Connected TV may give the consumer access to content when they want it and enable real interactivity, but in practice it needs to provide better quality to move the viewer away from the traditional screen The noise in the industry today is all around the connected TV essentially a large screen with both HDMI […]
Connected TV may give the consumer access to content when they want it and enable real interactivity, but in practice it needs to provide better quality to move the viewer away from the traditional screen The noise in the industry today is all around the connected TV essentially a large screen with both HDMI and Ethernet ports. But while the industry may make noise, consumers are running at a slower pace. A recent survey by Kantar in the UK, for instance, found that while one in six owns an internet-ready television, more than a third saw no point in going online through a television set. Another survey, by YouGov, found that 25% of smart TV owners had never used the device to go online. Why should this be? There are a number of reasons. First and often overlooked is that consumers originally invested in large-screen high-definition television sets because they appreciate the quality of the pictures. There is a huge reluctance to cover those pictures with other online content, especially when other devices such as smartphones and tablets are widely available for additional content. Second, there is a perception that online-delivered content is poor quality (which does not show off the large screen to good effect) and suffers badly from freezes and jumps as the stream is buffered. That is not, of course, the case in practice, particularly as broadband becomes widespread and video streaming technology becomes more sophisticated. Indeed, one of the best arguments in favour of the connected TV is that it can deliver a simple video-on-demand experience. Whether you are watching a programme as it is transmitted, time-shifted through a PVR or time-shifted through a VoD offering, the quality and convenience will be the same. It is also a fact that watching a programme on TV is a better experience than PC or tablet. But for me, the most important reason is the linked content and connected television applications are just not compelling enough. Technology fans and early adopters aside, todays offerings offer little more to the casual consumer than the red button options from a digital set-top box. The coming of digital broadcasting was accompanied by great claims for the red button which, with its simple and direct return path, would allow consumers to find out more or express interest in a piece of content. In reality, it offered little more than the equivalent of a Facebook like. Content creators have been slow to find imaginative uses, and consumers have got used to the red button being the route to alternate content, nothing more. That is the thinking behind the connected TV. It gives the consumer access to content when they want it, and it creates real interactivity. But in practice, the interactivity needs better application, because to add an interactive element you have to take something away from the main screen. So to post a comment on the YouTube video you are watching, or to tweet to friends about the programme you are sharing, you either lose part of the content you are watching or you wait until the end. A secondary issue with at least the current generation of smart TVs is that their processing power is very limited, and that there is no dominant operating system underlying it. That makes it hard to add much in the way of interaction and additional content on top of the transmitted programme. Some argue that this is a fatal limitation, although it is more likely to be a spur to innovation and creativity in the future. Engagement But if the connected TV has yet to take off in the consumers mind, there is a product category which has undoubtedly engaged the consumer, and is deeply relevant to this debate. When the iPhone was first launched in January 2007, smartphones immediately became the smart thing to have. Android phones joined the Apple trail-blazer, and Windows phones may see a renaissance when the new version of the operating system is released later this year. Research from Gartner says that in 2011, 472 million smartphones were sold worldwide which equates to 31% of the market. Morgan Stanley predicts that in 2012, more smartphones will be sold than personal computers. And IMS Research says that a billion smartphones will be sold in 2016. Add to that, continuing strong sales of tablet devices dominated by the iPad. These remarkable numbers, for two product categories that did not really exist little more than five years ago, are matched by huge enthusiasm for their use. Consumers really engage with them and love to use them while they watch television. This is not a behaviour we need to create: it is happening everywhere, already. So the logical conclusion is to stop worrying about the processor limitations of smart TVs, or the difficulties of using a remote control for sophisticated interaction, or the loss of screen real estate with additional windows. Put all of the interaction and related content onto the smartphone or tablet which the viewer will already have in hand, or at least on the coffee table in front of them. For this to be a real success, though, broadcasters and content owners need to tie together the core content and the interactivity. Watching a television show and commenting on Facebook is fine, but interacting with a show and commenting through that programmes Facebook page is much better. It forges a bond between the viewer and the content provider, and potentially, it opens up new sources of revenue. It allows the producers to know what is popular and what is not, and to use that to make decisions on future content. It allows broadcasters to build their brands, and to drive content to new audiences through personalised recommendations: at IBC2011 Joanna Shields, EMEA CEO of Facebook, said we are shifting from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends. She said it would lead to better discovery, better viewing, better marketing and better monetisation. It will also lead to better creativity. We are already seeing some wonderful companion apps which add to the enjoyment and engagement for those viewers who want it. Play-along apps for quiz and game shows are fun and also serve as contestant research for future programmes. Soap opera fans can read the SMSs and tweets of characters as they are sent. Slow motion replays on the iPad add to the immersion of sports fans. The proliferation of broadband to the home means that sophisticated content can be readily delivered to many users. The technology to synchronise the television and the companion app is proven. The only limitation is in creativity, which is not something our industry has ever lacked. The power and capabilities of smartphones and tablets, already remarkable, will continue to advance because it is in the interest of Apple, Samsung et al to innovate to sell more hardware. All producers and broadcasters have to do is to be equally innovative in creating companion apps to run on them. VoD is not a new pastime, it is simply watching a programme at a time chosen by you, not by the channel controller. So that should be on the main television screen, through a computer hooked up to it, a dedicated set-top box or games console, or a connected TV. Then use the second screen the smartphone, tablet or laptop for additional content, interactivity and social networking through companion apps. That works for the technology, it works for the creativity and it is what consumers have chosen. David Berry is VP of business development at KIT digital.