt for the cheaper Mobile TV subscription instead?

Friday, 13 November 2009

Two screen viewing

The NBA Digital (National Basketball Association) has launched a new two screen approach for viewing live games. Viewers watching live NBA games on their TV will also be able to access live data on their PC’s in the style of a press room where they’ll have real time access to player and team statistics. There are some nice touches including being able to personalise the homepage so you’re favorite teams stats appear every time you log on; and access to an instant messaging chat room.

You can see a demo of the application here: .

NBA refers to some Nielson Media Research that found that 57 per cent of Americans, with access to the internet at home, use the TV and internet simultaneously. 27.9 per cent of the time online is spent simultaneously watching TV so this move is a good response to consumer behavior.

I can’t help thinking they’re missing a trick though, shouldn’t this all be done via the TV? This is exactly the type of application that can enhance a viewing experience, delivered via a widget on the TV screen.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Giving IPTV the X factor

This series of the X Factor has generated a huge buzz online. Facebook launched an app for each finalist, whilst Twitter enables users to add a ribbon to their profile to show their support for their favourite finalist.

ITV has been busy too, launching a dedicated website to aggregate the show’s content, such as photos, videos and comments about each performer. However, much of the progress to combine the online buzz with the TV programme has been focused on tapping into people that tune into their favourite programmes via the web.

The question is, when will broadcasters bring social media to the TV screen? The technology is already in place. IPTV can facilitate Twitter conversations into live programmes via OTT widgets, which would allow viewers to have conversations and interact with each other.

One concern about hosting online content through the TV is the effect public conversations could have on the brand. If this move is to happen, broadcasters will need to be careful how they publish viewer comments and what filters if any, they put in place.

Whilst the industry debates how to make this a reality, can we now put rest to the claim that watching TV isn’t sociable?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Risky business

The same characteristics of the web that allow new services to be launched at the flick of a switch can also lead to services breaking at any moment. Witness the update that has broken access to iPlayer on the Wii:

“Why am I unable to view BBC iPlayer on my Nintendo Wii?

The latest Nintendo Wii software upgrade has caused BBC iPlayer to stop working. Users that have not upgraded can continue to use the BBC iPlayer website.”

The lesson here is that although technically it may be possible to launch a new service that builds on something provided by another company, if you have no commercial agreement in place with the other company to maintain compatibility with your service, an update could break it at any time and without notice. If it breaks, an awful lot of users could be pounding your help-lines or returning products as “faulty”...

I wonder how many of the vast array of mobile and TV devices with access to YouTube, Facebook, etc, have been built with commercial agreements with the service they access, and therefore can continue to work faultlessly for the lifetime of the product?

Dr Rob

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Chatting With Sky Player

After a rocky start, Sky Player is now live on the Xbox 360. Sky Player will enable consumers to use their Xbox live service to access movies, sport and entertainment on demand and stream a selection of channels live.

In addition to live streaming and VoD services, some interesting social features have been added, which allow consumers to interact with their friends using avatars in a virtual living room. When in the room you can text and chat using the Xbox headset in a similar way to what we’ve seen when playing games online using Xbox live.

Such social applications and widgets are set to be popular for both TV viewers and gamers alike. But, with most consumers opting to view VoD services through iDTV’s and set-top boxes, will chat applications struggle to reach the masses through a games console?

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Netflix build on VoD Strategy

Netflix and Sony’s announcement that US owners of PS3’s will soon be able to access the Netflix “Watch Instantly” service via their games consoles, builds on an existing strategy by games console providers to move TV content onto the console.

While the initial implementation isn’t necessarily the smoothest - the consumer must put a special disk into the console whenever they wish to access the service. It is another example of a Video on Demand service targeted at the TV.

Netflix already run the “Watch Instantly” service through Blue-ray players, TiVo and the Roku box.

The question is, how much of the VoD market can the game console providers grab?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Magic of iPlayer

Generations of British children have grown up with some of the most creative and best loved children's programmes in the world. But what is in store for the children of tomorrow? The creator of Grange Hill, Brookside and Hollyoaks, Phil Redmond, gave his view on the future of children's television on the BBC.

This very introduction, lead me to iPlayer and Phil Redmond’s 50 minute talk by the Royal Television Society. I was engaged from start to finish, apart from feeling that I was listening to Ringo Star (Beatles!) with a very dry sense of humour. I was impressed not only with his fantastic story telling, but by the absolute drive and passion of Phil for articulating the need for an environment that continues to prioritise the creation and delivery of content that children would engage, relate to and be enthused by in years to come.

I can’t do justice to the whole lecture, but wanted to highlight a few key snippets:

Phil talked about today’s children being submersed in their Xbox Live and online experiences, such as Facebook and how a broadcaster needs to build content to compete with these new mediums. For example, why will tomorrows 14-year-old tune into a broadcast channel, instead of logging onto the web. We are all working towards bring these world’s together!

This question though, is a good lead into a core debate for UK broadcasters; the role of a public service broadcaster verses a commercial broadcaster. Phil drew the comparison very well, centred around children’s programming, he captured beautifully that the BBC Trust see’s “Children’s Programming at the heart of the Public Service remit”, whilst in contrast drew reference a recent statement from Sky’s Chief Executive, James Murdock, that “the only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit”

The world of television is moving very quickly, policy, standards and technology have a significant role in creating the environment to allow creative and compelling services to be brought to the broadcast and emerging online screens. However, Phil reminded me that a balance always has to be in place between content that engages and informs our society as much as it entertains.

At a personal level, the many early mornings of sitting on the sofa with my children over the last 11 years, has been made much easier by the rich, engaging and educational programming available from the BBC’s Children’s channels... Cbeebies and CBBC...

Anyway, if you have a spare 50 minutes, this is a must watch.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

TV 1 Web 0

The results are in. England not only lost to the Ukraine, but the match didn’t attract its expected viewing figures. Although, Kentaro and Perform (the two businesses involved in the project) have not given detailed viewing figures, they have stated that the match attracted less than half a million. Less than half the capacity it had reserved. Not surprising really given that England fans were not captured by the move away from the TV to the web.

