Would you compromise on your TV picture?

A project I recently worked on looked at the concept of IPTV and web-enabled TV services. It was a great project that, since it was commissioned and thus proprietary, I sadly can’t go into details on. However the issues involved are fascinating, and pose some difficult questions for companies looking to operate in this space.

Background

Traditionally, TV pictures are transmitted via a designated area of spectrum. There is a finite amount of space that channels can purchase, and then their content is broadcast to anyone within range.

IPTV sees the bottleneck reversed. There is near limitless space to upload content to and then transmit, but the delivery – via broadband pipes – is finite and limited.

The issue

When we watch TV, we expect a certain standard of delivery. And our expectations are pretty high. Unlike computers -with viruses, server downtime and dodgy connections – TVs just work.We have a good, uninterrupted picture, and the hardware shouldn”t fail us.

What constitutes a decent picture on our TV sets is pretty subjective. We all have different standards, and the picture we are used to receiving depends on a couple of factors

  • Method of transmission: Satellite generally broadcasts in higher quality than terrestrial, which is more variable
  • Quality broadcast in: As well as standard definition, we have varying qualities labelled as high definition (I believe 1080p is the benchmark?), while people watching on their computers will be used to lower quality
  • Size of the screen: The bigger the TV screen, the worse the picture (in terms of sharpness) as the same amount of information is stretched over a larger area

The picture you receive becomes a problem if IPTV becomes popular. With more people using their broadband to view TV shows more often, there is a chance that the broadband will reach capacity, and that the transmission will stall or fail.

There is essentially a trade-off between the quality of the picture you receive and the likelihood that the service will fail. The lower the picture resolution, the less data is transmitted and the less chance that capacity is reached at your local broadband exchange.

FYI: In terms of the picture we currently receive; on standard TV it is 2500-3000KB/s (I don’t know the exact number). Online it is generally anything from 500KB/s upwards (though there may be services offering rates below this)

The options

A trade-off isn’t necessarily the right word, because the issue doesn’t rest on an A vs B matter. The situation could be potentially resolved by any of the following:

  • Offering IPTV at a continual lower standard than “regular” TV
  • Offering IPTV at regular definition with viewers accepting transmission may be intermittent
  • Using a technique called adaptive bit rate where the quality of a stream varies according to your broadband speed (though this could result in noticeably poor quality at times)
  • Innovating other areas of delivery, such as viewers having to partially or fully download a programme before watching
  • Forcing other programmes using the internet connection (e.g. online gaming, torrents) offline to give IPTV sole access
  • Restricting access to IPTV only to those that have a certain broadband speed (e.g. 8MB/s)
  • Restricting access to IPTV to a finite number of people on a first-come first-served basis

These all have benefits and drawbacks. But would any be acceptable to the viewing public? These measures run contrary to the trends of hi-definition pictures on massive flatscreen TVs – can IPTV take off?

Largely, it depends on what the IPTV service is. If people are buying a new service on the promise of thousands of channels, then they may be a bit disappointed to find that Youtube XL is still broadcast in grainy quality. But if it is an additional channel or service on an already existing platform (and most platforms have, or are getting, internet connectivity) then they may be more forgiving.

A solution?

What would I choose? I couldn’t stand an intermittent service and I am in favour of everyone having the right to choose. A decent picture is important when watching TV, but if I really want to watch something I will tolerate it (case in point: watching England-Andorra in 500KB/s on ITV.com). So I’d actively choose and use lower, or adaptive, quality.

Would you watch IPTV if it meant having to compromise on what you were seeing on your TV screen?

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31333486@N00/

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Advertisements

Keeping up with catch-up

I don’t own a DTR (it is a heritage from working with Digital UK in the past that I persist with that name, even though most people I speak to use PVR) or DVD Recorder, and my VCR only works when the TV is turned on (it is a combo). I also happen to spend more evenings out than I do at home.

In the past, this made watching TV series difficult. Particularly with the trend towards series narratives rather than standalone episodes (am I correct in thinking that X Files was a major influence on this move?). There would be little point even attempting to watch a series.

