Connected Home 2011: It's About People, Not Kit

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His comment was a direct homage to Steve Jobs, a point picked up by Nigel Walley, managing director at Decipher. “Jobs was a huge fan of combining art and science,” said Walley. “Sometimes those with an arts background are overlooked by the engineering community. So much so that the technical design of CE product can be awful.”

The latest research from Decipher, which test drives connected devices—giving it the view of a “super-charged consumer”—is that the connected home is being promoted by supplier push rather than consumer power.

“Most of the time the consumer is confused and feels that their own TV is behind the curve,” Walley said. “Supplier push is engineering-led, not creative design-led, and what happens is that consumer misunderstands the proposition and isn’t sure that they want it anyway.

“We can all come up with great search algorithms, but the consumer doesn’t care since all they want are things that meet their need at a particular moment,” he added. “There is an expectation that they should be able to access what they want and when. This is not a technical concept but an idea that has been sold to them about connected access. Consequently, we are seeing bubbling up consumer expectation, but we are not delivering against that. At this time the industry is a long way from taking the consumer with it. We have yet to see an ignition idea around the TV—an iPad moment if you like, which presents a use case and kick starts the market.”

Another barrier to the idea of the “what I want, when I want it” marketing message is rights. “Not the idea of rights per se but the seeming arbitrary application of rights as far as the consumer is concerned,” said Walley. “They don’t understand why they can’t view [BBC Premiership football highlights show] Match of the Day on iPlayer or that they can view CSI: Miami but not CSI: New York or series one but not series 13.

“Those in the industry may know, but consumers don’t [know] and don’t care. It simply pushes even the most law abiding citizen to the grey market.”

In the U.K., the Digital TV Group has done much to establish benchmarks for consumer-facing digital TV product, and its director-general, Richard Lindsay-Davies, was on hand to emphasise that simplicity and universality of approach are vital ingredients.

“The technical toolkit is beyond our wildest dreams, and the consumer is up for using lots of it,” he said. “The key is to make sure that what you produce works. It comes down to why Apple is great and BlackBerry is not. What is required is products that aim for universality rather than niche, that are stable but which can be iterated and that we make standards wisely.

“The biggest enemy is fragmentaion," Lindsay-Davies stressed. “If we fragment the market, the consumer will get confused. There will probably not be enough critical mass to sustain all the businesses on the market. We need enough standards to generate enough consumer propositions so that there can be really aggressive innovation on top of that.”

One of those standards bodies is the Open IPTV forum. Open IPTV representative Oliver Mills said its aim was to reduce some of the fragmentation that occurs between content providers that want to reach as many consumers as they can and the consumers who want to consume content on whatever device they like. “Fragmentation is caused by a number of proprietary technologies, legacy equipment, and incumbent companies who want to control the gateway,” he said.

The BBC’s head of TV platforms, Roux Joubert, confirmed that standards in the home were “massively important.” Although the BBC public service does not derive revenues from its services, like other broadcast- ers, it has to drive costs down. “Every deployment of iPlayer to a new device incurs a cost,” he said. “It takes a lot of effort to get simple design up to a quality threshold acceptable to market.”

Easeltv creates connected TV apps for Virgin Media, LG, and TiVo, among others, and to an extent, thrives on fragmentation. “We take care of that problem for our clients,” acknowledged COO Bill Scott. “But we care about the consumer experience since the technology is no longer the issue—consumer acceptance is. We are trying to take away some of the techno fear that consumers have by making a connected TV experience as intuitive as possible in synchronicity across all screens. For example, the last thing the consumer wants when they open an app looking for content is to be faced with a drop-down menu or asked to write into a search box.”

Samsung’s Saunders agreed that it was a challenge to deploy product into a fragmented market. “You could argue we are adding to it,” he said, alluding to Smart Hub—a software platform across all Samsung devices, which delivers services from the cloud.

“Working with all the different standards from a manufacturer’s perspective means that it really is a challenge to go through a product cycle and get a new TV market in a year,” said Saunders. “Mostly, though, I worry about the overall reaction of trade in the U.K. to new opportunities. We seem to spend a lot of time focussed on what we can’t do and why something won’t work rather than around what we want to achieve and how to get there. We need to change our tone and have that sort of conversation. Only then can we begin collectively to understand what needs to be done.”

Samsung’s starting point is to enable consumers to have everything they want, he said. The challenge is that consumers don’t know what they want. “They didn’t know the iPad was going to be a fantastic device or that watching iPlayer on TV was going to be better than watching on PC.”

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