On the plus side, the infrastructure stood up to the test relatively well. Virgin reported a 10% increase in traffic on the same time for the previous week, which caused no problems apparently. But, it is the idea of watching the big match on the PC that fans struggled with.

Friday, 9 October 2009

England V Ukraine: TV V Web

If you want to watch Fabio Capello’s team take on Ukraine, you’ll have to stay away from the pub and go online. After the collapse of Setanta, the UK rights have been purchased by digital media company Perform. It’s not necessarily a surprising move in an age where the UK audience is familiar with catching up on programmes using iPlayer. However, it hasn’t been well received by the majority of football fans.

The subscription will be limited to one million streams, which in viewing numbers will equate to around 2.5 Million. However, I’ll be surprised if they reach that limit. There are of course some interesting partnerships being explored here, Odeon will be showing the match in some of its Cinema’s for example.

As for the match itself, well it’s not that important given that England have already qualified for next year’s World Cup. No surprise then that BBC, ITV, SKY or Five didn’t break the bank to get the rights for this one.

For me the TV is still holds the crown as the most powerful medium when it comes to mass viewing but as we move towards web and TV harmonization will the TV remain the platform of choice for consumers?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Augmented Reality

Not so long ago, the notion of mixed reality was something that only materialised in science fiction films. However, as time passes, the virtual world and the technology surrounding it are fast evolving.

It’s clear that there’s a lot of hype around Augmented Reality (AR) and it has captured the imagination of next generation developers and manufacturers.

This is a sort of stuff that could potentially bring the interaction between technology and the human even closer.

It seems the innovation behind AR is developing fast and becoming applicable to nearly everything to do with consumer electronics and gaming. Just last week, a company called SPRXmobile revealed Layar, an augmented reality browser with 3D capabilities, as demonstrated below.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Taking in IBC

IBC has definitely not lost its buzz this year. From the conversations I have been having, the show seems to have attracted a good size crowd this year. What has really paid off for ANT this year, is our position. Our location in the EBU Village has placed us in the middle of conversations with broadcasters.

The turmoil with existing broadcast standards has been at the centre of a lot of these discussions. The restrictions of the red button service in the UK to extend to other web based services and similarly the restrictions of the MHP service in the Nordics, has driven excitement towards the HbbTV standard and our involvement.

What has been really interesting is the use of teletext across Europe. If you consider 1.2 million pages are accessed each week in Switzerland and 16 million in Germany, the importance of getting, news, sport and the weather through your TV is still very much an integral part of the viewing experience.

I’ve not had much chance to get around the show, so hopefully I will get chance to visit other stands today.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Video help

One effective way to teach a new user about a UI is to make a video tutorial, with a real live person to introduce the purpose of the UI and take the user through the steps involved in using it. Playback of the video could be played during an installation “wizard”, or triggered from a “help” button embedded in the UI itself, or offered as an option at the edge of the screen if the user seems to be hesitating with the next step of an interaction.

The new HbbTV standard for hybrid TV devices makes the task of including video help in applications about as easy as it’s possible to be – by virtue of its support for streaming video over a standard HTTP connection. Perhaps the hardest part will be producing the video in the first place – in a way that looks professional anyway.

What do you think – will video help become a common feature of HbbTV applications?

Friday, 11 September 2009

It’s IBC time again

An increasing amount of multimedia content has been targeted at the TV for some time now. Whilst, it is an exciting time for the industry, consumers have been surrounded by multiple remote controls and a service presented in a non-TV centric manner.

We believe that the TV is a great way to receive a variety of information and for the next few days we will be demonstrating our new managed service concept at IBC at the EBU Village (stand number 10.D21).

We’ll be showing how the consumer will be able to see a variety of content such as VoD (Video on Demand), internet radio stations, playlists and programme information, and daily news sites that feature video clips of the latest news stories; all direct from the TV.

I’ve answered a few questions on this latest announcement here:

Monday, 7 September 2009

See HbbTV in action at IFA

As IFA 2009 sets off with a bundle of new technologies for the consumer, I wanted to tell you about some exciting technology at the show that we’ve been involved in. Our news on HbbTV over the last week has attracted a great deal of interest but of course showcasing real life stuff is what it’s all about. If you’re at the show please go along to the ARD stand (Hall 2.2/101) and visit the Digital World section where we have, in partnership with Humax and KaonMedia, live demonstrations of HbbTV in action. It is truly rewarding to have something that we have been involved in for a while come to market and in my opinion really hit the mark. By this, I always run the "would I spend my money on this " test, and for the interactive web services converged with HD experiences we are delivering here I absolutely would. This is a great example of industry collaboration resulting in ....well take a look and let me know what you think.

Friday, 4 September 2009

ANT Galio HbbTV Platform

ANT today announced the launch of the ANT Galio HbbTV Platform. This follows our involvement in the “Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV” or “HbbTV” project, a pan-European initiative that merges the delivery of broadcast and broadband services.

As a consumer I’m excited by the services that are already being developed for HbbTV, visitors to IBC will get to see some examples of these next week. I’ll be updating the blog from the show next week and will of course keep you updated.

HbbTV is based on elements of existing standards including OIPF (Open IPTV Forum), CEA, DVB and W3C, further information can be found here:

I’ve also answered a few questions on this latest announcement here:

Thursday, 27 August 2009

European initiative merges television with the power of the internet

Here at ANT we’re delighted to have been involved in the launch of “Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV” or “HbbTV”, a major new pan-European initiative aimed at harmonising the broadcast and broadband delivery of news, information and entertainment to the end consumer through TVs and set-top boxes.

It’s an exciting time for the market and we’ll be making further announcements soon so watch this space!

You can find out more information on the HbbTV website and

I’ve also answered a few questions here:

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The future of EPG

Every month or so Justin Lebbon interviews TV industry representatives on their views on emerging trends and technology for his new site, an online information sharing and networking hub for all things Convergence TV, as I blogged here before.

This time he has kindly asked my opinion on the future of EPG to which I happily answered in a form of video.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Making TV widgets talk

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is working with industry to develop a talking TV UI. A little more detail is available on the Ocean Blue Software site, but I'm looking forward to seeing (or rather, hearing) it at IBC to find out how the EPG part of it works.

