Guest post by Navin Natoewal, General Manager, Philips uWand
The TV industry is going through a period of intense change, driven by the growth of video on demand and over-the-top services. At NAB earlier this month, YouTube’s Francisco Varela predicted that linear TV’s days are numbered and users will be seamlessly switching between mobile devices and the living room TV to watch video content by 2020. But this is clearly dependent on the TV user experience catching up. While mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are certainly up to the challenge, the jury’s out on whether the current range of smart TVs and operator set-top boxes can meet this expectation.
The problem with Francisco’s prediction is the way that consumers currently access the shows they want to watch. No longer tied to their TVs for accessing the latest content or live broadcasting, many are choosing to watch video exclusively using mobile devices instead, and it’s easy to see why. The user experience that’s been developed for the mobile platform is seen to be simpler to use, offers a wide variety of choice, and provides a solution to one of the current biggest drawbacks for TV – the fact that it’s difficult to navigate. Despite the promise of a ‘lean back’ and better quality viewing experience through the TV, many consumers are still opting for smaller screen devices that are seen to offer a more flexible and intuitive user experience. As it currently stands, viewers could be watching everything on mobile by 2020.
However, this is soon expected to change. While it goes without saying that viewers will naturally gravitate towards the platform that’s easiest to use, which most commonly means a smartphone or tablet, these smaller devices do not offer the same ‘big screen’ or shared family viewing experience that viewers have come to expect when watching video content. Now that operators have begun to realise this, they are looking to move their service offering to the cloud. Rather than providing customers with a powerful and expensive set-top box, operators are looking to create far simpler ‘thin client’ platforms that can be supported by a cloud server on the backend.
This is partly a move to tackle the lack of conformity found in today’s TV sets and set-top boxes. Standardisation has been the TV industry’s Achilles’ heel for some time, but it’s slowly being addressed through the cloud which is opening up the TV platform to app developers in much the same way as Android and iOS for mobile. A cloud-based service platform can provide a much needed boost to operators and TV manufacturers, giving them the tools they need to grow their ecosystem and attract new developers to provide a wider range of services. With the cloud it’s no longer necessary to tailor content delivery to meet specific hardware requirements. New services can also be rolled out to the consumer at no extra cost, and without the need for additional hardware. By providing greater flexibility that entices developers to the TV platform the industry can make its content services and ecosystem much more attractive, enticing users back to TV.
While operators won’t be able to prevent customers from watching content on the move with other devices, cloud-based services will help operators to better mould how their subscribers engage with content while in the home. It’s well recognised that consumers are looking for a platform that delivers a mobile-like experience but on a bigger screen, with an experience suited for 10ft interfaces. As operators move to cloud-based operating systems, they are now in a position to provide this – with the potential to make YouTube’s predictions a reality.
The only challenge remaining, then, is to make these new platforms easier to navigate. As operators move to the cloud, all the TV services they currently offer will be there for consumers to access as well as new ones, but a better remote control will be needed to make full use of them. Some manufacturers have started to introduce pointing technologies for controlling TV, but they are far from intuitive. The move to the cloud has the potential to change the landscape of the living room for good, in line with YouTube’s predictions. But first operators need to partner with specialist providers that can bring a touchscreen-like experience to the TV. After all, content discovery and control is still one of the largest issues faced by consumers today.
As the introduction of touch screen control is what revolutionised the mobile platform in the first place, the TV user experience will only change if someone takes the first step and makes it more intuitive by introducing a better remote control. This is the key to driving increased user engagement through the TV platform and the time to act is now, before consumers start watching everything through a mobile device. It is good to see that Mr. Varela is putting effort into getting the experience right.