Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Goodbye BBC Television Centre, Hello MediaCityUK

Television Centre, home to the BBC since 1960, closes its doors for the last time on March 31. This week saw the BBC wrap-up its news broadcasting from Wood Lane and the One O'Clock News  on Monday 18 March marked the first domestic TV news programme to go out from the newly redeveloped £1 billion HQ and studios at New Broadcasting House, central London. All other departments from TV Centre, including BBC Breakfast, Children’s, Sport, Radio 5 Live, Learning, and Future Media and Technology are relocating to MediaCityUK, in Salford Quays.

It will be sad to see Television Centre go – the land is due for redevelopment into offices, flats, hotels, a cinema and private TV studios – but although it was state-of-the-art when it was built, it is now not serving its purpose.

MediaCityUK, on the other hand, is a brand new, high-tech development created specifically to attract companies from the media, digital and creative industries.  The area also boasts The Lowry arts centre (Greater Manchester’s most popular cultural tourist attraction), Manchester United’s Old Trafford, Lancashire Cricket Club and the Imperial War Museum North. To date, it has attracted not only the BBC, but ITV, Satellite Information Services (SIS) the University of Salford and over 50 creative companies from composer agencies to independent production houses.

But more important than the buzzing creative environment is the fact that it’s connected to one of the most advanced, high-capacity communications networks in the world and able to satisfy the needs of the media industry.

Today’s world of high definition digital TV was unimaginable back in 1960. Digital processes, new production workflows, delivery of interactive online sites, mobile television and OTT services such as BBC iPlayer are always hungry for more bandwidth. MediaCityUK, with its purpose-built infrastructure, creative village and 20 million plus metres of optical fibre for the high speed transmission of voice, data, high and standard definition video and wireless communications services is excellently set-up to be the home of the new BBC for the digital age.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Tesco hopes you won’t blink and miss the deals

British retailer Tesco has announced that it is to make its range of online films and TV programmes available to its Tesco Clubcard holders free of charge. Tesco bought 80% of Blinkbox in 2011 and will use the streaming service to reward customer loyalty. By uniting Blinkbox with its estimated 15 million Clubcard holders, Tesco is hoping to expand the current two million users of Blinkbox. Dubbed Clubcard TV, the new offer will provide access to family movies including Care Bears, Batman and Superman.

Tesco will have watched with interest as recent viewing figures revealed that House of Cards, the series streamed exclusively on Netflix, was the most watched content online over the Super Bowl weekend. Netflix is clearly gaining traction by making an entire series available exclusively all at once.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Making the most of exclusive premium content

Already in 2013 we are seeing premium online services providers exploring new ways to differentiate their services. If 2012 was all about VoD providers such as LoveFilm and Netflix striving to get viewers connected across an increasing number of devices, then 2013 is about the battle for exclusive content and how best to exploit it.

Netflix has exclusively made an entire new series available to its subscribers featuring Kevin Spacey whilst LoveFilm has agreed a deal to stream 11 original children's and comedy TV test pilots produced by the studios of its parent company, Amazon.

Netflix has come a long way in its first year in the UK, and by making a new series exclusively available all at once, it is changing the way that consumers consume content. Are the days of waiting a week for the next episode of our favourite drama coming to an end?

Friday, 15 February 2013

Holland’s connected TV uptake on the rise

Latest research from the Dutch Bureau for Statistics (CBS) shows that 20% of Dutch homeowners now own a connected TV set, indicating that other European nations are starting to catch on to the growing trend that’s taking hold in Britain. According to a recent YouGov study, 55% of British homeowners have now connected their devices to the internet, demonstrating that UK consumers are embracing the smart TV market.

We reported last year that connected TVs were confusing consumers, with only one third of people actually connecting their devices to the internet. But as these latest figures show, the TV industry has done a great job over the past 12 months to educate consumers on the full potential of a connected TV. So much so, it would seem, that today, viewers are getting excited about how a connected device can enhance their overall TV experience. And as the research from CBS shows, it’s not just the UK that is getting better connected, with Holland’s population getting in on the action.

These figures are very promising for smart TV manufacturers and broadcasters alike, who would be wise to capitalise on this changing consumer behaviour. For smart TV manufacturers, this means bringing affordable OTT services to market. With such a competitive market, innovation is at an all-time high, so it’ll be those offering good quality and cost effective products that enjoy the greatest sales boost. For broadcasters, there is a huge opportunity to develop more content that encourages viewers to engage regularly with their TV sets.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Growing multiscreen viewing trend opens up new opportunities for pay-TV providers

A new report from Pyramid Research has found that as the consumer demand for OTT services increases, pay-TV providers are being forced to adapt and evolve their business proposition to provide multiscreen models to better satisfy their growing customer base. Such huge changes present massive opportunities for the pay-TV industry to introduce multiscreen business models, increase customer loyalty and generate higher revenues.

