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Archive for Media devices and services

The Smart TV “Box Killer” Breaks Out

Hub Research logoA new media milestone appears to have been reached, as the new Entertainment in the Connected Home report [details here] from Hub Entertainment Research shows that US TV households now have an average of one (1.0) smart TV with internet access, enabling streaming directly to the set itself.

In one sense, this milestone technically means little other than smart TVs have become mainstream. But it is a psychological benchmark just like the Dow crossing 20,000 or 25,000.

In a real sense, it compares to other TV-related psychological benchmarks like when the average number of TV sets exceeded the average number of people in the home (around 2003). Or when VCRs (1999*) or DVD players (2011*) reached nearly ubiquity by reaching 90% of TV households.

The Possible Victims

Unlike other TV-related technologies introduced over the past couple of decades, the rise of the connected smart TV isn’t introducing a new box to hook up to a set. It is giving viewers freedom from those boxes. Internet connectivity within a set can potentially remove many boxes…

  • the pay TV STB – if you switch to a vMVPD
  • the DVR – if your vMVPD service offers a cloud DVR
  • the DVD or Blu-ray player – if you rely on OTT or SVOD services to watch movies or catalog TV series
  • the streaming media player (Roku/Fire TV/etc) – this capability will migrate into smart TVs
  • the stereo/amplifier of a home theater system – if you have a set that supports Bluetooth or WiFi transmission of sound to external speakers
  • even the hand-held box of the remote control may become obsolete as more sets gain internet-driven, voice-activated controls

Videogame consoles may have a longer survival due to the greater processing power and memory needed for games, but this box will also become expendable  as cloud gaming prospers, internet speeds increase and lag times lessen.

As we’ve seen for many years, consumers want fewer boxes and fewer wires. Evidence of this is when TiVo’s separate boxes were quickly pushed to the side by pay TV STBs with built-in DVRs. This was despite TiVo’s superior technology and user interface. And also how popular TV combination units (TV sets integrated into a single box with VCRs or with DVD players – or even both!) became in the latter stages of the VCR/DVD product cycles.

The Only Question is Adoption Rate

The trend towards smart TVs isn’t going away. It’s hard to find any TV set for sale now that doesn’t have smart capability as a standard feature. The only question will be how many of these sets will end up being connected to the internet, and how deep viewers will go to activate and use all the box-killer applications available to them. Evidence so far indicates this may take a while.

Disclosure: The author works as a consultant for Hub Research and is project manager for the Entertainment+Tech Tracker research series, of which Entertainment in the Connected Home is one report.
*per The Home Technology Monitor– published by Statistical Research Inc. (1999) and by Knowledge Networks (2011)

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, “The Genius Box”. Details here . 

Brexit Dramedy Streaming Daily

picture with Brexit signpostOne of the benefits of being a consultant and working primarily at home is being able to have some entertainment on in the background. And the past few weeks have been full of drama – and farce – as I’ve followed Brexit coverage from the UK.

Let me step back a second. All of my family (except my brother) are English, so I’ve always been quite an Anglophile and have followed British politics and culture. There was the shock of the Brexit win in a UK referendum in 2016 and the ill-timed general election that cost Theresa May her majority. This has only been exceeded by the current rush to a Brexit deadline without an agreement being approved by Parliament.

The weeks prior to the original “Brexit Day,” this past Friday March 29th, have been filled with fascinating content from the floor of Parliament and political intrigue worthy of a BBC/PBS co-production. Whether a drama or farce is another question altogether.

I bring this up in this column for a number of reasons – the content, the featured players, and the role our contemporary streaming media world played in my ability to watch and listen to each day’s developments.

The Media

Let’s discuss the latter part first. While some Americans have discovered the weekly Prime Minister’s Question time on C-SPAN, broader live coverage of events requires going a little deeper on media’s bench. I found out that I could get a few good sources using a combination of Roku apps and YouTube. This was across a number of different devices – my Roku TV, the Roku box attached to another TV, the YouTube portal that is in my FiOS program guide, and YouTube apps on my phone, tablet, and computer. I was, admittedly, getting a little obsessive about watching!

Sky News streams its live broadcast on YouTube (Brexit or no Brexit) so that is a reliable source of coverage with analysis. Spottier coverage comes from ITV News (mostly they just have a feed from Parliament, sometimes they have a studio feed with analysts) or Channel 4. BBC News, surprisingly, does not stream live video coverage outside the UK (at least that I could *legally* access). But it does have a helpful live blog/Twitter feed on its website.

I even scouted around audio sources like the TuneIn and Radio.com apps. Here I found some free live streams from BBC4, BBC5, and independent radio stations in the UK. Unfortunately, the latter seem to lean towards US-style talk radio so I mostly skipped those.

The bottom line is that I’ve been able to stitch together a pretty decent coverage of events as they’ve transpired across the Atlantic.

The Content

The content I find quite entertaining to watch. After a couple of weeks, I’m now familiar with many of the idiosyncrasies of Parliament. My favorite is when insults are hurled at “the honourable gentleman” or “my right honourable friend,” because using a member’s name is a no-no.

John BercowThe big winner, in my eyes, is the Speaker, John Bercow. Mr. Bercow could easily have a future after all this is over. He could be the UK equivalent of Judge Wapner or Judge Judy. His interjections of “Ooor-dah!” have created a new catch phrase in my house. Other popular Bercow-isms being learned by new viewers are “Division!” (members move to voting lobbies), “Lock!” (the lobbies are locked to record final votes) and “Unlock!” (the votes have been presented and the lobbies can be unlocked). All his expressions end in an exclamation point, by the way.

Aside from Mr. Bercow, we have the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, who continues to try over and over to get her agreement approved despite losing votes each time (three and counting). Most PMs would have been forced to resign by now, but she is like a relentless zombie. Across from her is Jeremy Corbin, leader of the opposition Labour Party. He throws a lot of insults and implements blocking tactics but without really doing much to resolve this critical national issue.

Other characters are the leaders of the smaller parties like the SNP (Scottish National Party) and the DUC (Democratic Unionist Party). The latter enabled May and the Conservatives to form a government after the 2017 election, but they have held May’s Brexit agreement hostage over the way it treats Northern Ireland.

Michael FabricantAnother favorite of mine is member Michael Fabricant, who appears to sport an obvious and somewhat ridiculous Trump-like toupee. Or else, he just has had a very long run of bad hair days.

When Will It End?

At the moment, the way forward for the UK is quite unclear. There could be a last minute agreement; a crash out of the EU with no deal; a lengthy extension; or there could be a reversal of Brexit altogether. There is certain to be a general election before long. And depending on the final terms of a Brexit, the UK itself could be threatened by a vote for Scottish independence to allow it to rejoin the EU.

This “series” will be continuing for quite a long time, no matter what happens. I just hope my internet doesn’t give out in the middle of an important vote.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, “The Genius Box”. Details here . 

Need for Content Fed By Nostalgia Media

Twice in recent weeks, I’ve been in my car when SiriusXM played complete concerts from the 1980s. First it was Bruce Springsteen, then Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. These both caught my notice, so I pulled over and jotted down the concert dates. When I got home, checked my ticket archives. Sure enough, I had been at both concerts.

Since few live recordings ever got released back in the day, I never knew that most big rock bands have been taping all their concerts for decades. And now SiriusXM provides an outlet for those to be shared – and no doubt monetized.

In an odd way, the incredible demand for content in our current media marketplace is pulling out forgotten corners of our past and dusting them off.

Other Blasts from the Past

Also on SiriusXM are weekend runs of Kasey Kasem’s America’s Top 40, as heard on on Channel 7, the 70’s music channel. This weekend was a rebroadcast from February 1977, when I was a junior in high school. Many of those songs were burned into my memory banks – but there were also a few of which I had no recollection despite being top hits.

Aside from music, it seems almost every old TV show has been licensed to show on either a streaming channel or on a digital broadcast diginet. This is a phenomenon I discussed some time ago in a previous post. TV series I never ever thought I’d see again show up somewhere. It takes a lot of content to feed the gaping maw of the OTT monster we’ve created.

Even when it comes to print, there is a market for past content. There are fee-based aggregators of such items as yearbooks and newspapers. Curious what that girl/guy you had a crush on in college actually looked like, since other than their name they’re long forgotten? It’s possible if they’re in a yearbook index. Or, recently, I looked up my father in Newspapers.com – and found they had almost a dozen pages where he placed ads trying to get customers to come in and buy a car (he was a car salesman).

Heading to San Junipero?

Up through the early 1900s, nostalgia was considered a serious mental illness. