The State of Media and Entertainment Video 2014

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This is a major step toward conquering some of the key problems, with the wealth of content available, which are delivery over a single platform and discoverability. By demonstrating solutions to these problems YouView is trying to show its on-demand features as a clear upgrade path to those viewers who already use services such as Freeview or Freesat.

The pay TV suppliers Sky and Virgin originally considered YouView as a competitor, particularly as it offered this integrated approach to IP-based content, had an EPG in which the viewers could move backward through integrated on-demand services, and presented very good integrated search. However, things have changed rapidly over the year, with Sky now offering its noncontract service, Now TV, through YouView’s platform.

Overall, the year has been a successful one for STBs and other add-on boxes, while smart TVs have struggled with wide acceptance. Data from the FutureMedia 2013 Show looked at comparative rates of usage when consumers had both a connected STB and a smart TV. When consumers had the same player on both platforms, 73% of them preferred using the STB. Usage rates obviously varied between providers, with YouView on top followed by Virgin TiVo and then Sky boxes, probably due to the level of integration of the players on those platforms. Nigel Walley of Decipher, who helped compile the report, noted, “Smart TVs haven’t made any effort to integrate on-demand with broadcast in their interfaces. The STB manufacturers have a much more UK-centric view of the market, and recognise that they need to work with the broadcasters to keep the consumer in the STB environment.” When a consumer had both STB and smart TV, use of the smart TV tended to be limited to apps that don’t appear on STBs, such as YouTube. This obviously gives YouView an advantage as the apps are more tightly integrated with the search and user interface.

The same report last year revealed a smart TV market struggling with adoption; this was attributed to the fragmented nature of the smart TV operating systems and interfaces, which in turn created significant barriers to entry for commercial partners looking to build apps. For example, only one smart TV brand had three out of four of the U.K.’s main broadcast player apps. But the biggest problem for smart TVs seems to be a lack of personal video recorder (PVR) functionality. The research showed that after live broadcast, the most compelling features that a TV could offer are live pause and record.

In the U.S., many cable networks are offering PVRs as complete media hubs. This is unlikely to happen for 2 years in the U.K., ultimately driven by Sky and Virgin. These providers and YouView will likely use connected PVRs to piggyback on the demand for smart TV functionality but drive viewers to their own devices.

Despite this emerging trend, research predicts that installed smart TV sets will account for 34% of total connected sets in 2018, with game consoles accounting for 23% and streaming STBs and connected devices such as Google’s Chromecast stick accounting for 16%. The most interesting question will be what percentage of this market connected PVRs and services such as YouView can take by 2018.

Social Gets Interactive

Discovery is still a big issue, partially addressed by the YouView search platform and more intelligent STBs. However, other services, such as second-screen app Zeebox, are looking to up their focus on on-demand discovery viewing as “second screen” interaction makes way for “participation TV.” According to company co-founder Anthony Rose, “There is a growing area of bringing synchronised experiences around on-demand.”

Twitter -- the originator of running social commentary on TV and the backbone of services such as Zeebox -- has attempted to improve its TV offering. It formed a strategic partnership with Comcast, where subscribers can use their Twitter accounts to select and watch shows from the cable broadcaster. Twitter viewers now see a “See It” button on messages about programmes from a variety of networks, with more planning to launch the service in 1Q 2014.

Once a viewer clicks on a tweet, a Twitter card opens up with show information, and Comcast subscribers are able to record, change the channel, or watch the show directly from the tweet on their device.

Twitter, which has been telling the TV business that it can help grow viewer numbers, will now have a chance to prove it. The Comcast partnership also includes an “Amplify” advertising deal between Twitter and NBCUniversal, selling ads against short video clips from the programmers’ shows.

In terms of evolving the service, Twitter is confident it should be able to insert the button into tweets without any overt signal from the user. For example, a tweet that reads, “Hate David Starkey’s opinions on politics” would be embedded with a “See It” button for BBC’s Question Time.

Zeebox has improved its offering in the U.S. with Twitter recommendation for Comcast users, but even without that feature it remains the leading second-screen platform in the U.K. 

However, Twitter has a long way to go as this functionality is limited to Comcast in the U.S. and there are still no European broadcasters on board, although this is surely in the cards. Even with the momentum growing on the Comcast partnership, the number of Twitter users commenting on a programme is still dwarfed by the number of actual viewers. Still, this may not be as important if you view the Twitter users commenting as major influencers who will drive their followers into becoming viewers. This could then lead to Twitter becoming a significant recommendation and therefore discovery engine for content. The question is whether or not deals in the U.S. will migrate to providers in Europe and deliver a good user experience, driving more viewers to programmes while maintaining the delicate balance between content and advertising.

This year there have been significant steps toward solving some of the biggest problems facing the viewer in a world with so much content: recommendation, content discovery, and personalisation. How the platforms develop during the coming year, and what services viewers choose to adopt, will be fundamental in shaping how successful the iPlayer revamp is, how much YouView can grow its viewer base, how successful Twitter is in the recommendation space, and whether others such as Facebook will follow. The success and failure of these plans and platforms as well as others should give us the clearest indicator to date of how viewers may interact with content throughout the coming decade and on what types of devices.

This article appears in the 2014 Streaming Media Europe Sourcebook as "The State of Media and Entertainment Video."

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