We’ve already seen significant second screen growth. Last year’s sporting summer provided the perfect opportunity for consumers to get to grips with their new multiscreen TV options to keep up to date with the latest scores and results.

The UK also saw social media conversations rocket during popular programmes such as the X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, and of course, the Olympics, as consumers shared their thoughts on what they were witnessing on TV with their peers. Demonstrating this, a staggering 150 million tweets were posted during London 2012, making last summer’s games the very first social Olympics. This growing trend has brought with it an influx of companion apps being introduced to the market, such as our very own ANT Galio Move. Apps like this extend the TV experience, allowing consumers to interact with their favourite TV shows, follow relevant hashtags on Twitter and discuss their views with friends online, all from a second screen.

Consumers are getting increasingly comfortable using multiple screens and interacting directly with the programmes that they’re watching, and the pay-TV industry is no different. Consumers now want to watch video services on multiple screens, and as a result, pay-TV providers must now evolve to meet their customer bases’ changing requirements. Launching OTT-like video services enables pay-TV providers to extend their reach to a new wave of customers. It’s an exciting time for the industry, with huge opportunities to create new, additional, revenue streams for those prepared to respond to changing consumer viewing behaviour.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

What we watch shapes how we watch

Data released by Twitter recently has shown how the type of content we are watching can impact our second screen social media activity. For example, if people are watching a gripping drama like Homeland, they are far less likely to tweet at the same time. On the flip side, if it’s a light entertainment show like X Factor, people will consistently tweet throughout the show with peaks in Twitter activity directly linked to specific contestant performances. Meanwhile investigative shows like Panorama stimulate prolonged Twitter activity with viewers discussing it during the show but also after it has finished.

The report is targeted at advertisers however it also contains valuable information for the wider TV industry; consumers no longer just passively watch TV, Twitter adds a new dimension to the viewing experience. We are likely to see more TV shows actively encouraging viewers to go online whilst the show is on.

Broadcasters already trail hashtags before shows, but this is just the start. They are now using Twitter to evaluate the performance of shows, and it will be fascinating to see how this data is used and impacts programming and additional, associated content in the future.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Second screen apps here to stay

We’ve talked previously on this blog about hardware advances that were showcased at CES  this year. Another significant trend at the show was the second screen apps that are supporting them. The number and range of second screen apps on display this year demonstrated that the second screen is here to stay.

While the CES demonstrations weren’t necessarily showcasing features that we haven’t seen before they did highlight that second screen applications have reached mainstream coverage with TV titles such as Variety now looking at the impact this technology can have on the industry and ultimately the consumer.

With this growing confidence in second screen apps the market is likely to become increasingly crowded. There is already a multitude of apps out there, and this number is only going to grow. The real winners will be the ones that are able to tap into changing consumer behaviour.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

CES 2013: Bigger, it seems, is better

For the first time in a few years, the focus for TV manufacturers at CES wasn’t just 3DTV. Instead we saw the top brands competing to bring us the largest screen size possible. Samsung and HiSense stood out by showcasing impressive 110“ displays complete with Ultra-HD whilst LG, Panasonic and Sharp all unveiled new models ranging from 55” to 80”.

Picture quality is of course equally important and visitors to the show were able to see OLED and 4K Ultra HD taking centre stage with four times the pixels of HDTV and twice the resolution. Competing with OLED was Sharp’s IGZO (Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide) image technology which also offered 4K Ultra-HD and superb energy efficiency to its LCD range.

It was encouraging to see both Panasonic and Samsung launching new smart TV interfaces, features included voice and movement recognition, individual recognition to personalise the TV home-screen and split screen capability allowing users to do view things at once.

Prototypes like 8K display and curved TVs also grabbed attention which is no mean feat at the world's biggest gadget show.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

85% of flat-panel TVs getting smart

A recent report by Gartner indicates that the production of smart TVs is growing rapidly, with smart TVs predicted to make up nearly 85% of the flatscreen TVs produced in 2016.  On the face of it, this isn’t a big surprise – smart TVs have been dominant in the high-end TV market for the last couple of years and, as always, what starts off as a high-end feature gradually makes its way into all models in the range.  There is also the need to keep the user experience fresh for consumers over the lifetime of the product, and the economics of retail TV sales makes it difficult to justify over-the-air upgrades for TVs.  A one-off payment for a TV doesn’t cover the cost of upgrading that TV to add new features, and so making these new features available via a portal or other online service is attractive to the manufacturers.