I imagine that it's not just a case of speaking out the contents of a whole screenful of guide information. What the blind or partially-sighted user needs is to be able to navigate around a screenful of information to control the order that things are spoken, much like a sighted person would look around by moving their eyes.

For this to work effectively, the navigation paths would need to be logical and structured so that the minimum navigation is required to get to the info you want. I doubt you'd get that simply by mapping left/right/up/down positions on the screen display to left/right/up/down navigation, so each "talking" application must be structured with spoken interaction in mind.

Which raises an interesting question - with the trend towards 3rd party extension applications and widgets for interactive environments, would every application author have to design their app with a "talking" mode of operation (including navigation paths optimised for a talking UI), or is it possible to design the UI building-blocks such that a useful talking mode is achieved without the app-author considering it?

A widgets environment already forces some navigation structure onto applications (so that the user can navigate between widgets without all widget authors cooperating with one another) - could this be extended to make widgets talk more easily?

Sighted-users can also benefit from this area of work. For example, imagine if you could phone your STB from the office and interact with the talking interface to set a recording. Or if the TV remote control had a phone-like handset built into the back, you could check your stocks and shares widget without disturbing the video that others are watching.

Blinkbox gets content approval from BBC World service

Viewers of VOD service Blinkbox could soon catch up with popular programmes commissioned by BBC, according to numerous reports this week. BBC Worldwide has licensed the rights to offer shows, including Planet Earth, Top Gear and Spooks, in what seems like a revenue sharing deal.

The VOD service boasts 1.5m video streams to 750,000 unique visitors last month, and already has 5,000 hours of programming available, but much of the content is from US networks.

Blinkbox has an interesting proposition for the UK VOD market. Although the service has a competitive edge over BBC’s own iPlayer with its mixed catalogue of content, it remains to be seen whether its pay-tv model will work in the UK. The VOD market is fast evolving and companies such as Blinkbox are working to find a business model that works.

VOD viewers can be fickle so content could be the differentiator, but not without a good price structure, accessibility and usability features.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Challenging the conventional design

Just occasionally someone designs something that causes everyone else to ask "Why didn't I think of that?" - or even "Why hasn't someone thought of that before now?". This was very much my reaction when I first saw a design concept by Min-Kyu Choi of London's Royal College of Art.

The UK plug is generally considered the safest plug design in common use anywhere in the world. The use of rectangular pins, the cable exiting at the bottom (thus minimising the likelihood of the plug being yanked out by its cord), cable restraint and each plug being individually fused, are some of its key features. More recently the standard has been updated to require the phase (live) and neutral pins to have insulated bases.

However, there remain several factors about the UK plug that are sub-optimal. It is one of the largest physical plugs in the world and in particular its 3d footprint is big making it bulky and difficult to accommodate in product packaging. For anyone who has ever stood on its prongs with bare feet at 3am will contest, leaving them lying around the floor is not wise. And for anyone responsible for the forest of wiring behind their TV, UK trailing sockets are also space-consuming beasts. Mr Min-Kyu appears to have succeeded where so many before him have failed - to improve the UK plug while keeping all of its safety features and addressing the three issues I listed above. perhaps that is why people are calling him a genius.

Min-Kyu Choi's plug design - ideal for portable equipment

The design has been submitted as an entry for the James Dyson Award. Hopefully an enterprising company (maybe Choc Box?) will pick this up and turn it into a commercial product - how long before we see it and Choi on Dragon's Den?

What do you think of the design? Have you come across an innovative design concept worthy of mention? Let us know in the comments.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Internet TV is reaching its peak in the hype cycle

Gartner has published an updated version of their annual Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report for 2009.

At a glance it’s an interesting piece of research looking at the most discussed and eagerly followed emerging technologies, with Internet TV being one of them (see graph below).

If this comes to fruition, Internet TV will reach a mainstream adoption in two to five years, which I think it isn’t entirely a bad forecast. I’d be more interested to see how this plays out beyond 5 years, as there are so much more to connected TV other than just hype.

Kudos to Gartner for allowing the use of this image.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Touchable hologram revealed at Siggraph

At this year’s Siggraph, the international exhibition for computer graphics and interactive techniques, a team of R&D boffins from the University of Tokyo demoed a piece of technology called Airborne Ultrasound Tactile Display.

The technology uses ultrasound to enable a hologram to move around as and when a person touches it, creating what’s called a touchable holography.

What’s more striking is that you can feel the touch sensation from the acoustic radiation pressure coming out of the ultrasound, bringing interaction between human and technology even closer.

Friday, 24 July 2009

D&AD recognises interactive widget designs by students

I came to notice that this year’s D&AD Student Awards has received some excellent entries from students around the world.

Earlier this year, D&AD, an educational charity for creative, design and advertising communities partnered up with BBC to set a creative brief for students to develop digital widgets. According to the brief, students were asked to come with an interactive idea and design for a widget that would make the most of BBC's content and present it in a compelling and engaging way.

Although this year’s entries have seen a range of interactive widget designs mostly for the web and mobile phones, none of the widgets were designed specifically with the TV in mind. Perhaps TV wasn’t specified as a platform in the brief, nevertheless it goes to show that the TV is being forgotten by a new generation of young designers, I think they’re missing a trick.

The widget design that came closest to being developed for TV was this one:

It’s something we’ve seen discussed in the industry before and the design and implementation here is very good, the next step of course is to move it from the PC onto the TV screen.

Monday, 13 July 2009

BBC attracts record number of interactive viewers

A record number of people have tuned in to watch coverage of this year’s Glastonbury festival according to ITVT. Live streams, coverage highlights and catch up coverage have all been available on demand through the festival’s website and the BBC interactive red button service, which apparently attracted 6.1 million viewers.

Great job by the BBC to maximise the content they have available to them, we saw equally impressive coverage of Wimbledon on the red button. We’ve seen this for a number of music and sporting events now, what’s next?

Friday, 10 July 2009

Justin Lebbon on television and technology

The latest industry member to take a few minutes to answer some questions is Justin Lebbon. Justin has recently launched videonet ( which aims to bring together the best aspects of multiplatform online information sharing and networking. Videonet will also be hosting the official IBC blog.

Tell us a little bit about your new project, Videonet

Videonet is a new online publishing and events business for pay-tv professionals. Videonet incorporates the best aspects of web 2.0 – video, blogging, social media – while mixing in online events that offer audiences an interactive and engaging information sharing experience.

Widgets have become a hot topic in the TV space, what types of widgets would you like to see on your TV?

I think aspects of pay-TV can get complicated and I’m satisfied viewing my pre-recorded content and skipping ads. I do think social media widgets will be successful – linking twitter, facebook, Instant messaging – to create a social TV experience. For me, simple widgets supplying news, sports and weather RSS headlines would work but I have an issue with mixing too much of the internet with pay-TV. I realise combining the two offers a galaxy of opportunities but it complicates the service (for me) as television is my medium for switching off and relaxing. That’s not really conducive to having “friends” pop up wondering whether I thought the goal was offside.

What do you like and dislike about the TV service you receive?

I’m very much a time and place shifted TV consumer. I love PVRs and I’ve had one for several years now and I could never go back to standard linear television. The days of mindless channel hopping are, thankfully, over. I’m generally satisfied with my TV service but, without naming my provider, I do get frustrated with how slow it is; general channel changing, selecting on-demand programming, recording items, simple EPG navigation, etc. The delay is almost intolerable. I firmly believe my provider offers the best pay-TV (and triple play) package in the UK but the feel of the service, which is so important in my view, is incredibly tired and laborious.

You’re launching a new website dedicated to the pay TV industry, what fascinates you about the industry?

Pay-TV combines two areas that interest me: technology and television. My nerdy fascination with technological developments is married with a subject that is relevant to me. Additionally, the industry is often led by the technology so there’s a great rapport between technology vendors, operators and the consumer.

As a consumer how have technology advances impacted on the way you consume content?

Technology has massively impacted the way I consume content. I now only watch the TV I want to watch and I chose when and where to watch it. Now web-based content has become more reliable and better quality, I often chose to watch live events online – like Wimbledon – over sitting in front of the television. Feels like I’m still working using the PC! I’m really looking forward to true service, platform and device convergence. Personalised and quality guaranteed content services across multiple devices around the home and beyond thrills me far more than it should. Now I have to mess around getting shows on the iPod but having content immediately accessible on my handheld, as instructed by my online EPG, is utterly thrilling for me. Apparently all of this is quite possible today and we’re a couple of years from it being commonplace.

Many consumers skip adverts when watching from a PVR, would targeted advertising or rewards based advertising encourage you to sit through an advert break?

I do skip ads but I don’t get overly annoyed by them. Some adverts are more engaging and creative than some of the programming we’re watching today. Targeted advertising has become a big area and the Holy-Grail is targeting individual households. A couple of vendors claim to achieve this but it’s yet to be seen. What I like about this approach is that you and I can watch the same programme and then brag about what was advertised to us. TV advertising, though, definitely needs to move with the times. Marketing has become far more targeted and measurable and television advertising has failed to deliver those metrics. It’s moving forward in the right direction as we’re now seeing success with on-demand advertising and operators will soon be able to target devices and subscriber profiles to hit certain demographics. As consumers we receive hundreds of marketing messages a day and the more relevant they are to you, the more likely you’ll respond.

Before launching Videonet you spent a number of years working on the IPTV World Series – How has the industry evolved since the first exhibition?

The pay-TV industry has evolved spectacularly since the first IPTV World Forum exhibition in March 2005. To begin with, that event was about TV over DSL; telecoms push into pay-TV. The event evolved year-on-year to incorporate all networks (IP over Cable, hybrid, etc) as other platform operators move to deploy IP-based video services over their network. Now we’re in a situation where telecom companies are ahead of the game being able to offer converged IP services over high bandwidth fibre networks. Meanwhile, cable is responding with DOCSIS 3.0 (supporting unrivalled bandwidth capabilities) and they can now deploy IP services around the home through the cable gateway. DTH providers are enjoying success with hybrid deployments. Just by scratching the surface you can see how quickly the industry moves and that’s what makes it such an intriguing industry to work in.

You work in the TV industry, so you must spend a good amount of time watching it yourself. What are your favourite TV shows and why?

Unlike a lot of other people in this industry, I rather enjoy watching television although I’m incredibly fussy about what I watch. I like comedy programmes including Flight of the Conchords, The Office, Green Wing. I do enjoy US big hitting dramas, such as: Lost (shameful, I know), ER and Hereos. I find most reality TV shows offensively contrive and awful, although I can’t help but love The Apprentice. I also watch a tremendous amount of sport, especially football and tennis.

Friday, 3 July 2009

New channels, great expectation

As the UK TV broadcast industry goes through some serious structural shake ups and looks to take a fresh approach to revenue generation, there are plenty of new TV services appearing on the horizon. In recent weeks I’ve seen some interesting developments happening in the industry including launches of new channels.

Hulu TV
Times Online reported last Sunday that Hulu, the most popular TV streaming website in US, will start streaming shows to British internet users from September 2009. “In contrast to video-on-demand services from British broadcasters, such as the BBC’s iPlayer and Channel 4’s 4oD, which restrict themselves to the output of their parent corporations, Hulu will offer shows from UK broadcasters including Channel 4, ITV and possibly even the BBC.” The service will be available free for all UK residents.

Freeview HD
The BBC recently confirmed that Freeview HD transmissions will be rolled out by Christmas. Initially only covering Manchester and Liverpool, the rollout will soon expand and eventually reach the rest of the UK by 2012. Freeview HD will show BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 at first; however it’s reported that the new Freeview HD broadcasts won’t work on many existing Freeview set-top boxes, which means most viewers will have to buy a new TV or a new STB.

Having bought the rights to broadcast two of the six packages of English Premiership games for the 2009-10 season from Setanta, Disney owned, US channel ESPN will launch in time for the new season, according to Evening Standard.

Disney XD
Disney is launching a new entertainment channel Disney XD this autumn in replacement of Jetix, the children’s entertainment channel. Broadly aimed at six-to-14-year-old boys and their families, the channel will include a mix of live programmes and animation with a focus on sports, adventure, music and comedy.

