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The term ‘companion screen’ is quickly gaining acceptance as a way to describe the tablets, tablet-style remote controls and smartphones that could be harnessed to complement and enrich the TV experience. At IBC, NDS has a fabulous demonstration that really drives home how compelling this could be to consumers and to platform providers alike.
On the stand, the company is showing a touch-screen tablet device (like most demos, it is another Apple iPad) that can be used at home, in front of the main television, or when consumers are out of home, with a graphically rich user guide that replicates the best of a glossy, printed TV guide magazine with content related interactivity.
Some platform operators, like BSkyB in the UK, already publish their own printed magazine with special features about programming. NDS is showing how the artistic glamour and rich editorial of these publications can be replicated in the form of an electronic magazine. In the demo, subscribers can open the front cover using the classic tablet touch screen gesture control, then navigate content and read articles about shows. Instead of one front cover, the concept shows a cover for every day.
Alongside the editorial about a programme are various interactive options including ‘record’, ‘view on iPad’, and ‘view on TV’. The pages can also display a schedule showing when the programme or series in question is being broadcast or its on-demand options. Viewers can also open up other articles about the programme or movie. As the function options suggest, consumers can use the tablet to find content they are interested in and then decide whether to watch it on the small screen or transfer it to the main living room TV.
When subscribers are out of home, and out of reach of a WiFi hotspot or 3G/4G network, they can still access the magazine in non-interactive form and, of course, watch any recordings they may have on the portable device. As soon as they are in range of a wireless network some of the interactive functions will be available again. Although not demonstrated in the time we had, this could presumably include remote record for the PVR.
This demo had extra resonance because, on the eve of IBC, we interviewed Tom Weiss, CEO of the search and recommendation specialist TV Genius, about his company’s recent user study about content discovery, and he was emphasising the need for independent editorial within the programme guide environment to help people find what they want to watch.
Obviously Pay TV operators may not be the best source of genuinely independent editorial, unlike a newspaper that does not care whether people watch the free-to-air channels or the pay channels, or if they simply turn off the television altogether. Any platform operator could let third-party material onto their tablet-style magazine guide, or partner with traditional print publishers, if they did want truly independent views, especially if that turned out to be a better way to engage customers in the long-term.
But what was most striking about this demo was how great the companion device looked in this video-centric context – no longer a ‘computer’ or a phone but very much an entertainment device bursting with colour and glamour. It is very easy to imagine a device with this kind of guide sitting on a coffee table not only for the family to enjoy, but to impress friends as well!
A few metres away on the Nagravision/Kudelski stand is another demonstration of the Apple iPad in action, this time showing a more familiar but advanced programme guide environment with thumbnail graphics for programming and easy navigation, and quick access to more information about programming. The ‘companion’ tablet included a live television mosaic and on-demand events.
For the home environment, the goal, once again is to give the viewer something they want to engage with, make it easier for them and more enjoyable to find content, and allow people to pursue personal interests off the main screen but then transfer it to the main television if they wish. Nagravision showed how, having decided to watch something, the user can literally ‘sweep’ the chosen icon towards the main television with a hand gesture, with the video then starting immediately.
The company believes a fairly common scenario would be for someone to start watching content on the tablet and then, having decided they like the look of the programme or movie, they transfer it to the main screen. Other options include sending the video to other televisions. In the demo, the tablet device gave a list of room options like the bedroom.
Nagravision is also providing the capability to make the tablet a fully portable media player and is harnessing its cloud-based headend solution, complete with content management, service delivery platform and content security, to ensure users can keep watching their favourite TV over WiFi or 3G, etc., once they have left their home.
The only obvious dilemma with the tablet as a companion screen is that their current expense, and their early-adopter appeal, means that the most likely user right now is a 30-50 year-old male, who will probably take the tablet with them to work every day. So this is a personal device right now but really, every family could use one that is permanently within easy reach of the sofa. No doubt as the price of tablets fall, families will start to own more than one.
Some platform operators may decide to ensure there is always a tablet near the main TV by providing their own version as part of the TV service. This is the model Ericsson is proposing with its IPTV Remote, another neat piece of technology you can see at IBC and something that, once again, illustrates how these companion devices can both enrich and glamorise television viewing at home.