Programmers race to add content and promote sharing across multiple smart devices
Earlier this year, TBS took a big jump into the next frontier with a tablet app for Conan
O’Brien’s late-night show. It’s already received a pretty good landing in the form of an Emmy nomination.
Conan’s initiative, and similar ones by other networks, are a harbinger of where much of TV viewing is headed among the younger set. “Second-screen experiences” are starting to boom as the reach of iPads and other tablets widens.
The Team Coco app syncs “live” with the broadcast show, but also has a content recognition function allowing a tablet to recognize what’s on TV and then turning on simultaneous viewing opportunities.
Those fall into two categories — extra content iterations and opportunities for social media connections. Maybe most important, the two can be linked to capitalize on the social TV movement. For example, when a funny sketch or monologue ends on-air, a viewer can post it on a Facebook page or tweet it.
From a tbs perspective, that’s valuable consumer-driven marketing. The dual-screen apps also offer revenue potential via advertising. AT&T was the launch sponsor for the Team Coco app.
TV viewing has long been considered a chance to relax on the couch, but with so many people now unable to watch without a device in hand, a tablet app dovetails with consumer behavior.
“The tablet has made it incredibly easy for people to have a lean-back experience with their hands leaning forward,” a says Chet Fenster, managing partner and director of content creation at MEC Entertainment, who helped craft the Conan app with Turner.
Networks are racing to connect with viewers during the second-screen movement. During the recent London Olympics, NBC had a “Primetime Companion” opportunity with trivia, polls and athlete bios and social TV venues.
Technology providers are also racing to provide the backbone for the initiatives. Shazam, which allows the tagging of content and commercials, worked with NBC during the Games. Yahoo’s IntoNow app launched a 3.0 version. And Nielsen has worked with ABC on synchronized opportunities. “We haven’t even scratched the surface of what two-screen viewing can offer,” says Fenster.
If tablets are set to provide one part of that syncing, what about the other part? The large, living-room screen that hardly anyone thinks will lose primacy in the home (even as apps from the likes of Cablevision and Time Warner Cable allow live-viewing of all channels on iPads in the home, which means in the hot tub if a viewer can keep the devices dry).
The long-distance run might lead to Super Hi-Vision, a technology being developed by Japan’s NHK. A picture 16 times crisper than HDTV and a pristine sound system together can provide a transcendent experience. It will be years before the “ultra high definition” is available in living rooms, but viewers were given a taste of it during the Olympics in the U.K. through BBC-held screenings in theaters.
“The way I describe it to people — it’s exactly like looking through a glass window at reality … It’s really in some ways the end of what the human eye can understand, so it’s the end of the resolution story,” stated Tim Plyming, who is leading the BBC efforts, on one of the broadcaster’s radio shows.
He added that its 22.2 surround sound gives “the audience the experience of really being at a venue and what that means for sport and cultural events in the years to come is amazing really.” Before Super Hi-Vision, manufacturers are set to release what they call 4K sets, which offer UHD (Ultra High Definition) — four times the picture quality of HD. It will be a while, however, before Super Bowl parties are dominated by these screens. An 84-inch flat screen from LG will cost about $22,000.
In the meantime, questions persist about the fate of 3-D TV, which seemed so primed for widespread adoption. But uptake has not been as robust as many predicted. Perhaps the future came too early, though manufacturers are pushing ahead. “It didn’t immediately take off the way that anybody would have thought,” says Brian Siegel, Sony Electronics’ vice president of television.
Nevertheless, Sony and other manufacturers remain committed and could gain more support with the rollout of 3-D sets that don’t require glasses. Bulky glasses may have deterred some viewers during the first generation. For now, manufacturers appear to have retrenched and begun considering how to make a major 3-D splash with more consumer-friendly options.
“I am not willing to say that they can’t find a way that’s not convenient and useful,” says Pat McDonough, a Nielsen senior vice president.
Some have suggested a lack of content could have been a hindrance. ESPN, however, has a 24/7 3-D network with all kinds of big-time sports events, while Discovery also has one in partnership with IMAX and Sony. That venture just announced a slew of original programming, including a show about surfing in some of nature’s most challenging waves.
Directv, however, recently said it would no longer program a 3-D network 24/7. Still, NBC offered over 200 hours of the Olympics in 3-D, the first time the Games were offered in the format.
For now, TV manufacturers seem to be focusing on smart TVs, which allow for Internet connectivity and other opportunities, from viewing Netflix on a big screen to surfing the Web to using Skype.
TV-Internet convergence had been long-promised; the new breed of sets and consumer attachment to the Web seems to have fulfilled, at least in part, that promise. In April, the Leichtman Research Group found that nearly 40 percent of U.S. homes have at least one set connected to the Internet via a smart-TV-type functionality; a video game system; a Blu-ray player; an Apple TV or a Roku box. That was up from 30 percent last year and 24 percent the year before.
Still, video game systems such as an Xbox seem to be driving much of the Internet-TV connectivity. 28 percent of homes have at least one set connected via a gaming console.
Nonetheless, the potential of smart TVs would seem to be endless, with the opportunity to develop apps just as ios devices provided. “The era that we are in with smart TVs in 2012 is where the Internet was in 1996,” says Sony executive Siegel.
That generates food for thought about the transformative path that could be followed until about 2030. Netflix and YouTube have helped drive consumer use of smart-TV functionality.
A Harris Interactive poll found Netflix (which has shifted its focus to TV series) is the leading “must-have” app among smart-TV owners (47 percent say so). YouTube, which is moving toward longer-form content, came in second at 44 percent.
