Connected TV offers a dizzying array of new services. But how easy is it for the consumer to make sense of getting access to content, especially when many did not ask for it?
Here ’s a riddle for you. When is a connected TV not a connected TV? The answer, strangely enough, is most of the time.
UK research published this month by Kantar Media found that, although one in six of the people surveyed owned a Connected TV, just 40 per cent of them had bothered to connect it to the internet.
Almost a third of Kantar’s guinea pigs said they didn’t know how to connect their TV or lacked the right equipment, such as an adaptor. And 13 per cent were unsure of the potential cost (conditioned, presumably, by the idea that anything worth having on TV these days can’t be free).
A complex business
Technophobes have certainly found things a chore. “Families have been spending a lot more time together around the TV – not necessarily to watch programmes but to set it up!” says Philip Ely, a visiting researcher at the University of Surrey’s digital world research centre, who studies families’ approach to home technology.
“People have so many home gadgets they’re reluctant to have to configure another one, and connected TV makes too many assumptions about what infrastructure people have in their homes,” he says.
Even those consumers who have taken the plunge and connected their TVs aren’t necessarily cock-a-hoop about the experience, says Kantar Media director Trevor Vagg. Not only do they find it clunky, they also think it’s unreliable: internet users may accept the occasional delay or glitch, but TV viewers expect perfection.
On a practical level, things are improving. The latest connected TV sets are easier to set up and connect – especially with the advent of wireless home networks – and feature more “natural” interfaces, including voice control, motion control and even face recognition. As the connected TV industry matures, technology is becoming faster, more reliable and more standardised.
Not compelling enough
However, the most common reasons for non-connection discovered by Kantar Media are more fundamental. More than half (53 per cent) said they simply “hadn’t needed” to get connected.
“The main reason connected TV is so unappealing is that the TV is competing for experience and attention against the tablet, smartphone, console and laptop in the living room,” says Mo Syed, head of user experience at interactive media specialist Amplience.
“Until the connected aspect of TV can provide something compelling in the face of that competition, consumers will largely ignore it and pick up the device they spend countless hours using already.”
For Bob Hannent, an R&D manager at set-top box manufacturer Humax, the “critical mass driver” will be catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer. Next year we can expect to see catch-up services integrated into the electronic programme guide (EPG) so that we can easily find and watch items we’ve missed, Hannent believes. “The more access points people have to discover content, the more they’ll use connected services,” he says.
The watchwords will be relevance and simplicity. “Even the most complete geek sometimes just wants to veg out and not save to work to find something to watch,” says Bill Scott, chief operating and commercial officer at connected TV specialist easeltv.
“We think a combination of editorial, algorithmic (recommendations based on previous consumption) and community- driven (what are my friends or other people like me watching?) suggestions will offer a relevant, personalised experience,” he says. “Delivered as a ‘channel’ which starts by playing something that may be relevant and allows consumers to easily skip to the next suggestion or to navigate if they want to, this supplements the EPG and could eventually replace it.”
The latest connected TVs can already share viewing recommendations with users based on their viewing habits, says Stephen Mitchell, general manager for TV marketing at set-maker Samsung UK.
The second screen
Social media will be an important part of the mix, adds Ely, with apps like Zeebox able to tell groups of friends what the others are watching. Zeebox runs on the viewer’s laptop, tablet or phone, and the general feeling is that that’s where apps like that belong. Barely a quarter (24 per cent) of Kantar’s connected TV users had ever used an app on their TVs.
What the internet can do is enhance the viewing experience. This is already happening today through what’s called the “second screen” model, where we tap a laptop, tablet or phone while watching the TV.
By creating a direct link between the TV and the personal device, you enhance the power of both, believes Simon Woodward, CEO of digital TV specialist ANT Software. “Tablets and TVs will be joined up, so the tablet will be able to control the TV and be used as a real second screen for the TV,” he says.
If you have a burning desire to read more about the actor you’re watching or discover what the background music is, instead of disturbing the rest of the family by bringing it up on the TV screen, you’ll be able to look it up on your iPad. And if you nip out to the kitchen to make a cuppa, the tablet will let you take the TV programme with you.
To get the best out of connected TV, it looks as though viewers will need more technology in their homes, not less.
Paul Bray has written about almost every topic from business and technology to travel, education and food and drink, for many publications including The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Britain’s Top Employers, Computing, Director and Nasdaq International.