With TV, simple is better than smart

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

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Greg Gudorf, Senior Vice President MediaNavi, Technicolor
A recent report by the European Interactive Advertising Association showed that 38% of multi-taskers surf the internet while watching TV.

If you were to ask the average consumer about how they would like to receive their television and entertainment content, the chances are the answer is likely to be non-committal and no more in depth than “through a satellite dish” or “via a cable connection”. Yet, ask the same consumer about what the quality of that content should be and they will say “the best possible”. The point is that most consumers do not want to have to understand how their content is delivered to them, so long as it is of a high visual and audio standard. The same applies with interactivity: there is little interest in how it works, so long as it does.

Therefore, network service providers (NSPs) and media organisations need to ensure that they can give consumers technology that offers them the best possible quality and interactivity with the minimum of fuss. Indeed, interactivity is key, with more and more people wanting to get more from their TV viewing experience than just programming.

Gone are the days of sitting down in front of the TV to watch content un-interrupted for a long period of time. Viewers have grown accustomed to doing basic tasks while at the same time enjoying their favourite TV show, whether that is reading emails or checking out Facebook on a tablet. This is highlighted in a recent report by the European Interactive Advertising Association, which showed that 38% of multi-taskers surf the internet while watching TV. Elsewhere, around seven out of 10 use their tablet or smart phone while watching TV, according to an AC Nielsen survey of 12,000 connected owners.

Many companies are now looking to lever this so-called multiscreening to sate the appetite of customers hungry for more interactivity. Several forward-thinking broadcasters are already offering simple to use second-screen capabilities. In the US, ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences joined to provide viewers of the 83rd annual Academy Awards second-screen access to additional red carpet coverage and online-only views of celebrities attending the Governors Ball. A follow-up survey that focused on users of AppCast, one of the second-screen mobile applications on offer, found that 92% of respondents would be more likely to watch live TV events if such apps were available.

In the UK, Channel 4’s Million Pound Drop Live, which attracts an audience in the region of 2 million, has some 10%of viewers playing along online, answering the same questions at the same time as the onscreen contestants. Even though they did not stand to win any of the money on offer, the content was compelling enough to engage them twice over.

Smart TVs –Not so simple

One way to provide interactivity is through ‘Smart TVs’. The advent of high-speed broadband means that consumers can now watch high-definition broadcast content over the web through their TVs, while browsing the internet at the same time. Such technology also provides the opportunity to access additional content associated with a programme, such as behind the scenes footage.

However, this can create an extra layer of complexity that could have consumers reaching for the off-button. For starters, watching TV is often a social activity and it is likely that there will be others in the room who will not be very appreciative of one person browsing through different sites, using social media content or sending and receiving messages, while they are trying to catch-up on their favourite soap. Similarly, the person messaging will probably not want everyone in the room being able to read what they are sending or receiving.

Another drawback to ‘Smart TVs’ is that menus, controls, messages and other similar items are either displayed over the top of the picture, or the picture is shrunk to accommodate them. Consumers buy large HDTVs, because they want to watch a top quality picture, where they can see as much detail as possible. It is therefore intuitive to realise that they do not want that picture, which they have probably paid a lot of money for, to be covered in clutter or reduced in size.

Keep it Simple, Utilise Multi-Screening

So, how can organisations offer a good level of interactivity, in a simple fashion that does not affect the quality of the viewing experience? To begin with they need to make sure a ‘TV first’ approach, is adopted. This is where users can explore interactive elements of programming without compromising the quality of the TV picture through its reduction or obscuring through screen clutter. They need to embrace the phenomenon of multi-screening.

In order to do this, it is vital to utilise a companion-device service platform that enables the simple delivery of web-hosted applications on a second screen in suitable formats that meet the encoding, resolution and streaming requirements of personal devices.

Indeed, utilising this technology will enable subscribers to use their personal device to perform a range of activities such as navigating and searching for content from multiple sources without interrupting what is on the TV screen, as well as accessing additional content, including cast information or outtakes. It also allows users a new level of interaction, so that they can vote, register opinions or even share experiences with social networking contacts. Additionally, broadcasters can use the personal device to direct viewers to other related content they might find of interest.

Media organisations and NSPs are now able to create a multi-screen service without making big infrastructure changes, migrating to all-IP TV services, investing in expensive set-tops and gateways or undertaking any of the other capital-intensive measures which most providers assume they eventually will have to implement to keep consumers engaged. They only need to invest in platforms that take advantage of technology that is already present in most consumer homes.


In this day and age of multiple devices from different manufacturers, the interoperability between handheld devices, set top boxes, network routers and the TV set is key to simplifying in-home digital entertainment.

This was recognised way back in 2003by a group of electronics companies which joined forces to create DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance). Today, DLNA, comprises 245 well-known consumer electronics, computer and mobile device manufacturers which work to ensure compatibility between their devices using open standards and common industry specifications. DLNA is one technology that allows consumers to share digital content over all certified equipment they own, making multi-screening possible.

However, there are multi-screen content platforms that can work without the need for DLNA, such as Technicolor’s MediaNavi, which uses simple C3 (Command, Control and Communication) client software on the user’s personal device to interact with set-top middleware, regardless of whether it runs an IP or an RF network. This middleware is typically EBIF in the US, or DVB-MHP in Europe. Both systems use open or proprietary standards to allow devices running different types of software or operating on disparate platforms to communicate with each other.

Interoperability is vital for any multi-screen content platform, not just with the devices, but also between applications and operating systems. So, a platform should be able to work with those associated with iPad, Android and Win7 tablet as well as the OS environments of PC and Mac laptops.

A Platform for Opportunities

Through employing a well-conceived companion-device service, media organisations and NSPs can greatly increase the value of their offer by enabling the supplementary content, navigational flexibility and social communications of a personalised experience in a shared TV viewing environment.

At the same time, these devices offer a valuable revenue stream by enabling the personalised activities and usage data essential to advanced advertising, enhanced programming, interactivity, and viral marketing.

By embracing simple to use companion-devices, NSPs and media organisations have the opportunity to establish this new entertainment experience as a must-have benefit for subscribers. They will also open the door to new revenue opportunities that can help to shore-up the mutually beneficial relationships between programmers and operators for years to come.

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