TV is the future once more

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After a number of years of increasing online video usage causing some to sound the death knell of television, it seems that once again, the sun is shining on TV.

With even the likes of Google and Apple getting into the TV game, the focus is back on the box in the living room, and how this will provide a new platform for innovation in content and digital delivery through the development of TV apps, which in principal, work in a similar way to apps on the smart phone or the tablet.

It’s a very exciting development in the digital sphere, but it does have detractors. At the Screen Digest Future of Media Distribution conference this week,
analysts were sceptical about the nature of such apps on what is essentially a ’entertainment’ platform, adding that the “killer app for TV, must be more TV,” as great content is what broadcasters, particularly pay TV providers, need to produce to create revenue for their business.

Murali Nemani, Cisco Systems’ video marketing director, was keen to point out that future apps on TV will be completely different to the way we use apps on phones. As many iPad apps have successfully seen a complete overhaul of a provider’s content to fit the platform, so to will those who succeed in the TV apps space.

For those fixed on the idea that the TV hardware is for one use only – watching content from a traditional broadcaster or online channel, Nemani highlighted the change in our concept of what we use of mobile phones for. On smart phones, 60% of time useage is not spent making calls, showing how the concept of the primary usage of a device can, and has changed.

The TV is the largest screen in the room, and unlike other devices, people tend not to change their TV that often. Consumers interact around the TV. There has been an increase in family viewing around shows like X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Doctor Who, and while viewing such shows, 54% of consumers have admitted engaging on social media about those shows at the same time, according to research from Intel.

For the detractors who can’t see the opportunity, I refer you to the success of the WiiFit. A few years ago, would you have imagined that consumers would spend their hard-earned cash on a console game which allowed them to exercise in their living room? The game is now the third biggest selling console game in history with 22.6m sold in May this year. Keep fit content isn’t something that can be as easily experienced a PC, but it is clearly extremely lucrative. Exercise, health and education are all areas where I can see real opportunity in TV apps, along with the obvious genres of entertainment and gaming.

For advertiser and marketers, the opportunities to create embedded branded content are only as limited as the technology and brand partners allow. For those concerned about revenue streams, in a medium that has traditionally been served by free-to-air or subscription based models, one might think consumers would not pay for apps on a TV.

Gaming is a good example of where this is not the case. Vikas Gupta, chief executive of Transgaming, said he was working with a number of providers where they have changed from a free-to-download model for a ’Warcraft-like’ game, mainly played on a TV attached to a console. Though the game was free, the provider charged for add-ons like special features or apps within the game. The increase in revenue-per-user for these games went from $10 with the original pay-to-download model to $20-50. A good business case indeed.

My feeling is that for TV apps to work, the market has to be completely innovative in how the content is accessed and displayed. The killer TV app has yet to be created as the scope for creativity has not been there before because the platform had not advanced.

Now it has, and the next few years will be very interesting in terms of content providers and technology companies shaping their business models to make apps on TV work, not just with the TV set itself, but with the other content providers and devices coming to market. Will YouView, Apple TV and Google TV provide enough of an open platform to work with other brand’s hardware? Which player’s branding will the consumer see when they turn on the set – YouView’s branding or Google’s? Or will the consumer have to choose one provider and essentially one platform for their TV content?

The initial burst of such services is going to be very confusing for the consumer, but as time progresses the TV app will offer an environment for brands to create rich content and therefore valuable relationships with customers, just as many are trying to with social media.

Apps can be transactional, conversational, provide a showcase for products and with some TVs now coming out with HD cameras, they can allow for customer service opportunities as well.

And for me, that means that as a medium, TV is back in the room.

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