I would end up waiting for the DVD. With a show such as Spooks, that was risky. The DVD would come out a fortnight before the new series started on TV. I would be in a race to finish the DVD before the new promo shows were published. “Who’s that person”? “Where has that character gone?”. Very frustrating.

However, that was in the past. I now have online video to catch up.

This means that, for the first time ever, I was able to keep up to date with Spooks. Indeed, I was even home last Monday night and so got to watch the final episode on TV.

And I can also look forward to watching Demons next year without worrying about whether I am home when it is broadcast.

Demons is a new drama series, and this highlights two other benefit of catch-up. Series stacking and wait-and-see.

My prior reliance on DVDs has influenced my viewing behaviour. Particularly with cliffhanger shows such as 24 or Lost, I have to watch several episodes at once.

SIDENOTE: This may be the reason why I didn’t think Series 2 and 3 of Lost were as bad as other people say. Watching 4 or 5 episodes at once dulls the effects of the odd terrible episode.

And given that I am out quite a lot, I have limited time to watch TV shows and am wary in investing in a show that turns out to be terrible.

Catch up gives me time to measure up a show through listening to reactions of critics and views. The iPlayer has enabled full series stacking for some shows (including Spooks) and the 30 day window on ITV.com and 4oD means that I can wait until 4 episodes in to decide if a show is worth watching.

I lose the “watercooler” chat the following day (for the interim period), and some spoilers may be revealed, but this is a trade-off I’m happy to make for some types of programme. Liveblogging and office banter may make Event TV shows like X Factor even more interesting, and to some extent these shows are “VOD proof”. But other shows benefit from their exposure to catch up.

For me, using VOD to catch up on a drama or comedy either that week or that series has actually led to me watching more TV. I may not be the most representative viewer out there, but this isn’t something that should be overlooked.

sk

Image credit: Me (I rent – the curtains aren’t my choice)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Why original video content doesn’t perform as well as TV show webisodes

uglybettyNewteevee have reported that ABC are finding that their original online video content does not perform nearly as well as webisodes of shows such as Ugly Betty.

This isn’t a fair comparison. Ugly Betty is one of the biggest shows on ABC; how does traffic for smaller programmes compare to original web content?

A clear distinction should also be drawn between original content and additional content. Additional content has a clear advantage in having a ready-made audience.

The article concentrates on short-form content. It is worth pointing out that long-form catch-up content behaves differently – Ugly Betty’s catch-up performance may not be as strong. This makes sense as not all shows necessarily have repeat value – if lots of people are viewing it on TV then there will be fewer wanting to watch it online.

Though, Ugly Betty has two characteristics that make it more likely to be viewed in catch-up. The first is demography – younger people are likely to be more active and more in need of a catch-up service. Hence shows targeted at 16-34s will find they have a greater percentage of their total audience viewing after the event. The second is genre. Comedies aren’t as critical to be viewed live as sport or reality content (and personally, I prefer to “series-stack”).

But, ultimately, live viewing has the lure of being able to watch new content immediately, and being able to participate in watercooler chat the other day. This is why we find there is a skew in top shows online compared to top shows on TV – check out these stats for single episodes views from the BBC and ITV. They are quite different to top TV episodes.

Short-form content, on the other hand, is additional content. Viewers of this are therefore going to be very closely tied with programme viewers. Passionate advocates of a programme are going to be those that watch live and those that consume the additional content. Using the Coronation Street example (as I repeatedly do), the viewing figures for alternative versions of a character’s death were huge.

I’ve already posted on how TV and online video are complementary rather than contradictory. But it is worth repeating that web traffic to TV channel websites (at least in the UK) is closely correlated to viewing audiences. Big event shows bring in mass audiences viewing live. In pure scale, there are going to be more advocates who want to consume additional content. But these types of show also have very high levels of engagement. If people are talking about a show, they will want additional content to fuel their chat.

This isn’t meant to do original broadband content a disservice. I am a big fan of made for broadband shows – as this list of twelve web series to check out should indicate. They have many benefits, particularly to brands that can explore ways to interact with consumers in a creative and entertaining manner. This article from Broadcast magazine explores this concept, and includes some of the great research done by the people at Futurescape.