Quest TV
Despite plans to launch in May, Discovery Channels has recently decided to postpone the launch for Quest TV till later this year. To be launched on Freeview, Quest is expected to provide factual, lifestyle and entertainment programmes from the archives of Discovery Communications and other imported material.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Man and Machine, in perfect harmony

Keen drivers may have experienced the feeling of their car becoming an extension of their body. It’s as if the mind’s eye expands its viewpoint to incorporate the car, and it becomes like extra limbs of the body. I imagine the same can occur for a musician and their musical instrument, or a surgeon and their medical implements, or perhaps even a rider and their horse. Psychologists probably have a name for this phenomenon...?

Of the two cars that I’ve driven recently, one exhibited this phenomenon more readily than the other. (I’m attributing it to the car, but of course it’s a trick of the mind, not of the car.) The reasons for the difference are quite subtle, but I believe it comes down to things such as this – in the car I prefer, it’s easier to control the engine speed during a gear-change, and therefore achieve a smoother, more controlled gear-change, because the accelerator pedal operates over a more useful range of movement. In the other car, the engine goes from idling speed to the red line with comparatively little movement of the accelerator, which makes it harder to match engine speed to road speed.

The key is this: for the body-extension phenomenon to occur, you have to feel fully in control which means it must have the right set of controls, and be responsive and provide feedback. If any of these are missing, then the mind trick fails, and you and the object remain separate entities.

I reckon the same principles apply to consumer electronics interfaces. If the UI provides controls that fit the tasks you need to perform, it reacts in a timely fashion when you instruct it, and you can always tell what state it is in, then there’s a good chance that your mind’s eye will expand to include the interface and you’ll feel you are interacting directly with the tasks.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Julian Clover on the progression of IPTV

As I mentioned last month, I was keen to start a monthly Q and A with IPTV industry insiders to discuss what’s hot and what’s not in the IPTV world. This month Julian Clover has been kind enough to share his views.

Julian Clover is a media and technology journalist based in Cambridge, UK. He has two decades of combined experience in online and printed media.

He is currently an editor of Broadband TV News and New Television Insider. He has contributed to The Channel, the magazine of The Association for International Broadcasting; Cable and Satellite International; Euromedia and the consumer title What Satellite TV.

He is also a committee member of the Broadcasting Press Guild and the IBC Conference.

Julian, as Editor of Broadband TV news, you have a strong involvement in the digital TV space, are there any areas of IPTV technology you are particularly keen to see advance?

The use of hybrid boxes is particularly beneficial to satellite broadcasters to bring in on demand content. Canal+ already have something in this area with Le Cube and you could reasonably expect other operators to be thinking along similar lines.

Widgets and applications for the TV are becoming increasing popular, how important do you think open standards are to the evolution of these applications?

You don’t necessarily need open standards, but providers do need to make their technology available to those with the know-how. The problems start if the leading platform becomes a closed shop.

The convergence of web and TV is now really coming together, what is the future scope for these services?

Ultimately, it is complete convergence, or at least close enough. It has already been proved that the family will not gather around to view the bank statements. However, it is entirely reasonable to be able to check the listings at the local cinema, and be able to get a review that has not been influenced by studio or cinema chain. The iPlayer always gets the glory, but there are many similar services from overseas broadcasters where not all the content is copyright protected. We could reasonably expect to see some of these available. The challenge will be for operators to provide convenient access while not discouraging people from taking their own paid for content.

Personalisation has become a hot topic associated with IPTV; do you think this is something essential for the progression of IPTV services?

It applies to any television platform but we have been promised personalised EPGs for over ten years, with the technology now seemingly only just catching up with the PowerPoints.

You’re based in the UK, what are the good and bad aspects of the TV Service that you receive?

The broadcasters do little to promote anything more than eight or nine programmes at any one time. There’s a lot to be said for a programme trail listing the complete night’s line-up, even if you end up ignoring half, or recording it for viewing another day. Programmes at the fringes of the schedule are ignored, and alas the same can often be said for those featured programmes on the iPlayer.

Do you think VOD will dramatically change the way we consume digital content, how have your viewing habits changed in recent years?

VOD will clearly erode the schedules, but the human need for a shared experience will ensure the big entertainment and sports shows get something resembling a mass audience. The PVR (Sky+ in my case) means that I jettison whole series, preferring to watch a series from start to finish, rather than missing episodes through not being at home.

Do you think the digital switch over will lead to an increased demand in additional IPTV services?

There’s no reason why there will be more of a demand for IPTV than any other platform. By now most people who are interested in a pay-TV option will surely have signed up. The fun starts as the pay-TV platforms attempt to attract customers from their rivals.

You work in the TV industry, so you must spend a good amount of time watching it yourself. What’s your favourite TV show and why?

I’m a complete news junkie, so can happily watch the news channels for several hours, though I’m still not sure the UK stations have the polish of their US counterparts. Coast, which has gone around the British Isles and is now venturing into Europe for the next series, has sparked an interest. But I also get lost in series that seemingly have no purpose and are allowed to meander until their US audiences tire of the format. Lost at least has an end date, but after five episodes I’m longing for Dollhouse to find a direction.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The film industry joins forces for a new business model

I’ve covered different business models for TV several times before ( here and here, as well as in a recent post titled Is cable subsription model under threat?) - indeed it is something of a recurring theme. However, a new joint movie studios initiative announced last week by Lionsgate, Paramount, and MGM has the potential to really shake things up.

Epix is an new HD TV network that will air movies after they have appeared in the cinemas but before they are released on DVD or BlueRay. But consumers won't pay a subscription or pay-per-view charges, nor specifically need to request the channel is added to their package; and the service will have no advertising. Even better, the same content is available to Epix customers at at 720p resolution.

So what is the business model and how can the movie studios afford to do this? Well for a start, Epix is only available to customers who are taking their tv providers' TV service and Internet service. Epix believe that their service can act as a key differentiator when customers choose a TV package. Epix are also planning to install caching servers directly in the provider’s datacenter thus avoiding the need to stream HD video over second or third party Internet connections. Epix can thus take a slice of the bandwidth cost savings that their caching servers realise for the operator. Epix aren't interested in relationships directly with consumers - they are looking to build partnerships with the cable, Internet and satellite companies.

