The year 2013 was a relatively poor one in terms of innovation in the TV arena, with little else than Chromecast and the dongle to feed the pundits. So far in 2014 weâ€™re still hungry for something big to dig our teeth into so dongles are still making big news. In the run-up to Anga in Cologne, which will set the tone for IBC this year, I sense the wait for something new has been too long for most of us as we are awakening from several far-fetched dreams. One common thread of these dreams is very old indeed. Itâ€™s been almost two decades, and weâ€™re all still talking about Internet & TV convergence.
In this latest reverie tablets and smartphones were going to change TV viewing habits forever. It was to be both as a new form factor for video consumption and also, probably more importantly, to bring social to TV. Oh and in a closely linked vision, recommendation was going to monetize all sorts of content that was gathering dust in rights holdersâ€™ vaults. There was even going to be room for new players in this game, including small operators that would each be able to sell long tail content to their few thousand subscribers. We fuelled our dreams by reassuring ourselves that the TV and cinema industries had learned the lessons of the music industry. We weren’t going to stubbornly fight off the Internet but instead embrace it.
As I wake from that slumber, I cannot help noticing that companion screens, as their name should have told us all along, have only been successful as an add-on to the main screen experience in the premium TV space, if that. Social TV apps have failed. Even Anthony Roseâ€™s trailblazer Zeebox has had to rebrand into Beamly, lowering its ambitions and cutting itâ€™s potential user base in half. The success or failure of smaller screens is linked to the operator conundrum of what devices to provide. Arnaud Bensaid, Vice-President Marketing of SoftAtHome pointed out in his blog that alongside the main screen, there is a corresponding requirement for dedicated devices for prime time TV. I agree with Arnaudâ€™s conclusion that the only sensible way forward in the OTT fog surrounding this sort of dilemma is a flexible approach allowing operators to remain agile. Be honest, if 85% of TV consumption is still mainstream live TV, do you really know how far and how fast that figure will fall? I certainly donâ€™t and would therefore need a scalable solution in this case for nPVR.
But if as Philip Hunter points out, the Internet of Things (IoT) comes to our rescue to keep our dreams going in 2014, what does that means for real users?
The over-used buzzword has lost any clear definition. IoT is generally understood within the Telecoms and Media space to refer to IP connected devices and specifically devices connected in the home. This is where the connected home becomes the smart home. Philip described some use cases with thermostats and the like. But companies outside of our space like for example Evrythng have a different take on IoT, focusing on products including disposable ones. So for that London based start-up, a mere soda can be given an Internet identity for customer engagement. What could Erythngâ€™s vision of â€œmaking products smart, interactive and trackable by connecting them to the Webâ€ mean in the TV business? Doh! thatâ€™s precisely what social TV apps have so abysmally failed to do. None of them could put a dent on Twitter or Facebook. However barbaric the user experience of the two social giants was around TV, none of the sleek Getglueâ€™s & co. left more than a fleeting impression. As if weâ€™d woken mid-dream looked out of the window and seen some shooting stars.
Barbaric experiences remind me of 2001 when SMS started taking hold, that was even before T9 had been invented. But text messaging took the market by storm.
That showed getting the user experience right is only a crucial differentiator when users have choice or when the service being promoted is something people donâ€™t yet know they really needed.
It turns out we didnâ€™t need social TV and, leaving Netflix out as the exception to prove my point, nobody sorted out recommendation. One can already see in early adopter households that the smart home vision of IoT corresponds to something people might actually want. Itâ€™s not answering a fundamental human need as SMS did, so for it to go mainstream the user experience is going to have to be outstanding. As Philip pointed out we will need the jungle of norms to go away and things to just work. Can you for example imagine your parents acquiring a device and needing to check if it used Z-Wave, Zigbee or both?