What will be the TV viewing habits of the future, how are TVs going to change to meet these demands in the next six years and what are the challenges holding the industry back? These were some of the questions that an expert panel at IBC in Amsterdam this year tried to answer.
Extensive research conducted by Ericsson and published in its Mobility Report for 2014 suggested that the broadcast industry is experiencing the beginning of a new dawn for television, driven in large part by IP trends.
The TV and media industry is being affected by a rapid upswing of mobile broadband subscriptions, especially in advanced markets such as Western Europe and the USA, but also here in the Middle East.
According to Ericsson there will be 9 billion people in the world contributing to more than 8 billion mobile broadband subscriptions and 1.5 billion homes with digital television by 2020.
It is this rampant growth over the next six years that will likely see IPTV become the dominant media transmission method globally, replacing traditional satellite television. Furthermore, by 2020 the Pay TV subscriber market will be worth US$460 billion, according to Ericsson.
It was against this backdrop that Pete Thompson, senior vice president of the Mediaroom Business Group at Ericsson, and three other leading industry figures held an in-depth discussion on the side-lines of IBC in Amsterdam, looking at how the TV and media business would evolve in the next six years.
The 2020 TV Experience discussion brought together Erik Huggers, former president of OnCue, USA, John Honeycutt, chief technology officer, Discovery Communications and Patrice Slupowski, vice president of digital innovation at Orange.
What was apparent from the very start was that these rival firms, perhaps reluctantly, hold common ground on the most serious issues holding the industry back from reaching its full 2020 potential, while all envision a different TV experience for the end user within the next six years.
An over-riding theme that came out of the discussion was that it is not in fact technology that holds the industry back, but its current business models. In terms of multiscreen TV especially, all agreed that rights management software such as DRM needs to be updated to reflect the increasingly fluid nature of TV viewership in the years ahead.
Asked whether the industry will see the end of the PVR by 2020, there was unanimous agreement that while the technology for extensive VOD libraries exists, DRM would never allow it. “The one evil technology out there that has held the industry back for a very long time is DRM,” Erik Huggers, former president OnCue, USA said firing the first shot.
“It’s mandated by the content producers for the right reasons, but it is anti-consumer in every possible way imaginable. It has created artificial barriers for consumers that have held back the industry, portability and use cases,” he said.
Slupowski agreed: “We’re talking about just six years between the dream and the reality,” he told delegates. “At Orange we’re working on something called re-wind TV, but the prototype needs another 20 years to reach its full potential because of rights issues.”
Having just shown the audience a video outlining Ericsson’s vision of the 2020 TV experience of the future, Pete Thompson threw cold water on the idea to some extent with the observation that “It’s usually not technology that holds us back, its business models and business relationships”.
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In short, the ability to create the 2020 TV experience, allowing people to view TV in the way they want in a way that fits their lifestyle is being constrained by content producers who see their content as the key to the future growth of the television and media industry.
“Content is the most helpful thing you can possibly have in this,” says John Honeycutt, chief technology officer at Discovery Communications. “We’re thinking a lot at Discovery about what the 2020 TV experience will actually entail, what will the 2020 media consumption experience be?” He did agree however that the ability to take people across platforms and screens is key.
“You can’t think about this as a one screen experience or we’ll never get there,” he said. With the normalisation of the multiscreen platforms, however, there is a risk that TV viewing will become more complicated for the end-user, when there are different channels available on different devices and divergent viewing habits factored into the design of each. This is a situation in which Slupowski says little progress has been made in terms of innovation.
“When I’m in front of the TV I have a personal enemy, the remote control,” he said when asked to predict the 2020 TV experience.
“It’s remained by and large the same for the past 30 years. I can see no other product in any industry that has stagnated to such an extent.” Slupowski goes so far as to say that the TV viewing experience is broken because of the remote control.
With 4k resolution becoming mainstream and now 8k being discussed, with infrastructure being upgraded to transmit Ultra-HD, Slupowski says that more attention needs to be paid to the ergonomics of the viewing experience.
The key, in Slupowski’s opinion, is customisation, so that viewers can do away with having to remember a selection of channel numbers and instead have a TV experience tailored to their needs. This was a problem that Pete said Ericsson was working hard to address.
“On personal televisions there is very little ability at present to tailor the experience to your own viewing habits and interests,” says Pete.
“Your TV should automatically sense you coming through the app on your phone and if five people walk into a room it should merge those personalisation settings. We need to move away from all the clicking.” He was quick to point out, however, that Ericsson’s solutions to the desires of the viewer won’t necessarily put the TV experience of the future at the top of slippery slope that leads to the end of family viewing.
“I don’t see the total end of family viewing, we’re social animals and it’s in our nature to want to share what we enjoy so although there’s a lot more virtual sharing I think there is still scope for physical sharing into 2020,” he said.
Slupowski feels the same, pointing out that although the consumption of non-linear TV has grown rapidly, his children still spend around half their TV time watching linear television as well. “Whenever they see something they enjoy, they want to share it with my wife and I and they enjoy it more when they watch it with us,” he said.
A distinction perhaps needs to be drawn then between the type of consumption one engages in with their TV versus other devices such as smart phones and tablets. Viewers, generally speaking, binge on TV and snack on personal devices such as tablets and smart phones, according to industry research.
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Linear TV channels need to take advantage of this to survive, says John. “I think the live linear channel is in no danger of going away anytime soon. The question is how do you use that platform, that is reaching that many potential subscribers, in the best manner? How do you use the content that surrounds VOD or OTT environment?”
Honeycutt’s answer is diversification. “Discovery bought a company called Rev3 a few years ago that does amazing snack able content. Using those opportunities and our brand gives us the ability to diversify Discovery’s traditional linear TV brand presence.”
So where does this leave the traditional Pay TV operator given the rise of OTT players? The US entertainment
powerhouse HBO recently announced that it was entering the OTT field, while Amazon Fire devices have given the online retailer access to millions of OTT subscribers through Amazon Instant Video.
While the IBC discussion highlighted Netflix, the OTT pioneer, what’s clear is that Pay TV operators need to find a way to use OTT services as a new revenue stream rather than just a value-added product. This isn’t a problem isolated to OTT, however, according to Honeycutt, the progress of TV, especially in terms of content is threatened by the slowness of rating agencies and ad counting agencies to account for non-linear viewing.
“It’s not only the ratings, but also the ability to control ad insertion, replacement of ads. There is a malaise of stuff that we have to go through to be able to replace ads within VOD content on our current ecosystem. That needs to change.”
OTT players have an advantage in terms of advertising revenue because of their web presence, according to Slupowski. “Web players have the ability to collect and analyse immense amounts of data that TV players struggle to match, so behind the scenes they have an advantage.”
While a smart TV that responds to gestures and voice commands to change channels and platforms, and technology that allows multiple devices to watch content simultaneously is all well and good, one particularly interesting question from the audience asked the panel what content itself will look like by 2020. John’s answer, using Discovery as his basis, was particularly interesting.
“Content will become increasingly purpose produced,” he says. “It’ll be increasingly focused on engaging people.” Honeycutt says that whereas other channels will produce an entire season of a show and then release it all at once, Discovery is able to tweak their shows, such as Deadliest Catch, throughout the season based on feedback on social media and other metrics.
“Issues such as that will become more important,” he says, leaving one to question whether popular shows of the future, such as DowntonAbbey, Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones, might be produced concurrently to their release, with next week’s instalment influenced by last week’s feedback?
- By 2020 there will be 1.5 billion homes with digital TV
- US $460-billion the market value of Pay TV by 2020
- Mobile video traffic forecast to grow by 13 times between 2013 and 2019