It took some time for the reality of a-la-carte TV to bite and its jaws have clenched down firm on our wallets. So – ‘what you want’ – ‘when you want’ – ‘where you want’ – is now considered fragmentation and there is a call for super-aggregation back to Pay-TV bundles. Ermmmm … Or is there?
The Pay-TV Industry’s Long Game
Let’s jump straight in. Linear TV is dead because online VOD services are what people want. This headline from 2014 was a typical attack on broadcasting –
“Netflix CEO says broadcast TV will be dead in 16 years.”
Just recently and six years into that prediction, Netflix started a LINEAR TV service akin to broadcast, online (in France). Streaming linear is now the norm for many online services. In the end, and to please most of the viewing population, you have to create small changes to existing habits and please as many people as possible with different access choices. I have discussed this often in previous posts. To gain volume viewership, you have to satisfy a vast demographic, and many people don’t want to spend 20 minutes searching for content, which is the norm in streaming – Linear is convenient and has been in the market using the good old EPG since 1981.
DAZN, who professed to be the new ‘Netflix of sport,’ talked about their LINEAR service offering just a few days ago in a conference and added insight into why they are signing up with Pay-TV Service providers. Their streaming dream and takeover of sports stuttered to a halt, exacerbated by COVID with the lack of live events. However, before COVID, DAZN was already struggling, and when the pandemic really hit, they immediately sought investors to shore up the company. The volte-face of the ‘Netflix of Sports’ and D2C disruptor was a pragmatic move and a strategy change needed to keep the DAZN legs pumping.
Broadcast TV isn’t dead nor dying; it is merely morphing and has another medium (the Internet) upon which it rides. Pay-TV is TV that you pay for but the phrase is often used to describe the traditional cable and satellite service bundles are now aggregating streaming service as channels or additional VOD stores. Its all going to look the same soon.
In fact in the USA the ATSC 3.0 NextgenTV will be an IP Stream over the air, which means that they will have the ability to offer streaming-like service. 5G will too look to be the new TV ‘high-speed-access-to-the-home.’ While all of this is good for consumers the business model of TV remains as complicated as ever – You have to pay for access to premium content (Pay-TV) – unless it is funded by another method such as advertising.
The difference today is that you can take as little or as much content as you want, depending on your budget (not necessarily desires). Consumers are simply giving up on certain pay-walled content or pirating it in this complex a la carte landscape. The technology boundaries are blurring – how long will it be before the subscription costs start blurring, and we have a market that levels out price-wise … not long methinks.
TV Middleware – The long and winding road.
The digital TV middleware/OS market has been in full and continued development since the early 1990s. For the last 28 years, the TV receiver software (digital) has remained a fundamental building block or foundation stone of Advanced Television Services. Middleware/OS continues to evoke strong opinion and is a much-maligned. Despite this, it remains firmly ensconced in the digital TV business, forming part of the DNA that is interactive digital television, whether we like it or not.
BTW: There is very little that has not already been tried in the TV domain and not a lot of ‘new’ inventions when it comes to the world of TV.
e.g. Voice made its debut back in the early 2000s. We laughed at it back then; now it is a must-have technology in a very packed content world. Gesture control came and went and now, according to many TV experts, it’s going to be micro-gesture going forward. There was face recognition capability, widgets, and Social Media on TV and good old 3D! Well, let’s not go there …
Here is a long and incomplete list:
- OpenTV Core
- NDS core
- DAVIC (MHEG + Java)
- ARIB B23
- ON-RAMP to OCAP
- Various flavours of Linux Distee
- OpenTV 5
- Frog by Wyplay
- Boxee TV
- Horizon TV
- Roku Brightscript
- Google TV
- Android AOSP
- Android TV
So what else do we have in store for the STB/CPE as we blend Broadcast & Internet and look to create new and exciting services for a future generation? Who knows where the digital TV middleware/OS industry will finally settle.
Video Wars – Amazon in YouTube Blackout
Needless to say there are spats in the Broadcast world when there are negotiations for carriage fees. We have channel blackouts regularly announced, which often get resolved when both parties come to an agreement.
As the world of Internet based TV solutions trundles ever onwards a spat has happened between two of the giants. There will be an agreement eventually but it is funny to see that they are just recreating what happens in the land of Broadcast.
The rigours of life and television … is still the same as it ever was.
Let’s open with a quote from Colin Dixon’s (of NScreenMedia) well written article on TV viewing habits, where we are debating (in the comments) the merits of the small screen in the mix of viewing devices. We all have our opinions on that.
On-demand, live, and online viewing peak at the same time
What is interesting and to me, and hardly a revelation, is that people all watch TV when they can or want to. It is generally around the same time, in the evening after work, after homework and after the kids bedtime (if you have some of course) – This is called PRIME TIME VIEWING – i.e. it is when you are most available to consume content uninterupted. So no matter where it comes from, Prime Time content is still Prime Time content. The TV industry and ‘wannabee TV operators’ (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat et al) think they can all have you as their sole Prime Time viewer…
I have covered this time and time again – Despite all of the content that is available, on all of the systems we have, we all have a limited window of time that we can offer this particular entertainment medium. Most stats reveal that it is the same window of opportunity on a per country basis, which is enough for the news, a couple of TV shows and/or a film. There is simply too much TV available today to fill everyone’s 15 years-of-lifetime-TV-viewing (yes we spend around 15 years of our lives in front of the TV).
Nothing new: Rebecca Lake a financial journalist from North Carolina – published this in 2015
What’s the most popular time of day for watching TV?
Prime time is when the majority of viewers are tuning in, with nearly 2 hours of daily TV watching taking place between 8 and 10 pm. Daytime TV airing between 11 am and 4 pm comes in second, with people watching about 1 hour and 40 minutes on average.
However when Robots take over our jobs we will have more time to watch much, much more .
The Reality of the Lazy TV Audience
So let me start with a few extracts from a blog piece that was written by Mr. Will McKinley a New York writer and author. Why? Well, I want this subject matter (Streaming versus Linear TV) to not be seen as my opinion (because I don’t have the clout when it comes to people taking note of what I say … But I do say things that other more famous people say, often way before them – Sometimes that is frustrating. Sometimes it reassuringly delights.)
I love the convenience of streaming. It’s thrilling to have easy access to every episode of shows (and movies) I love, and have loved for my entire life. But, in a landscape where there’s so much choice, having everything can almost feel like having nothing. There’s no call-to-action, no immediacy, no reason why I should watch one thing over another right now. But perhaps more importantly, there’s no shared experience…
But perhaps most importantly, a linear network means that someone else is doing the work for you. Because sometimes you just want to plop down on the couch and watch, not assemble your own custom lineup from across multiple streaming platforms (and I speak from experience, because I subscribe to pretty much all of them)…
Will on-demand streaming be a dominant force in TV? No doubt. In a sense, it already is. But creatively curated linear programming will always be an important option. They call TV viewers couch potatoes, not couch amateur TV executives for a very good reason. Never underestimate the laziness of the American public.
While this ‘Linear versus Streaming TV’ narrative plays out across the world, it was interesting to see at IBC 2016 show in Amsterdam that TV technologists can now introduce SVOD content into EPGs as if it were a Linear channel. There are also companies that will, for a small fee per annum, curate Free on-line programmes for you (e.g. Rabbit TV’s Freecast) so that you do not have to do the hard work of being your own amateur TV executive – Thank you, Will McKinley, for that expression, which I too have used in many previous articles to express the burden TV viewing is becoming.
Let’s not forget that TV, despite its modernisation, is a product that has to appeal to the masses. i.e. The old, not so old and the very young. I don’t like to use the term Millennials because they too will have life-events that will make them lazy couch potatoes. So as far as the majority of TV viewers is concerned, being entertained must not be hard work. So if TV streaming becomes the norm, we will be expected to be our own TV show curator, which means that we will end up stuck in a viewing rut, as our limited knowledge of what is available from the global pool of entertainment is limited by our ability to memorise the planet’s content. Yes, we are we now expected to take the cognitive burden of knowing what content is available from what provider and whether we have already seen it or not by having to dig through all the buried content.
