TV at the crossroads | PDD

TV at the crossroads


on July 24 2013

I recently saw an interesting tongue-in-cheek statistic in the Wired Magazine (March 2013) commenting on what people look for in a TV; 4% wanted improved features like gigantic screens and ultra-high 4k resolution, whilst the remanding 96% wanted the ability to find what to watch, when they want to. Is this highlighting a disconnect between manufactures and users? Are the 72 inch ultra-sharp screens now sitting with the six bladed razors and the 24 megapixel compact cameras in the quest for features over utility?

So this got me thinking on just how do we watch ‘TV’ these days? Certainly not in 3D for a start.

4k televisions, for example, offer magnificent resolution and the ability to scale TV’s to the size of walls without losing fidelity, but as HBO’s former technology officer BoB Zitter commented earlier this year. “Only 25-30% of homes, even in the US, have space for a TV large enough for viewers to discern a difference between regular HD and 4k“. A salient point and probably why the companies making these TV’s talk about commercial applications, such as bars, where the screen can easily be divided into quadrants for airing sports simultaneously. Hard to see huge benefits over current banks of TV’s that might warrant the expense. Similarly there are concepts for 8K, curved and even mist based screens with similar esoteric advantages.

Samsung’s hefty 85 inch S9 TV. Image credit: Featured image credit: PDD


So who is thinking about the people at home? Samsung are introducing televisions with the ability to display two different shows, full screen, at the same time. The only catch is you have to wear special glasses with built-in headphones to view one programme and block the other. Not an ideal solution considering the single screen is no longer commanding all our attention these days.
So how are we getting our ‘TV’ fix? I imagine it will be of no great surprise to any of us, that according to the Sandvine Internet Phenomena Report, 40% of peek internet traffic in Europe is streaming TV and films. We are migrating in increasing numbers to ‘consuming’ our screen based entertainment on any and all devices we own; be that a phone, tablet, laptop, PC, projector or any number of ‘screens’ dotted throughout our homes.
This multi-device ownership also leads to other interesting habits. ‘Double screening’ is now the norm with owners of connected devices regularly using their smartphones and tablets whilst watching television. According to figures from Nielsen, almost 50% of us are networking, searching or looking up more info on what we are viewing whilst in front of the ‘Gogglebox’. It appears that this multifaceted consumption of information is changing the hierarchy of the viewing experience. People I know are watching shows on TV just to add the context to the twitter feed they’re following. TV has become a spectator sport; a cue for conversations across social media.
Manufactures are not slow in recognising this content led future. Smart TV’s are delivering an experience similar to our phones, with an emphasis on internet based interactive media and similar app based interactions. Samsung, the largest maker of smart TV’s, recently purchased Boxee, a product which lets you record shows onto its servers and stream them to your devices from The Cloud. A sure move to improve user experience across connected devices and enter the content provider space.

As we subscribe to more and more online entertainment services we see a convergence of companies to this competitive internet media market. The obvious leader in the UK is the BBC iplayer. This pioneering service is going from strength to strength, with the BBC reporting at the beginning of the year that audiences in 2012 spent 34% more time watching in iplayer. It’s become so ubiquitous ‘iplayer’ is now the generic term for any online TV streaming. In this cases it’s a TV network, as content creator and curator, ensuring their potential audience is maximised with easy access on any screen based device.

iPlayer device platforms. Image credit: BBC


There are also the digital distributors who are moving into producing their own original content. Netflix, for example have just garnered their first Emmy nominations. It does not stop there. The ubiquitous supermarket giant Tesco’s bought Blinkbox in 2011, a web based video on demand service, to boost its digital entertainment offer. This is before I have even mentioned the big players like Google with YouTube and the much talked about and elusive Apple iTV which may yet successfully tie together product, content and service. No easy feat it would seem otherwise it would already exist.
With the current almost limitless digital content and entertainment services, coupled with the migration to on-demand viewing preference, the inches and pixels should be falling by the way side to answer the real needs of finding ‘what I want to watch, when I want to watch it’.