Report The role of apps and video on-demand in the future of television

Over 50 people crowded into “the Egg” at the University of Salford at MediaCity: UK on 11 November at the Inaugural meeting of the Northern cluster of SMPTE UK Section.   They were welcomed by Peter Weitzel Secretary and treasurer of the UK Section who outlined the growth in Membership in the 15 months of the section life, and how it was holding meetings across the UK wherever there was a Cluster of Members.  He pointed out that tonight topic was not traditional Film or Television – but the area of what has no title as Future media is wrong – as it is here now, and thus also new media is not right either.  But the future was “digital media” complementing the older techniques of delivery to the viewer.

Weitzel then introduced the speaker – Bill Scott Founder and COO of Easel.tv a Specialist multi-screen video software company working across all major platforms.   He took his personal view at the role of apps and video on-demand in the future of television - starting with the strong premise that “Television is special”  See the slide pack 

Todays through the air Television has a great diversity of chose – BSkyB the UK Pay TV broadcaster has 690 + channels but Bill Scott posed the question “how are the channels filled?” – As a linear channel contains content scheduled and the hours need filling. So there are  +1 channels , channels who only repeat Previously made programs, or very cheap content,   But there are a proliferation of Brands , The BBC , Or many of its 10 Channels, the brand of a programmers like Top Gear  or Dr. Who, and other players also have brands – the Rights holders _+ like Premier league soccer,  the Programme  maker  sponsors etc. .. 

But he pointed out that connected TV is becoming more like a cinema – the content is available for a window of time - unlike the linear channels where it is transmitted at a particular time.  The Programme can then be marketed throughout the window – which may be until the programme is consumed/ viewed.

This highlights the inefficiency of linear TV – as viewers miss the relevant content because they were out when it was transmitted (and many do forget to set the DVR) or if they are viewing they will see Irrelevant content.   But if a Programme is available and promoted over a week’s window – how many more people will and can watch it. Perhaps this changes the Water cooler chat to be not “did you see... last night” – to “have you seen... yet” it is on IPlayer. Face book, Netflix.
The Schedule now has not a transmission time – but an Available/Promotion window.

He emphasized how the schedule was still important - in the context of retaining the serendipity of Television by Intelligent suggestion of relevant content with a televisual experience, and good ways of discovering the content – with things like Teasers/ Trailers – Click to see what it’s about, as well as more conventional Barker Channels. The key is to make things clickable with the simple remote control. And live events such as sport or mass audience interaction (like X-Factor) will remain key drivers for the mass audience.

But if there is more efficient Television delivery – Bill Scott then suggested that this might mean that we need less content overall. Whilst some underserved segments may need more there will probably be less content. Relevant and just plain good content will reach more of its intended audience – in simple terms more people will watch fewer programmes.

However Less content does not necessarily map to less Advertising revenue – as now in the connected world the viewer is more engaged with the programme thus the advertising is more targeted, and because of IP delivery coupled with big data mining, the advert can be served to the viewer reflecting their interests.

 

Bill Scott  emphasised the  need for Audience measurement techniques to be extended to cope not only with IP delivered catch up TV, or other Viewing on demand as well as PVR use – so that there can be industry / territory wide accepted metric for ALL Viewing. 

But how the viewer accesses this IP delivered content is important – we currently have Backwards EPG on TiVo and the UK youview and freetime platforms, Scott pointed out that this was only a start – and while it may focus the viewer on a few channels – It will fade away as there will be new long term models for Content discovery.

These were areas where the simple interactivity of Connected TV  will enhance entertainment – and content discovery  – and Bring a more efficient  more targeted or Personal Television experience  whilst retaining TV’s serendipity – that make TV Special.

Bill Scott then looked at what a connected TV service can be now – and starts off by pointing out that Web on the TV was not a success in 2000 – when it was used for Banking but nobody used it - and in 2007 when ADSL came with far more interaction the viewers still did not use it – and now with Fibre/ VDSL/ Cable connections- and HD TV – people are still not using the TV for web....

But they are using it for TV -   - Easel TV has launched a service for All3 Media – the UKs Majo

r “Super indie” production company.  This was a pay per view service on LG and Samsung Smart TVs – and also on Android and IOS devices plus the Xbox 360, covering about 350 hours of their latest content.  Scott demonstrated how the viewer interacted with the Teasers ribbon – and the one click to buy or move onto another programme. He pointed out that the viewer was served relevant clips – so that, for instance, after viewing the first in a series, all the teasers were for the next Programme, etc.  

He summarised the key success factors as being
1) A high quality televisual experience optimised for each platform,
2) Dynamic and data driven user experience with flexible editorial, scheduling, marketing and monetisation controls 
3) A Fresh and relevant experience every time the app is run.

He outlined the system architecture required to provide the service with a much of the functionality of the app being in the Cloud – as here it could be best managed, and altered to meet changing needs - but how it needed to interact to a range of different 3rd Party (and often legacy) systems on one side and to and every increasing range of display device and platforms on the other.

Bill Scott returned to the topic of making Content relevant – by the careful scheduling of material into play slots/ windows - he observed that the commissioners and schedulers art was still needed to provide a great experience, with the playlists targeted to different audience segments. Finally what gives that Personal feeling is the way in which algorithmic processing of each user’s viewing can steer them to what they will find as more relevant content but still allowing spontaneous discovery

To close Scott recounted the recent HTC channel which won Both the Connected consumer award for Best Campaign and the Grand Prix.   This was live on the Virgin Media cable TiVo platform within 3 weeks of the project start and hit the performance target for 3 months in the first week.  –One feature was that with only 27 minute of media available the dwell time for viewers on the channels was 18 minutes; - With this success the Campaign was extended to 9 months with enhanced means of adding and scheduling content.

Scott’s final slide – just reminded us that Television is special – the future is seamless and televisual, that serendipity is Important, and that television must remain special.

There was a very active discussion covering techniques for scheduling content, the move towards Hmtl5 – and its absence of a closed caption tag- and thus the role of SMPTE ST2052 , the ways in which players are used on different platforms – including the TV.  This led Damien Cox from BBC Future media who spoke briefly about the BBC Television Adaption Layer (TAL) which is an open source initiative which has visualised 650 different TV sets interfaces and APIs so that one system can serve almost any TV.  

This was a solution to a problem that does not exist with through the air TV in the UK due to standardisation by DVB and UK DTG (which also specifies MHEG-IC for connected TV).  

Eventually Peter Weitzel brought the meeting to a close, thanking the audience for their contributions, Bill Scott for sharing he view that in the Future “TV would still be special” and Laurence Murphy the Senior Lecturer at Salford University for arranging the facilities