This is one of the best articles I have read on the trials and tribulations of the 2nd Screen-Companion Screen and their role in Television interactivity. As you might know I am a confirmed Interactive TV enthusiast, having been in this industry sector since its very early days. The main dificulty in Interactive TV has always been the ROI. How do you make money at it? For the Broadcaster and Operator it is fast becoming more and more clear, but they have to change their thinking with respect to this area of Television and embrace a change in direction. Why? Cost Saving without cutting head-count, service reduction can be achieved and an actual revenue generating service can be implemented. This makes sense for the long term financial health of teh Broadcasters & Operators. Companion Screen Interactivity (SaaS based) is a natural CAPEX/OPEX ‘cost-saving’ exercise. We know that Embedded Middleware in STBs and TVs is a very costly exercise for advanced services and interactivity. It is costly to License – Implement – Test – Run a Back Office and Pay to have Applications developed. It needs constant Software Support and there are, in the main, run-time costs associated with most Middleware systems. It is fragmented! For the Broadcaster/Operator Interactive TV OPEX (SaaS model) can be amortised against the TV-Everywhere/Catch-Up Services Infrastructure already in place. It makes sense to move to a SaaS based service as the Companion Screens are bought by the Consumer not by the Broadcaster/Operator. STBs and TVs can also be cost reduced as they will require less intelligence. Apps are/can be/will be downloaded for free. Advertisers, Programme makers and the Channels can exploit this synchronised, always connected 2nd Screen in the home. There may well be dedicated TV+Companion Screen sales at CE level in the future. Although this will take time to evolve as a market I believe it is a natural path for Interactive Services. Please read the Article linked below to get a good overview of the already fragmented market, the dificult marriage of many players and the reluctance of the Broadcasters/Operators who have not seen the obvious route they should be taking.
When you don’t go to a Trade Show that you have been regularly visiting for the past 8-10 years it is a slightly uncomfortable feeling. It sort of feels like you are missing out on something…but are you really? CES is after all a gadget show and do we need to go if we are not Retailers of Consumer Electronics? What a lot of people do not know is that there is a lot going on behind the scenes in more of a Business-2-Business nature; especially in the Television world that I move in. A lot of networking takes place, and a lot of ‘private suites’ allow for plenty of businessmen to gather, show of their wares in private, discuss and potentially deal-make!
His outlook is that there is mostly years of repetition of technology along with what I call ‘catch-up’ Companies there ‘en-masse’ with cheaper but the same gadgets from the year before and therefore swamping the floors, the industry and the news with old stuff in effect. There is also a decline in the Big Companies with Microsoft having pulled out! Apple is not there either and if Apple is not there how can it truly be called THE Consumer Electronic Show? Qualcomm even did the keynote speech this year – Qualcomm?
Another journalist from our immediate industry Leslie Ellis pointed out that the the trending products were waterpoofing gadgets for your smartphones and tablets. I suspect the Hunting Knife Company and the Mini Flying Helicopters will still be there in the South Hall and that Spearmint Rhino will still get its CES clientele. Ummm, so what is it I miss?
Well in all honestly I do miss it as it kicks off the business year with a hectic, manic traipse around Vegas! Therefore life without an early dose of CES certainly makes for a less-tired more calculated start to 2013.
We have entered the 2nd phase of the Companion Screen business with Synchronisation being the next step in the equation. The DVB organisation has need of a chairperson for the new DVB-COS (Companion Screen) group that will look to standardise the communication protocols between the Companion Screen and the STBs/Connected TVs. This in itself is a very touchy subject as raised by the iTV Doctor in his recent post and he mentioned a Company already offering such protocols. This may see another IPR issue at the DVB but that is another story…Lets concentrate on Companion Screen issues – As we have progressed through the business of Interactive TV it is clear that there needs to be a marriage of many brides (parts) to make it successful. The list is something like this: Content-Technology-Broadcast Media (DTT, DTH, Cable, IPTV, WebTV) Receiver Hardware and of course Tools and Services. It has been rare that we have seen them come together in a global sense. We have tried many times, with a variety of solutions. The pockets or Islands of interactive (UK’s MHEG5, Italy’s MHP etc…) have managed in a small way, however the marriage has not been so successful overall which has resulted in multiple attempts to engage in Interactivity over and over again. The latest attempt in the old world is of course HbbTV which moves into the arena with another ’embedded’ product that requires some genuine engineering intervention by a variety of people, content needs to created, tools and testing for compliance and conformance are needed – The wedding party is a long affair, it may yet again all end in tears.
Companion Screen on the other hand can synchronise with TV and in some new technology cases does not need certain members of the party to engage in a technical sense, as is required in embedded systems. There are technologies that allow for the full synchronisation without the need for touching the transport stream or the STB. These systems work on a SaaS basis using the ‘Cloud’ as the connectivity channel. The reason I mention this particular form is that this makes the business of Interactive Second Screen easier. If you work with the Content producers and the Broadcasters on Content and cut out some of the middlemen this eliminates one of the barriers for interactivity to flourish. The old chicken and egg – Broadcaster = I wait till the population of receivers is sufficent until I broadcast interactive. Consumer = I will not buy an interactive STB because their is no content! Remember those days? They are still here! A Companion Screen is already in the home…it was bought for other purposes but can be used for TV. Broadcaster/Operator CAPEX reduced immediately.
The OPEX aspect for the Broadcaster is also in a sense reduced as they make use of already installed video servers and server side equipment used in the delivery of catch-up TV. Yes in Companion screen new content formats need to be created to make use of this new system, but we can see that this is on its way. So very soon we will enter a 3rd phase where bespoke Companion Screen Content will appear. The BBC RnD are working on this and there is a call for content in a wider sense as this new marriage starts its honeymoon period.
I am sorry but it is impossible to hear what Consumers want because most of them have no idea. When you had a fibre optic transmission standard created it was to make it easier for equipment manufacturers to achieve economies of scale, consumers are not implicated. When the DVB designed their TV standards it was for equipment manufacturers to achieve economies of scale and thus bring down the cost of the equipment for both business and eventually the consumer. The specialists inside those Companies are in a way a sort of ‘customer’ who thinks about making things easier for the masses. The Consumer might have an opinion if asked about Equipment Battery Chargers or Mobile Phone Chargers as that is a very “in-home’ nuisance…but even there it is not done because the equipment manufacturers also want to differentiate and make more money on ‘peripherals’ because Cameras are pretty standard across the board. The EU eventually forces this to happen…Asking someone (consumers) about Standardising for Connected TV or Cloud Services and what they want “in the cloud” is already assuming that they know what the “cloud” is…People are not “technologists” in the main, that is reserved for a small percentage of us who actually think that the rest of the world thinks like us – and how wrong we are- often! BECAUSE They don’t!…and the old adage of “One man’s meat is another man’s poison” is particularly poignant here…Consumers have very different ideas about life on a family by family, town by town, culture by culture, country by country basis. What we see in the request for Consumers to be Involved in Standards Decidions is a reflection of the last statement above: There are ALREADY TOO MANY STANDARDS SETTING BODIES all working on the same thing but with different ideas that merely ends up with multiple standards all trying to achieve the same thing – Why? Because we are human beings and we are territorial and egotistical and incapable of peace and harmony (in the main) and especially when it comes to Technology Standards we are very, very BAD!
The Companion Screen is being exploited as an interactive device…It is an easy route as it is naturally connected to the Internet by WiFi…accessing WWW pages. So we can see Broadcasters & Network Operators and those that produce TV Content exploit this easy access to another device. Broadcaster and Network Operators use their existing IT infratructure to create portals and they have the Companion Screen ‘connect’ during the transmitted show! Easy, Low Cost interactivity!
So do we need DSMCC Object Carousels which work as slow as snails anymore? Do we need AIT and XAIT anymore? Is HbbTV dead before it launches? Do we need Red Button apps and heavy interactive Java Applications or do we just allow for the TV programme to be extended by Web-Access to Value Added Content on other screens that are bought in retail and carry standard Browsers?
It is an interesting point and one which will in effect change the landscape of many Companies who have been flogging the seemingly slow uptake of interactivity in embedded, proprietary and open-standard middleware! We are going from the old world to the new world which is in fact the old world of Web TV! LOL!
We hear on a regular basis that Smart TVs are rolling out of the door of the high street. What I know as a veteran of interactive TV is that few of them get connected or stay connected. It is a fact that only if it is ABSOLUTELY IMPERITIVE for the TV to work will it ever be connected – AppleTV on the other hand is of that category – Pure OTT. Apple is not wrong to think of putting out a TV – We all understand iTunes and we are all carrying an iPhone – an iPAD (well a large portion of the Smart People are! Let’s see what Apple can do in this very fragmented domain!
Get to Tracy Swedlow and Richard Washbourne’s Website for the latest and greatest info in Interactive Digital television. P.S. We will soon be able to drop the Digital moniker I think…Well perhaps only in some parts of the world!
How much do I trust recommendations regarding Film & TV that come from my friends…Good question and easily answered. Not at all – Why? Because my friends are an eclectic bunch of multinationals and they all have their particular quirks, idiosyncrasies and tastes. They dress differently, they eat different foods, they listen to different music. They are individuals. We do have some things in common like children in the same schools, a like of sports amongst some of us, fine wines and spirits, however we are not trying to be like each other. They don’t watch TV in the main because they are Architects, Artists, Dancers, Choreographers, Jewellers, Photographers, Film Producers on one side and on the other they are Founders, Restaurateurs, Secretaries, Cleaners, Electricians, Builders and Craftsmen. So whatever recommendations I get on Facebook will certainly surprise because Facebook is not necessarily their thing either. They are too busy! We have discussed this over a wine or two on a sunny terrace. We find that TV is a plonk yourself down after a hard day with a Glass-Of-Wine-Whats-On-In-The-Next-10-Minutes state of mind. We do communicate via the Internet and we watch their films, read their books and look at and even buy their art, we eat in their restaurants etc. I think amongst then we are the biggest TV enthusiasts out of all of them and I know I cannot impose any of my TV likes upon them. Thankfully there is the TV Professional at the Broadcasters who scouts for and buys new things for us to watch, otherwise TV in our house would simply fade to black.
If IBC 2010 was lackluster then IBC 2011 was a damp squib. There was no real hype, no buzz and certainly no crowd pullers. In 2007 the Rugby World Cup was on and many, many stands took advantage, using it as their crowd puller. This year it hardly featured and those that had it saw fairly meager gatherings. As we are right in the middle of a totally disrupted market many Companies had their principal offerings hidden in private rooms or on stands that needed invitation to view. The rest was HD viewing and fancy remote controls. This tells me that there is flux and change coming but the industry does not know in which direction it will eventually head. As with 3DTV and 3D UIs it was all proven to be a flop over the year. 3DTV is and in my opinion will never be mainstream viewing for another decade or more. So will the ‘TabletTV’ and this ‘Whole-Home-Solution’ with Gateway be the answer or will the “under $100” STBs still be the Broadcaster & Operators mantra when push comes to shove in an economic downturn? Will the CE manufacturers falter in the Connected TV space? Will the Regulators wake-up and see that TV is in a fragmented mess across Europe and react accordingly?
There were no answers at IBC 2011 and the last two years have shown that we are a ship looking for a port! It turns out that Convergence = Divergence. There are still no answers as to what is the real future of Digital Television Broadcasting, only many more questions?