Simply selling more smart TVs doesn’t mean that people will connect them, however: as we’ve discussed before on this blog, recent figures have shown the number of smart TVs rising, but the number of TVs being connected remains pretty flat and sales figures may not tell the whole story.  There are two main reasons for this.  The first is that it’s not always easy to get a network connection to the same place as your TV, although this could be solved through the use of Wi-Fi or powerline networking.  The second reason, and the one that is more difficult to solve, is that many people simply don’t see enough value in the services offered by a smart TV to want to use them.

This is often due to a combination of portals that are difficult to use, and apps that customers don’t see value in. It’s not simply about having the most services available on your TV: it’s about having the services that consumers care about, can find easily, and easily use to get what they want.  If manufacturers don’t improve the ease of use of these services, it’s likely that more smart TVs will remain unconnected.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Global Pay-TV will reach 907m in 2013

The global pay TV market saw strong growth in 2012, with nearly 47 million new subscribers taking the total size of the market to an estimated 864 million households. Over the same period, growth in digital terrestrial markets was relatively flat, indicating that even in tough economic conditions people are willing to pay to be entertained.

As always, content is king, and it’s likely that high-quality content and access to the most recent movie releases are what’s driving the growth of pay TV services.  However, as over-the-top service providers such as Netflix start to bid for this content as well, pay TV operators may need to revisit their strategy to look at how they can improve their offerings in order to remain competitive. While there’s no danger of pay TV services losing their dominant place in the industry just yet, the rapid growth of ITPV and over-the-top services is not something that pay TV operators can ignore.

Consumers are getting more demanding, and with increasing innovation from public service broadcasters and smart TV manufacturers, the pay TV operators will need to keep up with these trends.  Many pay TV operators are in a good place to do this, as we see in the UK with both Sky and Virgin launching major new features this year. Predictions that cable TV operators face growing pressure from IPTV mean that some operators may need to innovate more than others, though. Whether they are able to do that well enough remains to be seen.

Monday, 31 December 2012

Real time second screen viewing analysis arrives

We’ve been saying it for some time now but it seems that the popularity of second screen viewing is now so popular that media companies and brands now want to measure its relationship with other services. This week Twitter and ratings company Nielson announced a partnership which will monitor the amount of social media activity directly related to content being broadcast on the main screen.

It’s hoped the new tool will allow networks and advertisers to access real-time metrics for understanding TV audiences and social activity. With tablets set to be the number one present this Christmas, the entire tablet market is expected to shoot up 112% compared to last year. It means more people will have a screen sitting on their lap whilst settling down to watch their favourite shows, leading to more interaction with the content they will be watching.

With this trend now clearly established, the digital TV market must adapt to changing viewing behaviour to ensure it meets consumers’ needs. The link between social media and TV viewing highlights the benefits of linking tablets and smartphones directly to TV devices to provide relevant information based on what the consumer is watching.  

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Twitter spikes demonstrate links between TV and social media

After a year of sport which saw the Olympics come to the UK, a Brit win a tennis major,  Chelsea win the European Champions League and a Briton claim cycling’s Yellow Jersey Twitter has revealed that seven of the top ten trending stories in 2012 were related to sport.

As the nation was glued to their screens by a compelling year of sport, 2012 also became the year when viewers truly interacted with the content they were witnessing. At one point, fans were tweeting so much while watching a sports event it even impacted the coverage carried by the BBC.

For the connected TV market, 2012 has shown the potential for companion device applications. It’s something we’ve believed in for a long time, and that we’ve continued to develop in our own product range by adding new features such as Twitter integration to ANT Galio Move. New viewing behaviour is driving the development of new TV applications that will enhance the overall experience, which can only be good news for consumers.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Would Twitter be 'poorer' without TV?

Twitter’s sales director, Bruce Daisely, recently said that Twitter would be “poorer” without TV.  Up to sixty per cent of Twitter users in the UK use it while watching TV, with 40% of peak-time twitter use being related to TV. These figures reinforce the view that social media can coexist with TV and add value to it.  Mr. Daisley is right to say that Twitter complements TV, rather than competes with it, but his claim that Twitter has become an EPG is a little far-fetched.  While Twitter may be good at spreading word-of-mouth recommendations about certain shows, this is very different to the social media network actually acting as an EPG.

Despite that, there is a point to be made here, and it’s one I’ve made on this blog before: while content is still king, finding the right content is becoming more difficult as the number of channels and sources of media grow. Traditional recommendation engines can only help this to a limited degree, because they are typically designed to cope with the viewing habits of one individual and not a household of people with different tastes and demographics.

Social media services like Twitter offer the potential to give real-time recommendations from a group of people that you trust, although there are still limitations to this: of the people in your Twitter feed, how many do you really care about in terms of their TV-watching habits? There are ways of addressing this by having circles of friends, in the way that Google+ does, but the current social media services don’t really handle this well.  There is potential here, but that potential hasn’t been realised yet.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Smartphone growth provides Connected TV and second screen opportunities

Nearly half of the UK now owns a smartphone. What’s interesting about the smartphone adoption rate is the pace at which it has accelerated (31 per cent in 2012). An increasing number of us are using these devices to access online content and we’re using them more often. This increase also represents an opportunity for the Connected TV market.

One of the longstanding criticisms of the Connected TV market is that these devices are often purchased and then not used to their fullest extent. Connection rates of TVs are slowly increasing although this remains an industry challenge, better consumer awareness, improved OTT content and better user interfaces are all needed. The growth of the smartphone market also presents opportunities for the Connected TV market; second screen applications can significantly enhance the Connected TV experience.

Touchscreen Smartphones are ideal for searching TV listings, scheduling recordings and managing the main TV without disrupting what’s being viewed. Live and recorded content can also be streamed to these devices as we’ve shown with our own ANT Galio Move.  

At this year’s IBC we demonstrated a range of new ANT Galio Move features that enable consumers to interact with social media and access additional associated online content such as iTunes, YouTube and Wikipedia based on what the consumer is watching. As smartphone and tablet adoption rates continue to grow so does the second screen opportunity for the connected TV Market.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Deutsche Telekom considering cloud TV move

At the OTTtv World Summit recently, Deutsche Telekom confirmed that it’s planning to push ahead with its launch of multi-screen services. With subscriber numbers for its Entertain TV service up 40% this year, offering a multi-screen solution as part of that service is an indicator of an aggressive growth strategy for the future as well.

Most interesting, however, was the statement that Deutsche Telekom would look at becoming an over-the-top (OTT) service provider in its own right.  Deutsche Telekom already plans to offer existing channels as OTT services, as well as having partnerships in place with companies such as Spotify and Deezer, so this isn’t entirely new. However, a bigger move into this area would show it following Sky’s lead in moving from being a network operator towards being a content provider that is more network-agnostic.  This offers some major opportunities for growth, and helps avoid large, upfront capital expenditure such as the need to provide set-top boxes to subscribers.

The way that people watch TV is changing rapidly, and by offering their services on a wide range of devices, network operators such as Deutsche Telekom can reap the benefits of this.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Russia prepares for HbbTV

We’ve seen strong growth in HbbTV over the last year, not least in Central and Eastern Europe. Poland and the Czech Republic have both launched HbbTV services this year, and Russia has just announced that it plans to launch HbbTV in the first quarter of 2013.

Each of these deployments shows a growing trend towards the harmonisation of digital TV markets, especially in free-to-air systems. The fragmentation that has been endemic in the industry finally seems to be abating, with more broadcasters and network operators choosing to follow HbbTV as a common standard.

There is still some fading debate about whether HbbTV is the best choice for interactive TV services because of supposedly “advanced” features that are missing. However, this debate is now largely irrelevant.  HbbTV was always envisioned as a pragmatic solution that offered rapid time to market while meeting the core needs of broadcasters and device manufacturers. The value of this is being recognised in an ever-increasing number of countries.

Ultimately, the best solution is the one that is widely deployed that also provides off-the-shelf products and economies of scale for consumers, service developers and network operators. As more and more countries adopt HbbTV, the value of HbbTV as a common solution becomes more and more evident.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Smart TV Growth but North America Still Slow to Adopt

A recent study from NPD DisplaySearch points towards an encouraging increase in sales of connected TVs, with growth of over 15% predicted for Europe and Asia in 2012.   The picture in North America is slightly less rosy, however, with sales remaining flat at around 20% penetration. These forecasts for Europe and Asia seem reasonable, given that most large-screen TVs sold today are connected TVs.  But what’s happening  in North America?  I suspect that there are several different drivers behind the trend we’re seeing.

One opinion is that content remains king: the issue is one of how that content gets delivered to the end user.  The growth of free catch-up services in Europe helps drive the growth in smart TVs, because these services can easily be built into the TV.  Even support for paid content via the TV is growing: in the UK we’ve seen deployments from LoveFilm and Netflix, and Sky’s strategy of moving its content to other devices via Sky Go will undoubtedly pay off in time. Asia is seeing similar trends, but here, free content from the web is the main driver.  In both cases, though it’s access to free content that’s getting people hooked.

