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Samsung is making an effort to increase the integration between the linear broadcast TV experience and IP services on its Smart TV connected televisions. While noting that there is still a place for standalone app-based content offers, Dan Saunders, Head of Content Services for Samsung Europe, told the Connected TV Summit last month that linear TV with IP-based enhancements and interactivity is important for persuading consumers to connect their televisions.
He said: “The next step is to create an experience where the broadcast signal is integrated with rich content being delivered over IP. This is the broadcaster’s domain so we believe that as we move forwards, Smart TV will allow for the separate and discrete services through the IP stack but also some kind of new and augmented experience driven by broadcasters.”
Samsung is not providing any detail about how any of this will work but obviously one (and presumably, the most likely) option would be to harness interactive standards that the broadcast industry is evolving to link linear and IP services, generally referred to as hybrid broadcast broadband (HBB).
Saunders pointed to the potential of MHEG Interaction Channel (MHEG-IC) in the UK, the connected TV variant of MHEG. This provides a seamless viewer experience for broadcast-delivered services augmented with content delivered over IP as an extension of the channel or network. MHEG-IC is being used to enable the launch of the BBC iPlayer catch-up TV service on the Freeview HD DTT service. Saunders said: “For us as a manufacturer, the way MHEG and IP are now talking to each other is very exciting.”
Samsung is no stranger to the world of HBB. As we reported previously, it is one of several companies (including LG, Philips, Vestel, Panasonic and Sony) that are backing the Gold Label MHP initiative in Italy, for example, with features being implemented on integrated digital TVs there. The big question, if this is the route taken, is how a CE vendor can provide something extra that consumers cannot find in simple HBB set-top boxes.
Obviously there is the whole set of standalone IP services that make up the rest of the connected TV platform, but perhaps another value-add is the way enhanced interactivity around broadcast content can be harnessed on multiple screens. The CE vendors increasingly view their connected TVs as the hub of a multimedia home network and with their own tablets they are well placed to try to create multi-screen and companion screen experiences that centre around their connected TVs.
Having noted the importance of MPEG with IP, Saunders pointed to how a voting application for a show like ‘The X Factor’ could be harnessed on different devices that are talking together, which could include TV, tablet and smartphone. Samsung’s higher end TVs have twin tuners so you can watch one TV channel on the television and use the tablet to channel surf or watch another channel. “I think that is important because it is a compelling use-case for the consumer that reinforces the value of connecting in the first place,” Saunders declared.
Confirming how important linear TV is becoming for Samsung’s connected strategy, Saunders used the Connected TV Summit to try to narrow the definition of what Connected TV actually is. To him, it means Internet enabled televisions that contain tuners.
This is a bold attempt to redefine the category, given that it rules out games consoles, which pioneered online viewing on TV sets. “I don’t believe that a games console connected to the television set is a Smart TV or a Connected TV,” he declared. “I think they are fantastic devices but actually you need a tuner in order to provide Smart TV and to start building integrated services.”
In terms of consumer marketing, Samsung is driving home the term ‘Smart TV’. With ‘smartphone’ part of everyday language, the company believes ‘smart’ is the natural prefix for televisions that offer similar features and benefits, though Saunders has pointed out that this is not a smartphone experience on a larger screen and the apps will be strictly limited.
Samsung now offers around 500 apps worldwide but he stresses that the important figure is the number per country, which averages 70 in Europe. With content services proving to be the most important apps for attracting viewers, localisation is key. Saunders thinks it is time to ditch the term ‘app’ anyway, saying it does not do justice to the sophisticated services found on connected TVs. He prefers the word ‘services’ even if they are using app-based technology rather than an open browser.
Samsung has launched a £7 million marketing campaign for Smart TV in the UK, which is now telling everyone what Smart TV is, what it can do and why they need one. This campaign in itself is another significant development given that until now the concept has been trickled to consumers, with the only serious retail marketing being explanations in catalogues and content partner stickers on the TV fascias.
The company is also emphasising that this is not a high-end TV experience. “There is still a perception out there that Smart TV is something confined to the premium end of the market or that it is a separate product category within televisions, whereas the reality is that with few exceptions, all the major manufacturers have understood that in order for these platforms to work we have to achieve critical mass as quickly as possible.
“What we have seen is that Smart TV is becoming available in mid level TVs and above. For Samsung, about 75% of the TVs we sell now, as an average across the European markets, are connected TVs.”