The presentations and debates at the recent OTT TV World Summit in London revealed a marked shift away from the previous thinking that envisaged free-to-view, ad-supported consumption as the business model of choice for players in the Internet video space.
Players across the board appear in agreement about the need for simplified and unified user interfaces (UIs) that enable quick and easy access to content across the available range of sources.
A need for simplicity
A fundamental example of facilitating choice through hybrid distribution is the broadcasters’ agenda of providing a seamless mix of linear and on-demand content, a key objective of standards-based initiatives such as YouView and HbbTV. All this points towards the development of integrated offerings (with good navigation, search and discovery capabilities).
Hence some power is put back into the hands of those providing the primary TV service – which at least today are typically the traditional broadcasters and pay-TV operators who tend to have the stronger relationships with premium content owners.
While some used aggressive connected TV sales projections to highlight the large-screen opportunity, others focused on the drawbacks associated with CE vendors’ entry into online video distribution.
NDS, Virgin Media, and YouView all attested to the fragmentation of technology and content availability arising from multi-vendor deployments of connected TVs, while Dailymotion pointed out that engagement levels were two to three times lower on (truly open) connected TVs than on (more closed) IPTV platforms.
Of the growing multitude of available retail OTT devices, none offers a comprehensive or sufficiently compelling alternative to traditional linear broadcast or pay-TV, with most falling short on both quality of experience and content range.
They also tend to sit outside the normal TV guide, rather than being integrated within it (Fetch TV in the UK is a notable exception).
This is where the likes of BSkyB, Virgin Media, YouView (largely via its association with the BBC) and their counterparts outside the UK hold a key advantage. Traditional broadcasters and pay-TV operators have experience of either creating or distributing TV content and enjoy established relationships with consumers. They are well positioned to forge technology and marketing alliances that will enable them to take advantage of the shift towards online distribution and consumption.
Opinions are split about the positioning of TV apps
Several stakeholders showed skepticism about the prospect of integrating interactive online applications with the large-screen viewing experience.
Firstly, there was contention about what kind of on-screen apps might engage consumers – the main issue being around social media interactions. Service providers are attracted to social media apps as a means of viral promotion (via alerts, recommendations, Tweets, etc.) and of holding consumers’ attention in front of the TV.
Yet Amino rightfully reminds us of the problems of trying to marry personal (social media) with shared (large-screen TV) activities, and of some broadcasters’ insistence on preventing their content from being overlaid. One school of thought holds that the main screen should not be cluttered with apps and widgets, their proper place being on TV companion devices (laptops, tablets, or smartphones), which many believe are much better suited to personalized activities.
Platform fragmentation also confuses the emerging app store and widget environments that are finding their way onto connected TVs on set-top boxes, as interactive content and functionality are increasingly determined by competing manufacturers.
Cord cutting still far from becoming an epidemic
The World Summit highlighted a few clearly discernible sentiments regarding the perceived threat OTT poses to the established order of pay-TV.
Google’s much-feared disruption of the entire TV landscape is being played down in light of its failure so far to secure content providers’ cooperation, as well as some stakeholders’ belief that a web-like experience on TV isn’t what people want.
More generally, the viewpoints coming out of the discussions along with evidence from the presenters strongly suggest that, while cord-cutting is a far greater possibility than it was 12 months ago, the entrenchment of the pay-TV and broadcast industries, and their ability to turn the OTT challenge into a competitive advantage, shouldn’t be underestimated.