It’s a different story in the US, where you have on-demand services provided by cable operators through their set-top-boxes or through a separate device such as an Apple TV.  This means that these services are less of a differentiator for TV manufacturers, and so people are less likely to upgrade their TVs specifically for the connected TV experience.

Ease of use also plays a part, in a way that’s often overlooked: the need to switch devices.  If I have some services built in to my TV and others in a set-top-box, switching between them is more effort and inserts a mental barrier (albeit a small one) into the process of finding something to watch.  In my case, this reduces my use of iPlayer on a games console – I’m more likely to turn off my Sky box and pick up a book or use iPlayer on an iPad instead. If these services are built in to the set-top-box in American households, why will people spend the mental effort required to use them on the TV instead?

One other factor that may or may not be important is the adoption of HD TV.  Historically, North America has been at the forefront of HD adoption, with sales in Europe lagging behind.  This could mean that more European consumers are in the process of replacing their TV sets as analogue switch-off approaches, while the reasonably long replacement cycles for televisions (and the current economic climate) mean that many US consumers aren’t replacing their existing HD TV yet.  If this is correct, we may see an increase in the sales of connected TVs in North America over the next couple of years.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Spotify moves into connected TV world with Samsung deal

Samsung announced recently that the Spotify music streaming service is now available on their smart TVs.  While Spotify already has a strong presence in the PC, tablet and smartphone markets, this is its first foray into the TV world.  So what does this mean for Spotify and for Samsung?

Both brands are very strong in their respective areas, but it’s unlikely that Spotify on its own will help Samsung to sell more TVs.  As part of an overall “connected entertainment” offering, though, Spotify is potentially a strong addition.  Exactly how strong may well depend on Spotify’s business model.

Streaming audio services on TVs are nothing new – US customers have been able to enjoy the Pandora streaming service on their TVs and set-top boxes for a couple of years already.  Given this, how will Spotify help Samsung? The most obvious answer is that Pandora is only available in the USA, so customers in Europe and elsewhere can’t use it.  Another reason is that Spotify lets you build your own playlists and select exactly which tracks to play. It seems like Spotify should have a major advantage.

As with other services that move to the TV, though, Spotify will face a challenge in building a user interface that works well on a TV screen with a TV remote.  They seem to have been successful with this on Samsung devices, but if Spotify is to become available on other TVs and set-top boxes then a lot of care needs to be taken to minimise the amount of effort needed to support a consistent user interface on many different platforms.  As services like iPlayer have found, this can be a huge challenge given the current level of market fragmentation.

The second challenge will be the business model for Spotify on connected TVs.  While the (ad-supported) PC version is free, the TV version costs £10 per month - the same price as the mobile version.  The question is therefore; how many people will be willing to pay the extra £10 a month to access this service on their TV, when other entertainment services are available for free?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

What impact will Amazon’s monthly option on Prime have on the movie rental market?

Amazon is testing a new monthly option for its video-streaming service, Prime.  Prime already offers free two-day shipping, free video streaming and access to Amazon's Kindle e-book lending library. The company is now offering a monthly option for the service on its website, which is more comparable to Netflix's streaming video subscription.

Whilst the move signals Amazon is stepping up the competition against main rival Netflix, it’s also a sure sign that much like the music market, streaming and digital downloads are coming to dominate the movie market. Given Amazon’s strong position in the online media market, it’s not surprising it’s added another string to its bow with its monthly Prime service. It’s thrown down the gauntlet to the likes of Netflix and Hulu and we’re likely to see an influx of similar services as the acceptability of digital rights management to both content owners and consumers grows.

But it’s not just about quantity. Broadcasters looking to capitalise on this digital trend would be wise to take a leaf out of Sky’s book. Content has always been king with Sky, and broadcasters need to do in the movie space what Sky’s done with sports. High quality content that consumers actually want to watch will persuade more viewers to subscribe to these online services. Not only this but it’s important to make them device independent so viewers can enjoy the movie experience on the go, wherever they might be.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

UK digital TV switchover signals the end for Ceefax

The final analogue transmission in the UK took place last month. A decade into the new century, Britain’s airwaves are finally a digital domain. Ceefax was switched off as the final analogue signal was turned off in Northern Ireland.

This UK TV landmark highlights how much has changed in the 38 years since Ceefax launched. At its peak Ceefax had 20 million viewers a week and its switch-off will be greeted with some sentimental sadness. Many will fondly remember anxiously waiting for a Ceefax page to change to get the latest football scores for example.

Today’s TV user experience is very different, football updates are available instantly across multiple devices and goals are streamed straight to mobiles and tablets as soon as the football hits the back of the net. Rather than waiting for a match report after 90 minutes, sports fans have access to social media providing minute by minute updates live from grounds around the country. Consumers have the ability to tailor their service to meet their personal needs.

Connected TVs along with tablets and smartphones are undoubtedly improving the way consumers watch and interact with live sports although we’ll miss Ceefax a little bit too!

Friday, 2 November 2012

Moving the EPG to the companion device, a natural evolution

One new development that was commonplace at IBC this year is the use of companion devices such as an iPad or smartphone for navigating the EPG. Over the last year there have been lots of demos of these services, but now it’s becoming a commercial reality. ANT Galio Move, the companion device offering from ANT, is available to consumers today under the View21 brand in the UK and recently won an award at the ConnectedWorld.tv awards for its approach to using a second screen.

This isn’t just a “we won an award” blog entry, though.  What I really want to talk about is how this kind of app has changed my use of the EPG.  

Moving the EPG off the main screen on to a second screen does more than just give me a better way of navigating around a grid-based guide. It changes how the guide gets used as a browsing tool and a content discovery mechanism, and affects the whole dynamic of watching TV. Many tablet owners are already used to multi-tasking while watching TV, and having the EPG on a companion device means that browsing the guide simply becomes another part of that multi-tasking.  Most importantly, it means that it’s not interrupting other people’s TV viewing.

Having the guide on a companion device, with its own connection to the Internet and a richer interaction model also opens up new possibilities for what the guide looks like.  Imagine “zooming in” on a programme to find out more about it, as if the detailed information about the programme is just another part of the main guide grid.  Imagine having that tied in to a recommendation engine, or personal recommendations from friends via Twitter that suggest programmes you’d like.  Imagine having it integrated with catch-up TV services, or VoD services, or the iTunes store so that you can buy the movie or TV series to keep.

With the rich metadata that is now available, the combination of advanced TV services and a companion device with an easy-to-use user interface means that are we now in a position to make the best use of that new data to improve our EPG and help us to more easily find what we want to watch.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Integrating catch-up services into the EPG

The recent high-profile launches of YouView and Freesat’s new Freetime service in the UK have shifted focus back on to the role that the EPG plays in finding what to watch. Both platforms feature a “backwards EPG”, where users can scroll “back in time” to find programmes on catch-up services as well as seeing what’s on in the future.

There is much to be praised for this approach: a large part of the population still finds it difficult to use the traditional type of catch-up service, because it’s not how they’re used to choosing what to watch. By integrating catch-up services into the guide, that mental barrier gets reduced and makes catch-up TV part of their normal viewing experience.

However, the question that then starts to emerge is “will the grid-based EPG soon have had its day?”
There’s a lot of inertia behind the use of the grid-based EPG (among users and manufacturers), as the amount of available content increases. But, it’s still not really clear if the traditional EPG is the best way of displaying this much information to the user in a way that’s actually useful to them.  The traditional EPG will still be with us for a long time, because linear TV is also going to be with us for a long time.  However, I doubt that the grid-based EPG will remain the primary means of finding something to watch past the current generation of user interfaces that we’re seeing from companies like Freesat and YouView. 

This brings us full circle back to the integration of catch-up services in to the guide, because familiarity is a powerful tool, but sometimes our current tools just aren’t powerful enough to face the demands of the future.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Smart TVs Help TV Overtake PC For Online Video Viewing

A recent study from the NPD group in the US has revealed that the television has now overtaken the PC as the preferred device for viewing over-the-top (OTT) media. The rapid adoption of smart TVs obviously has a large part to play in this, but we’ve also seen that many smart TVs have ease-of-use problems and so the growth in smart TVs alone may not be enough to account for this trend.

Smart TVs have some obvious benefits over the PC for viewing media content – the large screen and the “lean back” user experience are pretty much essential for watching content that’s longer than a few minutes.  As a regular user of iPlayer, I much prefer to use it on the Wii (for those times when the entire family wants to watch something) or on my iPad (for when I’m the only one who wants to watch something) because they’re more convenient and comfortable to use.  While I could connect my laptop to the TV and use that, the difference in resolutions and the hassle of getting audio set up properly means I simply don’t bother.  I’d rather watch a standard-definition version of the programme easily than deal with the messing around required to watch the HD version on the big screen.

As online media services become more widely deployed through smart TVs and set-top boxes (with both YouView and Freesat doing this in the UK, and various HbbTV-based catch-up TV services available in Germany), viewing OTT content is eventually going to become just another part of the TV experience, in the same way that PVR functionality already is today.

At the same time, there’s still a long way to go – recent figures have revealed that three quarters of YouView boxes sold so far have been used to view on-demand content for more than three minutes per session.  Given that the current purchasers are by definition the early adopters, who are more likely to be familiar with catch-up TV services, this is not a very impressive set of numbers.  Seeing how these numbers grow as YouView and Freesat’s Freetime service become more widely deployed will give a good indication of how this trend will develop in the UK.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

What impact will the iPad Mini have on the multi-screen TV viewing experience?

Apple’s much anticipated gadget, the iPad Mini was unveiled last night, but what impact will it have on the multi-screen TV viewing experience when it becomes available to the public on the 2nd November?

The launch of the iPad Mini could send Apple’s dominance in the tablet market into overdrive. The smaller, cheaper tablet isn’t just a device for holidays; it has the potential to extend TV services every day. Multi-screen TV is becoming increasingly popular with services including search and recommendations being combined with the ability to watch shows away from the TV set. Compact and portable, the quality of the screen hasn’t been compromised, meaning users will be able to enjoy TV content on the go at ease.

Whilst it’s launching with a slightly higher-than-expected price tag of £269, it’s still cheaper than Apple’s £300+ flagship 10-inch iPad. This means consumers will be able to take advantage of an enhanced connected TV experience at a lower price.  Both the TV industry and consumers are becoming increasingly savvy in using tablets and smartphones to enhance the viewing experience. It’ll be interesting to see what new services will be tailored to the new enhanced range of iPads to extend TV experience even further, and whether these new devices change the way people multi-task while watching TV.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

BBC scales back Red Button video ahead of connected TV service

The BBC has recently announced that they’re scaling back their use of “red button” video ahead of a wider deployment of their connected TV service.  Given the success of iPlayer, this isn’t entirely surprising.  The use of broadcast services for delivering alternative video streams is both expensive, because you have to pay for the spectrum to broadcast it, and inherently limited because there are only so many alternative streams that you can carry at any time.

The BBC’s excellent coverage of the Olympics showed the value of alternative streams, by allowing everyone to choose which Olympic events they wanted to watch.  While this is feasible as a one-off for high-profile events such as the Olympics (if you’ve got a satellite or cable subscription that can handle all of the extra channels that are needed), it doesn’t work so well in day-to-day situations because of the limited number of streams that you can carry.  Broadcasters end up having to make a choice of what alternative streams to provide - not only to fit them into the available channels, but also to maximise the use of those channels.

The success of catch-up services on smart TVs has shown that customers will accept streamed video, and services such as the “Tagesschau” service in Germany (which provides news on demand) show the advantages of a connected approach, especially as the adoption of connected TVs grows.  The flexibility of connected TV services offer a big advantage over broadcast-based alternative video streams, and over time users will see real benefits from this through the increased availability of alternative content.

Friday, 12 October 2012

DTG releases connected TV spec version two

The UK Digital TV Group (DTG) recently released a new version of its connected TV specification – D-Book 7 part B.  ANT has been heavily involved with this version of the specification (I’ve been chairing the HTML work in this activity) and so it’s good to see it finally released.  This is an important step in the evolution of the D-Book, for two reasons.

First, this version of the D-Book is much more closely harmonised with the HbbTV specification, meaning that three of the main HTML-based specifications for connected TV (from the Open IPTV Forum, HbbTV and the DTG) are now closely aligned.  This makes it much easier for all of the digital TV specialists to get economies of scale from the development and deployment of HTML-based products and services.

Second, D-Book 7 part B is publicly available.  Until now, the D-Book has only been available to DTG members. While this may not seem very important, D-Book 7 part B adds some advanced web technologies over and above those currently adopted by OIPF or HbbTV.  While there are still questions about how widespread the deployment of these technologies is in smart TVs at present (and how usable they are on the current generation of receivers), that may not be the most important aspect of this.  Having this specification publicly available makes it much easier for HbbTV and OIPF to make sure that future versions of their specifications are aligned with the DTG.

Increasing harmonisation is not only good for the industry, it’s good for consumers all over the world, so the closer alignment of all three specifications – and the ability to easily align even further in the future - is a big step in the right direction.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

It’s Official: Sport is Social

The British public is embracing second screening as part of their everyday viewing habits. According to Sky, 75% of people now watch TV with a second connected device in hand. During the Olympics, over 150 million tweets were posted, making it one of the most talked-about events ever on Twitter. It confirms that big sporting events trail only breaking national news for stimulating social networking.

Now, social networking sites are not only being used to discuss programming, but to choose what to watch too. 24% of 18 to 24 year-olds use Facebook and 9% use Twitter to find something to watch on TV. Remarkably, over one in ten of us are now turning on TVs because of what we’ve seen on social media.