Merely, it is simply to highlight the unfair comparison. People visit the websites of TV channels with specific content in mind – they rarely go to browse. TV programmes have much greater visibility and consumption than web-only shows, and it is only natural that they contribute the majority of traffic

sk

James Murdoch is wrong about the iPlayer

bbc iplayer
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/dantaylor/

At the Marketing Society annual lecture, James Murdoch accused the BBC iPlayer of squashing competition.

I completely disagree with this. The iPlayer is dominant, but it is taking a large slice of an inflated pie. Without the iPlayer, the market would be a lot smaller. No-one was complaining of the other video services using 3-5% of the UK’s Internet traffic beforehand.

The BBC is able to devote greater resources to promoting the iPlayer (£131m over 5 years) than its commercial rivals. Since online video is a game-changing technology, I believe that the BBC is justified in doing this. They have used their money to:

  • Fail. All the coverage of the flash iPlayer overlooks the fact that the p2p service floundered throughout 2007
  • Promote. Barely a trail or continuity goes by without the iPlayer being mentioned – commercial broadcasters have a multitude of commitments battling for space and could not give their online video the same level of coverage
  • Populate. As well as in-house productions, the BBC has been paying for ad-hoc deals to bring in third party content (such as Damages)
  • Reassure. Despite everything that has gone one in the past few years (from Hutton to RDF to Socks), people will still look to the BBC rather than a commercial rival

As for James Murdoch’s assertion that it is crowding out competition, I have had a look at Comscore data and that tells a different picture.

Admittedly, the iPlayer only appeared for the first time in March data, and so currently there is only one month of data to compare to. But over the year so far

  • ITV.com total visits and unique users have held constant
  • 4OD total visits and unique users have risen
  • Sky Anytime unique users has fallen but total visits have risen
  • In March, the iPlayer had the most total visits, though fewer unique users than ITV.com (which is admittedly, the whole website and not just the catch-up area)

Now Comscore stats will never be completely accurate, but it paints an interesting picture and one that is at odds with James Murdoch.

And of course, Project Kangaroo will launch later this year. That will completely alter the shape of the competition. In theory, the iPlayer could back down into a secondary role and allow Kangaroo to dominate the market. But how Kangaroo will sit alongside the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 is unclear, and the lure of the ad-free iPlayer may be too great. Personally, I see Kangaroo – attempting to be the iTunes of online video – becoming the first port of call but Interesting times are certainly ahead.

sk

Online video: Today and tomorrow


Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/blake/

MediaGuardian reports that the BBC iPlayer is seeing significant growth while ITV.com has been left “trailing”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for ITV, nor the other commercial broadcasters. In this situation, a smaller piece of a bigger pie is better than a large piece of a small pie. With new and emerging technology, the major battle is for it to gain traction and acceptance among the mainstream. Fortunately for ITV et al, not only does the BBC have the muscle (and the inclination) to do this, but its unique status means that there will only be limited opportunity for advertising revenues. Once the technology embeds, this leaves it the smaller, commercial rivals to battle it out with the Joosts, babelgums and so on for the cash.

Furthermore, there is a rather large Kangaroo looming on the horizon, and it has yet to be finalised how this is to fit in with these different offerings. At the launch it was announced:

BBC iPlayer content will be listed within the new service, while Channel 4’s website will host a catch-up service which will see 4oD “evolve into the new [Kangaroo] service”.

Channel 4 are suitably vague, while there is no mention of how ITV.com, Five Download (notably absent from the launch) and any other eager player will fit in alongside this service.

Interesting, a quote from the article read:

“Right now, however, the big winner is YouTube, which accounts for over a third of online video viewing, according to comScore,” “This suggests that short-form entertainment may be more appealing to internet audiences.”

Can the iPlayer and the Kangaroo buck this trend, or will it be the clips that drive online video usage. For me, that will be decided by future broadband speeds. My online viewing is rarely planned, and so I prefer to stream low quality clips than plan a high-quality download. If only I lived in Japan.

sk