Looks like Epix could be one TV network to watch.

Monday, 22 June 2009

I Hate Touch Screens

I do think touch screens have some obvious advantages, because they have no fixed layout for UI components, which means the layout can be rearranged for each type of task, and there are no nooks and crannies for dirt to lodge in (try turning your PC keyboard upside down and give it a good shake - it's horrifying what falls out).

However, for a UI that I use regularly, such as my phone, a touch screen offers very little scope for honing speed and precision of use with time, because there's no tactile feedback to indicate whether a key was pressed accurately.

I wish mobile manufacturers would put a transparent mechanical keyboard over the top of the touch display to give the keys feel, while leaving their labels dynamic. The keyboards could also be slid or flipped out of the way when the display is all just for output.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Needless Inconsistency

I'm using a smart phone with an OS that shall remain nameless (to protect the guilty), but I've found three different screens where three different operations are required to back out of a sub-menu or screen if it's been entered by mistake. There's a button with an arrow pointing left, which sometimes does it, sometimes it's necessary to touch a "cancel" button at the bottom of the touch-screen, and sometimes a menu must be opened to find the "cancel" option.

If I was playing a game it might be fun to search for these things, but here it is just tedious.

A good UI picks a small, powerful and intuitive set of interaction "patterns", preferably aligned with existing experience, and uses them everywhere. Otherwise it's like having to learn 1,000 verbs of a language when only 10 are necessary.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Five things you need to know about user interface design

A while back I spent some time on the phone explaining to someone how to read and send text messages. Navigation within the Inbox was proving far harder to explain than I’d expected, until I realised that my text-newbie was not familiar with the concept of a scroll bar (she’s never used a PC...). The phone’s display, and the way it reacted to button presses, made more sense once this was understood.

Here are five tips for UI designers, to minimise the amount of knowledge required to use a new interface:

1. You can reduce the number of new things that must be learnt by building on existing knowledge, although the text lesson highlights the fact that different people have different levels of experience, and so you can’t rely entirely on prior knowledge.

2. Choose a small set of flexible interaction patterns that can be applied again and again - don’t make the user learn several different ways to perform similar operations - let them learn something to achieve one task, then be delighted to find they can use it for similar tasks

3. Make it intuitive - if a highlight is to move left and right along a set of selections, don’t use the up and down arrow keys to do it

4. Structure the interface to match the tasks the user will perform, not the structure of whatever it controls

5. Build on conventions - car makers do this, out of necessity in some cases (steering wheel and pedal arrangements), but also in other areas (the indicator stick, for example, is common to most cars). For TV UIs, most people are familiar with the idea of something being highlighted, and four arrow keys moving the highlight from one item to the next, and those that aren’t will quickly catch-on because it’s intuitive.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

More for Channel4

If you like watching daytime banter between big haired presenters and culture shocking, stress busting evening entertainment on Channel4 then you’re about to get lucky as C4 is putting up 4,000 hours of archived content online for free from 3rd July.

According to CNet UK, Channel4 will be making programmes like Time Team, Location, Location, Location, Shameless, Queer As Folk and Unreported World available via its 4oD service. However, it’s pre-warned that C4 won’t backdate all past programmes and viewers shouldn’t expect “bizarre, experimental three-part documentary from the 80’s”. In return for this classic content you’ll have to sit through a few adverts of course, 4oD is an ad-supported VOD provider like most of the VOD services in the UK, as posted in On-demand TV competition heats up previously.

In a similar vein, BBC iPlayer is reportedly working on an agreement with Youtube’s parent company Google to extend its service outside of the UK although there are significant DRM issues to be dealt with first.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

What can we learn from in-game browsers?

I read an excellent article on Gamespot comparing the latest web browser technology for gamers where the browser is used as a secondary application during gameplay.

Developers have been working closely with the gaming community for some time, building promising new features that allow gamers to browse the web during a game play. Some in-game browsers (the likes of X-Fire and Steam) are still very much like standard web browsers in terms of their usability and functionality.

On the other hand, game developers GotGame have built a more innovative solution called Rogue. The quirk of it is that it allows gamers to switch to web browsing instantly and continue to engage in the game whilst users browse the web semi-transparently. It’s an impressive development that’s worth exploring.

Take a look at how it works.

The approach that Rogue have adopted demonstrates that web browsing should be built to compliment and enhance the user experience when being used in a less traditional way, something we’re also aware of when delivering web based services to the TV.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Real Football on my Xbox 360?

There was an interesting partnership announced yesterday between SKY and Xbox 360. The two are working together to deliver on-demand and live programmes to consumers in Britain and Ireland via their games consoles. It’s another example of broadening the services available on today’s games consoles and builds on the web browsing capabilities that we’ve already seen from the leading players.

This latest development makes excellent use of the broadband connection, I particularly like the tie in with the Xbox live interactive service which Screen Digest believes now has over 2 million active users in the UK. So in addition to spending hours trying to take Cambridge United to the Premiership on Fifa 2009 I’ll soon be able to watch the real thing on my Xbox 360 too!

Full story here.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Bringing UGC content to TV

Current TV is a content sharing and aggregating site that is making a brave effort in bringing in amateur web content to the mass TV audience. Just last week, it launched a brand new programme called Webmash, an all round entertainment programme that beams the weirdest news, the funniest videos and other unmissable web gems onto your screens.

It may not be in everyone’s taste to watch yet another “Harry Hill’s TV Burp” type of content, but the programme makers at Current TV seem to invest quite a bit of time rifling through the internet and cramming the best bits into a thirty minute entertainment show.

What I like about the idea is that unlike traditional TV shows the content is 100% user generated, meaning the cost is almost next to none. Who knows, programmes like this could become a perfect watershed lull breaker before we settle down in front of our TV screens for mainstream favourites like TopGear and the Apprentice.

Webmash airs at 8pm, Monday to Thursday on Current TV, which is available on Sky 183 and Virgin Media 155.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Barry Flynn on the future of the IPTV industry, the 'Flynn switch' and Mad Men

I think it’s important to keep up with industry insiders. That’s why I’ve decided to run a regular monthly slot talking to specialists about their views on what’s hot and not in digital TV. To start us off, Barry Flynn, a principal consultant at TV consulting firm Farncombe Consulting Group, has been kind enough to give us some of his thoughts. He also runs the Connected TV blog where you can get more of his in-depth news and views.

