Connected TV Experience: Service by service

14 Oct 2011  |  Liz Jaques 
Televisions

Television culture is shifting rapidly at the moment and with so many services in the market, it is hard to keep up - not to mention the number of terms used to describe all these new services and new technology. Connected TV, smart TV or internet TV? VoD, on-demand or catch up?

In a bid to clarify what is what, MediaTel's Connected TV Experience started with a hands on 'immersion session' at iBurbia Studios in West London. Decipher's Nigel Walley talked delegates through all the latest technologies on Tuesday, while discussion around the wider issues continued throughout the day...

What is the role of on-demand in the TV mix? Will +1 channels suffer? Who will win the commercial fight between free-to-air broadcasters and services such as Sky? Will channel brands continue to dominate? Who will sell ads around content? Will home networking be the key trend for the next six months - screens talking to screens? Five panels on day two of the event continued the debate in a bid to answer these questions (full coverage on Newsline shortly).

To break it down, here is an overview of each service: the basics, benefits, negatives and plans for the future...

Virgin Media

  • Cable-based service, now in more than 3.75m homes
  • First to offer on-demand and catch-up TV services (which include iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5) plus archive content
  • Features a manually-placed display ad on the front page (not targeted) - which looks as though it has been designed for a website, not a TV interface
  • Offers Virgin TiVo - a brand new set-top box, not an upgrade - which features the software from TiVo and an interface unique to Virgin (and is a mix of the two services' capabilities)
  • Version 2 of the Virgin TiVo box is expected by the end of the year (an upgrade) - which will include the new version of Flash (i.e. rich media content)
  • Virgin TiVo has no red button capability (11m people use the BBC red button service and want the function installed, so Virgin is working on it!)
  • Offers backwards (rewind) EPG, which enables a click to play on-demand content
  • Virgin plans to introduce targeted ads soon

Sky

  • No "real" on-demand content
  • Its PVR service launched 10 years ago
  • Only 70% of Sky customers have Sky+
  • Features Sky Anytime - a taster menu, which allows Sky to say it offers VoD content (but only features 30 programmes vs Virgin's 10,000)
  • Doesn't feature a browser - content is sitting on a Sky server (which means there is no coding capability to break out of Sky's walled garden in order to get VoD services such as iPlayer)
  • Sky has no ad service in its system
  • BSkyB is a pay-TV operator - there is no commercial upside for it to include free-to-air content other than pleasing consumers
  • Sky has recently offered extra services such as the Sky Atlantic channel (it doesn't want consumers to turn off Sky for alternative VoD offerings, via their PSB for example, according to Walley)

YouView

  • 1st launch planned in 2009; now it is expected to be released before the Olympics in 2012
  • It is basically a Freeview set top box with open web capabilities (via broadband)

FetchTV

  • A full-function HD PVR Freeview set-top box, which has a web browser function. Walley says it is "a similar proposition to YouView, which got to market a lot earlier"
  • Features banner ads for on-demand films (with intelligence that knows when consumers have seen a film already) - designed to directly monetise VoD content
  • Its own over the top on-demand VoD portal has 1000 hours of TV (and is currently rolling out as an app to connected TVs in the UK and Ireland)
  • Offers Sky Go - via the web and Sky Player (the same content but modified for Fetch), as well as BBC iPlayer

XBox

  • Features Zune - Microsoft's own film product, which Walley calls an "amazing service" (requires an Xbox live account, which costs £4.60 per month - you can pay for films with points)
  • Sky on the XBox accounts for 60% of long-form views - offers live TV and streaming (though not HD or 3D services)
  • Also offers a Party Room and Friends function (to virtually watch and play together), which sits well with gamers and moves into the social TV arena
  • XBox is predominantly for single viewing only

Samsung Smart TV

  • 2011 spec "is the first credible connected TV - it is easy to use and the presentation is very good", Walley says
  • First to give a TV T&Cs optional account via the Samsung website
  • Has a dashboard with a viewer's own media usage
  • Its "interface quality has leapt ahead"
  • It runs promotional advertising (banner ads) eg - for the Star Wars DVD box set, which offers a preview & buy option ("maximising the creative opportunity")

Google TV

  • An extra set-top box (the size of a Freeview box), which plugs in to your current set-top box. An add-on, rather than a complete TV service. Confusing!
  • Keyboard remote control
  • The Google TV homepage appears over your normal interface (browser overlay)
  • Apparently, Google TV has no content aspirations of its own (it is leaving that to YouTube)
  • The service bookmarks websites
  • Offers a search function, which allows you to search for video content across the web
  • When searching for content, the receiving server has to agree to share content with Google, otherwise you see the laptop version on your big screen (big broadcasters do not want to do deals with Google TV)
  • Netflix is building an app especially for Google TV
  • It doesn't offer adaptations for particular devices
  • Version 2 is reportedly in demo now - it claims to be significantly different and significantly better
  • Website designers love Google TV
  • UK launch expected soon

Apple TV

  • Small box that syncs with a user's iTunes account
  • Has its own internet connection
  • "Like an iPod for the TV screen"
  • Offers access to films and film trailers

PlayStation3 (PS3)

  • Sony products all have the same EPG (phones, TV, PS3) - and the new version is on its way
  • It is app-based now (was browser-based)
  • The iPlayer has a unique EPG format for the PS3
  • Offers live TV and Freeview (as an add-on, which turns the PS3 memory into a PVR)

blinkbox

  • Was under the radar in the UK until Tesco bought it - now it is expected to make an impact as it has much greater marketing power

BT Vision

  • Set to launch an app soon

And, did you know...

  • The UK is the only country to distinguish seven day (or 30 day) catch-up with archive content
  • 11 million people in the UK use the red button service
  • There are 27 different versions of the BBC iPlayer
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