Without Standards, Beware the Connected TV Car Crash

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The U.K. is famously, stubbornly almost unique among European countries in driving on the left hand side of the road. It's a situation which is in danger of being replicated at the outset of connected TV.

Richard Lindsay-Davies, director general of the Digital TV Group warned that without using common standards to build connected TV services-the U.K. foundation for which is being published in the DTG's D-Book 7 specifications this December-the U.K. risks causing a car crash in relation to standards and services adopted on the continent.

With over 2 million shipments of connected TVs in the U.K. this year alone, and with annual stocks of 6.5 million being retailed by 2012 (according to Futuresource Consulting) the issue is a pressing one.

For the audience at a Streaming Media Europe panel discussion on what connected TV means to the consumer, Lindsay-Davies chose to define connected TV as the convergence of traditional broadcast services, like Freeview and Freesat, with online services either managed or over-the-top.

For cable and broadband distribution giant Virgin Media, Ian Mecklenburgh, director of digital entertainment, said, "Ideally you want enough of a footprint to put your services on-and ideally universally deployed standards so an adequate market is there to make services viable.

"We have 4.5 million connected devices in the U.K. each with HTML java script since introduction a decade ago," he added. "We've laid fibre designed for high capacity video and we're trialling 100 Mbps fibre to the home, but if we don't keep up with IP world then the investment in traditional cable become invalidated. We are spreading our footprint, but also looking at integrating hybrid cable IP-indeed, hybrid anything."

Representing the manufacturing community, Nigel Prankard, DVB product manager, Panasonic U.K., pointed out that in order to sell its product globally the company needed efficiency of design and not be constrained by country-specific standards.

As Panasonic and other consumer electronics manufacturers look to relay content over their hardware, Prankard suggested that its business model might be forced to change.

"Can we continue to sell just TVs to the consumer? If I bought a £1,000 connected TV today first of all I would want it to work straight out of the box, I would want the experience of internet over my TV to be the same seamless, ‘always on' connection I take for granted when watching linear TV. Secondly, the product should be so good-and futureproofed with standards-that I shouldn't have to go out and buy another one in just a few years. So perhaps our commercial model has to move toward ensuring content and services are of high quality, and are social and not anti-social."

Picking up on that point, Simon Miller, chief executive of betting services at content supplier Betfair TV, said that it is vital for content owners looking to create hybrid experiences that maximize the potential of connected TVs, to work with, not against, broadcasters.

"People watch TV programs, not TVs," he said. "It's the broadcaster that drives that interaction. A betting application only makes sense for the consumer if it is an application alongside the live broadcast stream [of a sport].

"But there are broadly three groups I need to be sensitive to. The application needs to be editorially sensitive. While our research says 50% of those watching sport are interested in betting, that means half the audience is not. Secondly, we can't use the editorial space to push commercial messages for regulatory reasons. And finally, there are rights holders which for some sports such as soccer are hugely powerful."

Miller believes the Betfair TV app, which has found a home on Sony and Samsung TVs and the hybrid IP Vision platform, has editorial validity.

"We have 5.5 million transactions every day which we can present in data to provide a different lens for viewing a sport, illustrating perhaps the peaks and troughs of various aspects of a live game and providing real time feedback.

"I'd prefer it of course if viewers then went on to place bet-but I don't mind because I think this application is a valid use of connected TV."

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