Barry, you’ve been working in the digital TV space since its early days, what excites you about this industry as a whole?

The fact that it’s undergoing multiple, radical transformations – technology as well as business-related. On the one hand, there are rapid technical developments affecting quality (HD, super-HD, 3D, and LED TVs); and on the other hand parallel changes affecting delivery (e.g. DVB-T2, DVB-SH, IP, etc.). It’s likely that broadband hybridisation in particular will ultimately trigger sweeping changes right across the TV business value-chain. There’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure.

What do you see as the hot topics in the today’s market?

Adding IP to traditional digital TV networks is the major hot topic, I think. Lots of people are coming to us for advice on this at the moment because the technical issues that need to be resolved are very complex (let alone the business ones). 3D also seems to be hot, although I’m a bit of a sceptic: I see no great demand for it from consumers and my personal view is that something like 4000-line HD combined with multiple audio feeds will offer as good an illusion of reality as anyone really requires.

The industry has been talking about the convergence of web and TV for quite some time. Is this really what consumers want?

Yes and no. I don’t think anyone really wants to surf the Internet on their living-room TV set. However, there’s evidence of suppressed demand for watching an over-the-top catch-up video service like the BBC’s iPlayer on the TV screen rather than the PC and perhaps other OTT services like YouTube. I also think consumers would value the ability to perform much more sophisticated Internet-type searches on the programmes available to them in a multi-channel PVR context, although, that would require considerable improvements to existing user interfaces (an evolution our EPG design company WeAreAka is closely involved with). It’s really a case of taking the best of what the Internet offers and adapting it to work in a TV environment – a sort of selective convergence, if you like.

There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about widgets that could be useful in the TV environment much like the popularity of iPhone applications. Do you see this taking off? What kind of applications do you think would be successful, if any?

Well, it depends on the age-group. As a rule, I think older people who have grown up with traditional linear TV will be a bit more reluctant to interact with widgets than younger ones for whom on-demand, interactive viewing is an everyday aspect of their video consumption experience. So, for the ‘oldies’, applications will have to be non-disruptive and tightly related to what they use their TVs for at the moment – i.e. news and weather, or contextual video purchases (e.g. ANT’s Amazon widget). I can also see that it might be useful for this age-group to know who is phoning you on the landline (so you can decide whether to interrupt your viewing) or to be alerted intelligently to the fact that an episode of a programme you have watched in the past is beginning at time X on channel Y. For the younger ones, I think social networking widgets might be more popular – e.g. ‘tweets’ from friends about reality shows, and so on – simply because that’s the way they consume TV anyway: i.e. simultaneously communicating with their friends. For me, though, the difficulty is reconciling these different paradigms: which widgets are allowed and which ones aren’t when you sit down to watch The Apprentice ‘en famille’?

Sky has made some recent announcements about “green button” advertising, giving the consumer more control over what they choose to watch making advertising much more relevant to them. Do you think it’s something that could take off?

There is some evidence from VOD deployments that people will choose to consume advertising if they see it as relevant to them. But I think this is really only the first step in the move to targeted, personalised advertising – where, for example, your PVR or the headend proactively substitutes a targeted ad in a live or recorded programme. The big issue isn’t really the technology – it’s whether consumers can be persuaded to give away the information the advertisers need to be able to target them in return for receiving ‘relevant’ messages. No-one really knows the answer to that yet. All we know at the moment is that consumers don’t seem to like their viewing being interrupted by irrelevant messages.

If you were to be transported 10 years into the future, how do you think the way we watch and consume TV both in the home and at work will have changed?

Apart from watching major events and breaking news live, it will probably mostly be on-demand – in the developed world at least – whether that’s from local or network storage. Given current storage trends, video will also have become much more portable by then (which is how we’ll probably watch it at work if we’re allowed to). In fact, I have this idea that wireless content sharing between portable media players might become so prevalent in the future that when you arrive home after work, the first thing you do will be to sync the home server with the one in your pocket, rather than the other way round – because the Terabytes you carry round with you will have become the dynamic content acquisition environment (the home server will just provide your backup). I have modestly labelled this concept ‘the Flynn Switch’, but it could be a complete fantasy! Whether we’ll have widespread broadcasting to these handheld media devices by then is a different issue. I’m a bit of a sceptic here, too, but I guess 10 years is enough for the industry to come up with a viable business model.

As a consumer how have technology advances impacted on the way you consume content?

For video, the answer is simple: I now watch mostly recorded programming rather than live, and I watch in HD (when it’s available) instead of SD, because I now have an HD-Ready flat-screen and a Sky HD box. For audio, the iPod has transformed my life. It enables me to consume a lot of radio as podcasts , and I hardly ever listen to music on anything else, now. Interestingly, I think it’s my audio consumption that has increased as a result of these advances rather than my video consumption. As for reading and news, it’s still via books and newspapers – although I guess I now get most work-related news from online alerts.

You work in the TV industry, so you must spend a good amount of time watching it yourself. What’s your favourite TV show and why?

Mad Men, without a doubt (in HD, of course!). It’s beautifully written, complex stuff, but it’s not just that. My father inhabited the American advertising world of the 60s, and the attention paid to period detail is exquisite, from the clothes through to the furniture, right down to the incessant drinking and smoking. I sometimes feel I’m peering through a telescope at my own childhood! It’s also got the best theme music and opening credits sequence ever. I’m devastated the latest series has just finished…

Friday, 8 May 2009

Fast growth for connected TVs in the US

A survey conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) in the US, has revealed that as many as 14.5 million US households will consider buying an internet-capable TV over the coming year.

Out of all survey respondents, over 60 per cent wanted to watch online video content, 59 per cent wanted to check the weather and 57 per cent wanted to play network games.

The survey also identified that having access to content at any time and being able to access the internet during television broadcasts were the main reason viewers would opt for connected TVs. This is a latent trend that is yet to be echoed in Europe and indeed in the UK, where demand for VOD content on the internet has increased by 10% this year.

