We cannot expect all streamed content to be viewed via apps and there must be a place for simple channel zapping in the streaming environment, especially for smaller and niche channels who will want to be found inside a post-broadcast EPG. That is the view of Elfed Howells, Chair, Promotion and Communications Module at the DVB Project, who has stated the case for DVB-I and its attempt to standardise the interface/discovery mechanism that would support streamed channel surfing. He points out that televisions are appearing in the market that are IP-only so, without a DTT or satellite tuner, viewers will rely on pre-downloaded apps if they want to watch television out-of-the-box. But more to the point, he contests the idea that consumers will be willing to dive into and out of apps to find content.
Howells also disagrees with the argument that allowing people to watch content outside of apps (in a streaming environment) goes against the commercial interests of broadcasters or studios. The app-centric argument states that these content owners have invested heavily in their direct-to-consumer apps, and once they have a viewer inside that environment their aim is to keep them there as long as possible, through use of smart personalisation including recommendations, and so increase their total share of time. But Howells believes that even the biggest broadcasters will benefit from showing off their goods outside their own apps, and inside what would effectively be a curation app that supports the streaming zapper guide. He points to pop-up channels, and of course the ability to link EPG channels to deeper content catalogues, as obvious benefits.
Speaking at Connected TV World Summit last week, Howells explained: “Content discovery is a huge thing and with an old television set you can switch one button and go through all your channels. It is a simple and serendipitous experience. You can scroll through 100 channels in one minute. People still enjoy that experience, but for IP-delivered content that is really hard. You switch on a device and decide what app you want to go into. You have already made a decision that sections off some of your content.
“DVB-I is a way to provide a ‘magic URL’ for any channel, so there is a service list for all the channels in a market and all of them can be found by surfing. Someone builds a ‘zapping app’ on top to allow that model of discovery for linear content.”
Howells believes the DVB-I-supported EPG will make startover television even easier, since a channel owner could provide separate URLs for a +5-minute, +10-minute, +20-minute, etc. version of the channel, all found via channel up/down. Another use-case he outlined is the branded/themed on-demand ‘linear’ channel experience, possibly as a pop-up promotion for a limited period. Thus, the BBC could easily create a Dr Who channel (for example) that plays Season 1 Episode 1, followed by subsequent episodes. “You watch, leave. When you go back to this channel, play resumes where you left off.”
Pop-ups would be a streaming bonus, Howells reckons. “It is really hard to create pop-up channels in the broadcast environment. With DVB-I you could create event-related pop-up channels in the [channel guide] list and then make them disappear again.
Howells is convinced that a market characterised by many different proprietary methods of curating and presenting streaming content will benefit from some standards-based rationalisation (DVB-I works inside apps as well as outside). The burden of apps development and lifecycle management is well-known, and the DVB Module Chair pointed out that beyond the variety of connected TV operating systems everyone works with today, we must start thinking about cars [ahead of the growing in-car entertainment opportunity that will explode with the advent of autonomous driving]. “Cars have their own systems,” he pointed out.
He also questions whether it is a sustainable model to expect consumers to register for an enormous number of apps. He believes consumers will want less places where they can find more, rather than more apps and choices.
“Maintaining apps will be expensive, and if you are not one of the top few apps, your traffic will be small. You may have good content, specialist content, but unless you are one of the top 3-4 apps it [generating traffic] becomes a problem. The top 3-4 apps will not go away, but we need a place where people can find everything else. And there is nothing stopping the biggest app owners from having a place [in a DVB-I enabled programme guide]. You could have a Game of Thrones channel. Netflix could have their own channel.”
The DVB wants a streaming equivalent to the new television boot-up and auto channel scan that consumers are used to. “The idea is that if you pulled the [DTT/satellite/cable] antenna out of the television [or buy an IP-only television], the [previously broadcast] channel would continue to appear based on a streaming equivalence, and you would even see the local version of that channel.” This capability has value before the demise of broadcast signals, too, with Howells pointing to the hybrid broadcast/streaming approach to channel delivery where, if a broadcast signal is weak or drops out, a television can fall back to a streamed version of the same channel, using broadband instead.