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October 3, 2012
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What is wrong with connected TV, by the BBC

Daniel Danker, General Manager, On-Demand at the BBC has been contrasting the effort involved in achieving reach and views with Connected TV compared to the Apple iPad, “which is just one device, has 11% penetration in the UK but delivered 11.7 million requests in a month.”

iPlayer views on iPad grew 580% in 2011 and Danker revealed: “We have stopped calling the iPad a tablet and started calling it a small TV because in many ways it is used that way.”

Speaking at Apps World this week, he said BBC iPlayer is now available on 600 connected TV devices, up from 400 at the end of last year, but he clearly believes this apps development effort should be bringing greater rewards.

“We all agree that people love watching TV on TV but it [Connected TV] is not delivering to the same extent, so why is that?” His conclusion is that connected TV devices are far too hard to set up and once set up, make it too difficult to find the entertainment content.

He used the personal experience of talking his mother through the set up for a connected Blu-ray player as she was asked to enter a WEP password and then told that she needed a firmware upgrade and finally warned: ‘Server not found. Verify that you have an IP address, run a connection test and try again’. “I don’t want my mother to have to do this to watch TV and all the 400 devices we were ported to at the time would have made her do it,” he observed.

After successful set-up, the next hurdle is the way you find the entertainment. “You see a menu that does not look like TV, where iPlayer is sitting alongside Blackjack and social apps and things that were not the reason you bought your TV,” Danker complained. “At least nobody is talking about buying pizzas on TV today when you come to a conference like this. That is not why people buy the TVs and when you are developing the user interface you need to remember that people did not buy a computer – they bought a TV and it needs to feel like a TV. Rather than trying to put the web on TV we need TV on TV.”

Danker highlighted the success of the BBC’s connected TV app for the Olympics and the way it presented a simple, TV-like experience that delivered a huge amount of content, including 24 live video streams, using an interface that could be controlled with a very simple remote control. The BBC News connected TV app allows you to quickly start watching a curated newscast but move to the next story using an arrow. “The key is to have as little UI as possible and as much TV as possible, remembering why people come to the TV in the first place,” he told delegates.

The BBC strategy has been to take catch-up TV, in the form of iPlayer, beyond the PC (which is viewed as a compromise experience) and onto television sets. More recently the focus has been on making linear TV available via iPlayer as well. The broadcaster has also been working to make this service more appealing to non-tech savvy people, with success. Separately but probably related, the broadcaster revealed that in July as many women as men used BBC iPlayer – the first time that has happened.

The usage of BBC iPlayer on the television screen grew ten-fold last year, confirming that people like watching catch-up TV on televisions. The CE industry cannot claim much of the credit though, as the vast majority of that growth came from iPlayer delivered through established platform operators with IP connectivity.

You can see Daniel Danker outlining the BBC’s future connected and second screen strategy, which puts next-generation Red Button at its heart, in a video interview from IBC here.