Interestingly, it’s said that the user interface for accessing online services through the television remains a challenge in the IPTV industry. Some industry insiders also say that there are no clear winners in terms of standards, interfaces or protocols as yet.

Evidently, this is changing very fast. As we saw at this year’s IPTV World Forum, industry players including ANT are already developing new and efficient usability features and interface apps as the demand for connected TVs rockets.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Sky launches ‘green button’ advertising service

Rapid TV News has recently covered Sky's news announcement of an innovative new on demand advertising service based on the green button of the remote control.

As traditional advertising revenues continue to fall it’s clear that the industry must find innovative ways to make adverts more appealing to the consumer. Initially new technology has damaged revenues as consumers tune into their favourite programmes 15 minutes late to enable them to skip the adverts by recording to their hard drive, this latest announcement is an interesting move to pull the viewer back in. The success of this type of approach will be determined by the quality of the additional content rather than the technology.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

BBC reveals the Apprentice Predictor

Last week the contestants of the Apprentice faced hearing the F word from the British public for the first time, as the BBC launched a new website. Named the Apprentice Predictor, the nifty new game gives viewers a taster of what it’s like being Sir Alan Sugar, but it by no means affects the outcome of the programme as it’s only a just-for-fun online prediction game.

The service also has a chat element which allows viewers to comment on the contestants and their performances even before the programme starts airing (comments are moderated which is probably for the best).

On the whole The Apprentice Predictor is a neat little idea that is built with an aim to drive traffic to the BBC website and to encourage discussions around the programme. These types of games add an extra dimension to audience interaction by involving viewers and engaging them with additional content and if monetised, it could also be a new revenue stream

See below for a quick demo presented by the big moustache comedian Rufus Hound.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Is cable subscription model under threat?

At the Adage Digital Conference this year, high profile speakers including Verizon’s Chief Marketing Officer John Stratton discussed how IPTV is affecting the cable TV subscription model. Although the view was largely taken from a US TV market point of view, John Stratton acknowledged that IPTV is indeed forcing viewers to cancel their cable TV subscriptions and explore online alternatives such as Hulu, iTunes, Amazon Video and These fast growing online services are all based on non-subscription based models including transactional, premium, ad-supported models.

John says that the cable subscription model will continue to exist for certain distributors as long as content providers keep their costs down. On the whole, the general trend suggests that the subscription model for TV is being challenged by rapidly evolving online content providers, but forces are already at work for content providers, distributors and advertisers to start offering IPTV services that are built on simple and flexible model.

You can watch the full speech in below 3Minute AdAge video.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

400 mile longboarding challenge

A member of the ANT team is currently longboarding from Mizen Head to Malin Head in Ireland. Alan Smyth is taking on the 400 mile challenge to raise money for the British Heart Foundation and Irish Heart Foundation. Alan is now into the second week of his challenge, you can get updates of his adventure on his blog here and make donations here.

Good luck Alan!

Monday, 20 April 2009

Red Dwarf breaks non-terrestrial records

New episodes of sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf attracted over 2.6 million viewers over the Easter weekend.

The three-part 21st anniversary special "Red Dwarf: Back to Earth" pulled in the highest ever ratings for the UK TV channel Dave, which renamed itself to the Dave Lister channel for the duration.

Part 1, broadcast on Good Friday 10 April between 9pm and 9.30pm, attracted an average digital audience share of 11%, beating BBC2 and Channel 5 for the same time slot. A further 342,000 watched on the timeshift channel Dave ja vu an hour later, with 226,000 recording the show and then watching it from PVR within 3 days.

This makes the Red Dwarf revival the most popular non-terrestrial-analogue commission in the UK, beating the 2006 Torchwood launch episode on BBC3 and the first instalment of Terry Pratchett's "Hogfather" on Sky1.

Red Dwarf ran for eight series on BBC Two between 1988 and 1999 and remains the channel's highest rated show. At its peak, Red Dwarf pulled in around 8.5m viewers and has been broadcast in more than 25 countries.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Mozilla is to overhaul browser design

Mozilla's usability engineers are considering a complete redesign of the look and feel of Firefox as the browser slowly moves to become a complete operating systems. The most radical proposals could replace browser tabs with an interface that looks more like iTunes or a windows-based desktop.

Another idea that Mozilla are playing with is natural language searching. You can see the mockup here and in below video.

Taskfox Prototype from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Top TV listing guides by usability

Amongst other things this Easter weekend my family and I had some time to catch up on TV. It reminded me that there was once a time when everyone simply picked up a hard copy of the Radio Times to get an idea of what to watch and when. However, the way we choose programming and watch TV is hugely different to yesteryear.

I took some time out to compare some of the best TV listing sites out there and give a fair review on each of them. There are more than a dozen websites offering TV guides, but I think the following five sites fair better than others, purely because of the their ease of use and interactivity:

1. TV Guide Listing - a great site for getting a whole day’s worth of TV listings of all channels available in the UK, in a single page. Showing weekly and daily programme highlights in photos means you don’t have to read lots of details. The site also lets users view programmes by genre and provides a platform for viewers to discuss programmes.

2. Sky TV Listing – on Sky TV Listing all programmes are tagged by genres, which means you can easily search and browse programmes suited to your interest. Brilliantly designed, the site gives users the option to change viewing format from a simple list to a grid view. If you’re a subscriber already you can also remotely record your favourite TV shows through the website.

3. Tiscali TV Guide – really easy to use, this site offers user ratings on all programmes. It also allows users to fully customise their listings by channel, a feature that other TV listing sites don’t do well.

4. Radio Times – is practically the same as all of above, but it offers fewer and more structured channel listings. It also lists radio programmes and films on a separate tab. In addition, you can also view exclusive behind the scene photos and features which what makes it worth revisiting.

5. On the Box – works similarly to all the aforementioned services, but the site also provides independent reviews on programmes some of which are highly amusing to read. It's worth checking out.

All of above TV listing sites have great usability features. In a few years time, I can see these types of services becoming widely available on TV screens, giving viewers greater flexibility in accessing over-the-top (OTT) information and third party reviews, so you don't have to flick through pages and pages of TV listings with a pen in your hand.