According to Broadband TV News, BBC’s iPlayer received a record 196 million views over the Olympics, with almost a fifth coming from mobile and tablet devices. This, along with the Ryder Cup, has given sport 30% of the online viewing market.

Sport is reacting to this too. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the world’s fastest growing sport, and this could well be down to social media and second screening. For example, Head of UFC’s parent company, Dana White, has over 2.2 million followers, and before the main fight, on pay-per-view, supporting events are shown live on Facebook. Sport has always engendered debate, something which second screening and social media can only help to grow. In the weird and wacky world of professional wrestling, WWE recently acquired social networking site Tout, and now regularly uses content from Tout in its broadcast programming.

All of this means sports fans and content providers are using multiple platforms to source, consume, and enjoy more entertainment at once. In this regard, sports content is ahead of the market, but it will surely only be a matter of time before other content providers start to integrate further in this way.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Umbrella Apps

Apps for the TV is fast becoming a hot topic. A recent survey by Appcelerator has found that more than 80 per cent of developers felt they would be making apps for televisions by 2015. The survey of more than 5000 developers shows that the number of apps for the TV will soon be equal to mobile and tablets.

Our own app, ANT Galio Move, has already received an excellent response from customers who recognise that tablet and smartphone applications can really enhance the viewing experience for viewers, whilst providing significant product differentiation and new revenue.

At IBC last month, we showcased a range of demos, to show how broadcast metadata can be used to provide integrated content from Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and iTunes. Viewers can follow tweets about the programme they’re watching, watch a movie trailer on YouTube or buy the soundtrack on iTunes.

John Moulding has described this type of application as ‘the Umbrella app’. An app that takes the usual campaign screen functionality like channel change and recordings and adding social media content, which is usually thought of as ‘second screen’ experiences. This gives Pay TV platforms the opportunity to become the gateway on tablets and smartphones within which individual programme-related experiences are accessed.

We’ve seen with ANT Galio Move that this type of functionality can be just as compelling with a free-to-air platform when the application has direct access to the TV device and its accompanying metadata. Companion applications will continue to evolve but we’re starting to see how combining traditional TV functionality such as streaming, navigation and control with online content can really improve the overall TV experience.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Will iPhone 5 increase multiscreen viewing in the home?

So the dust has settled on the launch of the new iPhone model. There was no great new feature that stole the headlines. It was simply more of the same that has made the iPhone so popular. With improved maps, a panoramic camera, 4G, and a new digital dock, the latest iPhone is set to be a worthy replacement for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s. But what stood out for us was the introduction of a larger screen.
The new model is getting a display larger than the traditional 3.5-inches. The screen measures 4-inches diagonally and will maximise the Retina display technology that was introduced on the iPhone 4. The new iPhone is just a little bigger than earlier models but with a width the same as the 4S.
Why has Apple done this? Well the success of the Samsung Galaxy and its bigger screen might be one reason. But perhaps Apple has picked up on the growing trend of consumers using their smart device to watch TV on.

This habit is something we’ve observed in the past, and it’s more than encouraging to see giants such as Apple developing products recognising this trend. The tablet is still maturing, but smartphones are already in most homes. As tablets become more popular, it seems larger smartphone devices are where we are headed.
This will be music to the ears of the connected TV manufacturers to see better companion devices to interact with, to highlight the functionality of their products. It’s now up to digital TV software specialists such as us to provide products, like ANT Galio Move, that will maximise this development.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

ANT wins at ConnectedWorld.TV Awards

Last night at the ConnectedWorld.TV Awards we collected the prize for the best native app for a portable device for ANT Galio Move. The awards ceremony took place at IBC 2012 and was hosted by Spencer Kelly (middle), presenter of BBC Click. It was great to see the product recognised by the industry as one of the leading applications on the market.

ANT Galio Move was launched at IBC 2011 and allows consumers to stream live and recorded TV to tablets and smartphones anywhere in the home. You can view the device in action on ANT’s YouTube Channel.

The award has come as we have been demonstrating the latest social media functionality of ANT Galio Move at this year’s IBC. We’ve had excellent feedback from visitors who have had a hands-on demonstration of the new features. 

ANT Galio Move now enables viewers to update Facebook or Twitter while they watch TV content on the companion device, or access additional related associated content on Wikipedia, YouTube or iTunes. It’s this interaction with the content, and being able to engage with what you are watching, that has hit the right note at IBC this year.

With these new features added, we’re already looking forward to innovating further as the fast moving second screen market continues to gain momentum.