Live broadcasts are also an opportunity to encourage sampling by channel-surfing new viewers, in a way that streaming will never offer.
I agree with Mr. McKinley when he says that we still need the lazy person’s option for a long time to come.
OpenTV 5 Connectware
A Short Play Called ‘The Death of TV’
Setting the scene: The evening light is dimming. It’s 8pm and the children are snuggled down in bed and the husband says, “Dinner is almost ready honey, can you find us something to watch on TV?” …
Picking up the remote the wife switches on the TV …
“I don’t know darling!” “Why not honey?” “Because there is only a bunch of icons on the TV and I cannot see any TV shows, that guide thingy we used to have, it’s gone darling!” “Gone! Why would they do that honey, it was very convenient.” “I heard that you are supposed to know what you want to watch darling, you just ask for it now.” “Really honey, OK!” “Are there more programmes like that documentary on South Africa we saw the other night?” “Maybe darling, what was the programme called?” … “Ermm, what channel was it on?” “I cannot remember darling.” “Neither can I honey.” “Oh!” “Now what shall we do?” … “Ask the TV honey its got that voice thingy activated.” …
Wife fiddles with remote control – pushes button …
“TV, Can you find me any travel programmes about South Africa, but not about South Africa as we have seen that, what about somewhere else please.”
Screen icon turns … searching … searching … searching … TV replies …
“Can you be more specific, I have 24,000 programmes on South Africa and 30,000 programmes not on South Africa and I have several shows called Somewhere Else.” “I have them in English, Greek, Spanish, Arabic, French, Portuguese, Polish, German and 25 other languages, what do you want me to do?”
8.45pm: “Have you found anything honey?” “No darling, I’m afraid not … its not that instant anymore.” “Shall I put the radio on honey?”
TV Viewing HAS NOT Changed – The Gap Filling Has!
We have yet another set of statistics that declare the living room TV Viewing habits are changing. Let us look at this from another perspective: I would put it to you that it is not TV Viewing that has changed it is human habits that arhave changed due to the advent of ‘New Technologies’. If you were to take away the smart-phones and tablets from a TV centric family (as I have done at home recently) you will see that the TV viewing on the BIG Screen once again takes principle place. Not book-reading, or board-game-playing but TV, and it quickly becomes a fight for the remote control with unhappy, sulky members of the family who are not interested in what the others are viewing….however we noticed that slowly but surely a migration back to sitting as a group with sharing-as-a-group takes place and an agreement to share what is on the TV, as it did in the time before these other access devices entrered the fray. As a family we searched for common-content that all the family could get a little something from, be it a documentary, a film or even a cartoon that pleased everyone . We became part of our children’s TV world and they ours, once again. We also adhered to the ratings and respected the different viewing options based on quality of content – NO MORE VIOLENT, SEX RIDDLED, TRASHY OR STOOPID content. It was a pleasant and fulfilling exercise. During the ads we went to the loo, talked and did what we always used to do during the Ad breaks – Watched some Ads and not others… (BTW Ads do not require ‘viewing only’ for them to have effect – the audio part subcontiously enters the brain even if you are not watching!).
Allowing the phones back instantly became the new distraction thus proving that easy access to communication (messaging), access to fun & stupid videos (via the internet) and access to ‘work and private’ emails urghhh, highlighted a penchant for instant gratification and removed the need to ‘work to find common-TV Centric ground’ and once again enabled what we call ‘gap-filling’ . Each to their own simplistic and shallow needs. The IAB piece on chaging TV Viewing Habits IAB Article states the following:
extract: For example, the incidence of checking emails is consistent during TV programmes and ad breaks (both 34 per cent) whilst texting or Instant Messaging is only 1 per cent higher during the ad break than the programme. The device tracking showed, overall, there was actually more online activity per minute during a programme than an ad break.
The information in the article is not startling and supports the findings of the experiment we carried out at home . It shows that if the viewer is not fully engaged with the programme they will still feel the need to do something else. We saw distraction in the form of speaking and fidgeting or leaving the couch when the TV show did not fully delight a particular family member. So what does that tell us? It only tells us that TV is all about engaging the viewer as much as possible. It has never been that we all sat avidly from start to finish without some form of mental distraction, UNLESS it was a TOTALLY compelling content from beginning to end.
In the old days we had a lot less content to choose from and it was a lot less ‘same-same’, as it is now in the world of 24 Hour channel stuffing. It is not TV Viewing that has changed it is the enablement of filling the ‘distraction time’ without having to get up and do something else and it is the masses of same-same stuff on TV that drives people to look for fresh and exciting, different content elsewhere, which makes the stats skewed. The people surveyed must have been sat in front of the BIG Screen for those statistics to have been gathered…The only difference is from yesteryear to today we have technology that has made it simple to ‘visit another place’ for instant gratification. The dwindling ‘attention span’ is bad content and boredom, no matter how minor, leads to ‘gap filling’.
And to finish: The Kettle Surge moment, written in the article, is also a just sign of the developing times – We have much more efficient coffe machines and probably hear the sound of corks popping much more, as NESPRESSO and WINE has replaced the TEA drinking of yesteryear. LOL.
Bundles: TV is Merely Changing the Transmission Media Not The Business Model
Telco managed TV services (i.e. IPTV) had a great deal of issues obtaining content and it struggled terribly. Some thought it would be built on UGC (User Generated Content). However #YouTube stole that crown. Many Telcos bundled it with the Broadband offer and then ticked you off as a TV Subscriber; whether you watched it or not. Unfortunately it offered a lesser experience and needed linear TV to make it palatable to the average consumer. In the main, people just want to be fed TV programmes and not have to be their own ‘channel-line-up’ producer each time they sit in front of the box. We are inherently lazy and Millenials are no different – If anything their attention span kills the theory of sitting down and selecting a nights viewing by App scanning; especially after a hard days work on a screen.
This New Yorker (below) story about bundles growing on Internet or Web TV is fascinating as it looks at the TV Subscription angle. However I felt that the story should have dug much deeper. The author should have looked at the garnered revenue from subscriptions and investigated where that money relates to content: i.e. Explore the way content is funded because this is also an important factor in the business model of TV and the bundle, be it over-the-air, over cable or over the Internet. Here is an article that @TimWu could reference: http://abovethecrowd.com/2010/04/28/affiliate-fees-make-the-world-go-round/
Here is the full New Yorker Article:
“But those who predicted that the Internet would kill the bundle may have spoken too soon. Internet TV, in fact, is now growing its own bundle—the so-called “neo-bundle.” This year, Dish television and Sony have begun selling a version of Internet television that centers on a bundle, albeit one that is smaller and cheaper that the original offered by cable companies. Dish’s Sling is the most exciting and enticing: it offers ESPN and twenty other channels for twenty dollars a month. (You add an extra fifteen dollars if you want HBO). Sony’s Vue has fifty or so channels, for fifty dollars a month, but no ESPN or HBO. Apple, meanwhile, is likely to launch its own version in the fall.
In short, instead of the Internet killing the bundle, the bundle is coming to the Internet; it would not be surprising if, in the next year or two, half a dozen more neo-bundlers join the game. This may come as a surprise to those who expected the television of the future to resemble, say, a smartphone screen, where every channel would be roughly like an app that you subscribe to à la carte. But overestimating change in the television industry is a rookie mistake.”
P.S. By the way, RabbitTV already bundles ‘free-content’ for you for a small fee. Which gives kudos to my theory that we are all lazy when it comes to TV viewing. “I’ll pay 10 bucks to someone to do it for me instead so I can just watch it instead of wasting all that time searching & selecting.”