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March 25, 2013
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The Smart TV model will fail unless it adapts, says BBC

Daniel Danker, General Manager Programmes & On Demand at the BBC, has hailed the rapid adoption of BBC iPlayer but highlighted the disappointingly low contribution that Smart TVs make to overall viewing for the platform and warned that we need a dramatic change in the Smart TV user experience and technology rationalization between the different platforms to keep the Smart TV concept afloat. Speaking at TV Connect last week he made it clear that having a dozen disparate development platforms is just not working.

Danker pointed to the consumer adoption of important innovations like radio, refrigerators and colour TV and how they tend to hit 90% adoption rates within 20 years. BBC iPlayer has exceeded this speed of uptake overall but Danker declared: “Adoption of catch-up TV on the connected TV is slow and this is not a graph to be proud of. In my view Connected TV should not be any less successful than colour TV but we are at a critical point in its development.  I am convinced that if Connected TV is to be successful we have to get together as an industry and make some changes, otherwise it will become a failure in terms of adoption rates.”

He highlighted the No.1 problem, which is the user experience. “To increase adoption rates we need to delight consumers and it is not a delightful experience when you have to interact with your Samsung television in one way in the living room, then interact with your Sony TV in the kitchen in a completely different way in order to watch the same programme.” He pointed to the separation of Internet TV (including on-demand) and live broadcast TV as the other big user experience challenge and likened the current situation to eating spaghetti and meatballs with tomato sauce, where the sauce is in a different bowl.

“Today they are completely separate worlds and I don’t think that is good enough. It would make more sense if live TV and Internet TV were brought together. We have to make it seamless. It has to be so simple that my 70 year-old mother could use it.”

Danker believes the industry needs to work together to create a basic set of principles that can underpin this seamless user experience. He drew an analogy with cars and how manufacturers innovate despite the fact that they all use an engine, chassis, steering wheel and gear sticks, then suggested that technologies that power the user experience and content protection should be the same across manufacturers.

“Some people think what I’m advocating will prevent innovation. I disagree. I think the innovation excuse has been used for delivering sloppy experiences and the audience suffers. Cars have not failed to innovate,” he argued.

Danker put forward the BBC Connected Red Button as an example of what the Connected TV user experience should look like. This enables viewers to navigate directly from live TV to the connected domain (including catch-up and linear streaming) and the user experience is the same across television makes. He noted how there is some consistency in the way users control their environment even when they move onto tablets and mobiles. “It should be the same for the technologies below the surface; they should be sharing a common platform the way cars share a chassis and engine,” he suggested.

Danker wants Connected TV on Consumer Electronics devices to work. “Success or failure of a technology is measured by its adoption rate. We want Connected TV to be up there with the most successful technologies. We need to get those rates level with colour TV. If we get this right then years from now Connected TV will share the same space as other technology greats of the previous century.”

BBC iPlayer launched on Christmas day in 2007 and in the five years since then its adoption has outpaced radio, TV, colour TV and the Internet in the UK, Danker told the TV Connect audience in London. iPlayer usage grew by 46% in the year to January 2013. “The most amazing part is not just the growth but where people are watching. It has evolved from catch-up on the PC to every single screen.”

At the end of 2012 the PC was no longer the dominant platform, down from 58% of all iPlayer viewing to 41% in the space of the year. This was largely because Christmas 2012 prompted a dramatic growth in mobile/tablet consumption.

Figures reveal that the overall share of viewing on television platforms was also down from 29% in January 2012 to 23% in January this year. If you look at CE connected TV devices and ignore BBC iPlayer provision via traditional platform operators (like Virgin Media and Sky, who provide it as part of their on-demand offers) and game consoles then the viewing share is just two per cent of all programmes viewed. That is double what it was in January 2012, however. “iPlayer has done brilliantly on the TV but nearly all that adoption is from operator services and game consoles,” he added.

Danker also confirmed that following the success of programme premieres on iPlayer last year (comedy programmes, watched over a million times) 40 hours of new content will be released via iPlayer first this year, before it moves to traditional TV.