Showing how much a smart TV can become a social-media device, Facebook came in third at 35 percent. Still, there are doubts about how many people will actually want to post on Facebook pages and tweet while watching.
“[That] other behavior may follow,” says Nielsen’s McDonough. “But the compelling reason for the connected TV is the entertainment content.”
Related is the launch of Skype on XFINITY (for $10 a month) in Comcast homes in May, allowing people to engage in video chats or send instant messages on their screens. The connections can take place in a picture-in-picture box as a show continues.
Skype’s head of business development, Bob Rosin, wrote on a company blog that friends and family members can “watch the same game or reality show together and share your reactions to the same moments in real-time.”
All precincts of the TV hardware and software communities are working hard to improve search functionality to identify content. This identification will become increasingly important as options stretch from Netflix and YouTube’s new channels, to live TV, to video-on-demand.
That’s one aim of the Google TV platform, which is integrated into smart TVs sold in the U.S. now by LG, Vizio and Sony. The system scans the mass of viewing opportunities — in the hundreds of thousands with Internet video — and is able to provide consumer-facing actionable intelligence.
The efforts dovetail with Google’s cornerstone search business, but the company wants to offer an industry-leading, well-targeted recommendation engine that offers suggestions about potentially appealing content based on consumer behavior.
“Search and discovery are absolutely necessary for this new world we’re going into — it’s not just a luxury,” says Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management at Google TV.
Google TV also looks to simplify the process of bringing the Web to the TV. Its Chrome browser is available for simple traditional searching, but so is Google Play, other apps, and a YouTube experience optimized for TV.
There are multiple theories as to what the remote control will look like and how it will work. Vizio has an IR Blaster that works on a tablet and will serve as an all-encompassing remote. No matter the manufacturer, tablets and other second screens will be major players.
Sony’s Siegel says “with second, third and even fourth screens in the living room, it will become increasingly important to consumers to be able to control their TV — and other devices — from any device that is most convenient.
“Will there be a time when there is not the traditional remote as we think of it today? Probably. But, in the meantime, we’re going to need it for data input as the entertainment experience becomes even more interactive and social,” Siegel adds.
Navigation won’t necessarily include only buttons, but options with voice and gesture control.
Looking further, Google TV’s Queiroz suggests “shape recognition” could gain a toehold within a five-year period. The tv could have a camera and recognize who is in front of the screen, and make relevant viewing suggestions.
“The future of television is about recommendations being relevant for the person or the combination of people who are in the room at that point in time,” Queiroz says.
Nevertheless, it remains unclear how new Apple TV hardware, presumably coming out in 2013, could alter the landscape. Potential link-ups with other Apple devices, the use of the Siri voice control system and other permutations could usher in more innovation.
Siegel believes voice control can help realize the dream of the connected home, in which multiple devices are closely linked. He can envision saying “call Mom” and having the phone dial her on the TV screen.
At the same time, it may one day be possible to watch a sports event on an iPad in the kitchen, walk into the living room and see the same event continue on the big screen. “It becomes easier and more seamless,” he says. “It’s like a motion detector with your lights.”
DVRs continue to find their way into more TV homes, but there’s the potential that their usage levels could actually decline. With the TV-everywhere movement, more consumption is likely to take place anywhere and anytime via tablets and other mobile devices.
“I really think that the other digital technologies have leapfrogged the DVR,” says MEC’s Fenster.
Even at home, as most top shows become available via video-on-demand, people might abandon their DVRs.
All of this suggests that a boom in on-demand viewing could be a plus for advertisers. Ads viewed online can’t be skipped, while the fast-forward functionality can be disabled for VOD streams as networks have done.
Interactive ads, where viewers can opt to have a coupon or sample of an advertised product sent to their homes, have started to gain some traction. But they still require a few clicks of the remote control. Microsoft has come up with a way to use the type of voice and gesture control that would serve as a remote control in that arena.
All without pressing a button, so-called NUAds (Natural User Interface Ads) from Microsoft offer remarkable opportunities — from tweeting about an ad to having information about a product sent via email to the address of a relevant merchant popping up on screen. Toyota, Unilever and Samsung Mobile are early advertisers.
The groundbreaking technology is only available on Microsoft’s Xbox Live so far, as the company looks to turn it into a full-fledged entertainment device and move beyond the gaming routes. It will be interesting to see whether Microsoft licenses the technology to another entity in the TV ecosystem such as cable/satellite or telco TV providers.
For Tracey Scheppach, an executive vice president at VivaKi, the key to the advertising vault lies with addressable advertising. So voice- and gesture-controlled ads have potential, but that won’t fully be realized until an airline can deliver a spot about a loyalty bonus to a frequent flyer. “The most important thing for technology to be able to do right now is to send the right ad to the right home,” she says.
Household-level addressability is possible in about 15 million homes via satellite providers and there are some options in local markets, but Scheppach would argue loads of ads still have little impact because they reach the wrong targets.
On the measurement front, there are opportunities to operate in a similar more granular realm. For years, Nielsen and other viewership data was based on tracking the age and gender of viewers. Now, there’s increased interest in measuring how many ads reach potential auto buyers, or males who use certain grooming products.
Companies such as Rentrak and TRA are building businesses in this “single source” field, which will continue to evolve since targeting can always be improved. “It’s a sea change that has been coming over time,” says Bruce Goerlich, the chief research officer at Rentrak.
And measurement will need to be able to track consumption of particular content or advertising on TV and other platforms, including iPads. Nielsen and other companies are working assiduously on this.
“We’re migrating to a place where we’re focused on video no matter where it is and the device is,” says Nielsen senior vice president Brian Fuhrer. “Follow the video” could be the mantra of TV’s future. And nobody knows where the chase will lead.