Guest post by Elisabetta Romano, Head of TV & Media, Ericsson
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016 wrapped up just a few weeks ago, offering time and distance to look back and reflect on this year’s show and the trends which distinguished CES 2016 from years past.
From 4K technology, virtual reality to cloud-based TV services, TV and media have become a big component at the show over the last few years. This year, companies from all around the world exhibited further advancements of TV and media services. Drones continued to dominate overhead, capturing action packed videos from all angles. There were more affordable 4K TVs on display, highlighting how we are one step closer to a future filled with even more beautiful images. Outside the Oculus (Facebook), Sony and Samsung booths, people queued up for two hours to get glimpses of the next-generation virtual reality headsets and supporting technologies. If there’s one thing that all these technologies indicated, it’s that consumers now expect their viewing experiences to be transformative. Viewers want their favourite content, whether it’s personal videos of a ski trip or the latest episode of Game of Thrones, to be accessible across all screens in the highest quality. The TV of the future will be about providing a truly immersive experience, and taking viewers on a joy ride that makes them feel social yet individualized.
The trend has been building for some time and is apparent in Ericsson’s own industry research. The 2015 Ericsson ConsumerLab TV and Media Report reveals that over 50 percent of consumers state that they watch streamed on-demand video content at least once a day. This figure is up from 30 percent in 2010, while almost half show high interest in services that offer an integrated experience, together with the ability to view content on any device.
However, many of the elements needed to offer the immersive TV experiences consumers crave are still not fully integrated into easy-to-access TV services. To create a first-class user experience is to allow the consumer to get the content they want, on the device they prefer with the level of personalisation that suits their individual needs. And crucially, within a business model that they are willing to pay for that retains their loyalty.
At CES 2016, Ericsson created an Immersive Experience Zone which showcased how personalisation, recommendation and interactivity can work together seamlessly to deliver the television viewing experiences consumers desire. Visitors were shown our next-generation cloud TV platform Ericsson MediaFirst. From customized profiles and tailored recommendations to advanced search capabilities, visitors were treated to enhanced viewing experiences that parallel Web services such as Facebook and Amazon, where continuous real-time updates keep the service on the cutting edge of technology and no two profiles are the same.
Ericsson also exhibited 4K and high-dynamic range (HDR) technologies, another critical component of creating an immersive, high-quality viewing experience. And realizing the potential for TV to transition beyond flat screens, Ericsson took the viewing experience even farther into the future, displaying a virtual reality demo of MediaFirst which imagined how the TV experience could exist in a virtual reality 3D world.
For operators and content owners striving to deliver the best of traditional pay-TV and over-the-top content with a consistent user experience and seamless navigation across all devices, adopting cloud technology can help integrate all types of content across live, video on-demand, time-shift and OTT. These same cloud platforms through personal device recognition can also dynamically customize the experience and deliver more engagement from consumers that crave simplicity.
However, the immersive TV experience goes beyond just new levels of intelligence and connectivity exhibited by services and devices. CES also highlighted a shift in direction for TV quality, which is a vital part of the immersive TV experience. Although every major TV vendor is now offering multiple UHD and 4K models, with more launched (including 8K!) at the show, picture quality is only part of the experience. What CES has shown is the content owner desire to deliver more UHD content and crucially, more operators offering full UHD services (especially multi-network operators) that see UHD as a way of differentiating and protecting their broadband offerings.
Higher definition images are a critical element in adding to the immersive nature of content along with High Dynamic Range (HDR), which provides higher contrast levels than conventional TV systems, delivering greater sharpness with more details in dark and bright areas. HDR is complemented by Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) which allows a more realistic viewing experience by expanding the colour palette to include more colours in the visible spectrum.
As evident from demonstrations at CES, this combination of technologies – often called HDR+ – will be a significant transition across both OTT and broadcast TV services. The immersion is further enhanced by innovative audio technologies that deliver a surround field to create the feeling of sound sources in a full sphere around the listener.
With the next TV and broadcasting show NAB just around the corner, broadcasters, OTT providers and content owners are clearly aware that meeting the expectations of the modern consumer is going to require a coherent strategy. All the components needed to build the type of offerings which the smart and increasingly mobile viewer desire will marry elements from the cloud, analytics, recommendation and content aggregation. The rise of disruptive internet companies like Netflix, Google and Amazon has been in part enabled by their ability to develop innovative insights into the consumer and provide agile, easy to use services. Service providers must learn from this and build truly immersive offerings that engage and hold the loyalty of the consumer. For the TV and media companies that get this strategy right, the reward will be a loyal and profitable customer business relationship, and the recognition of being a technology leader in the Networked Society.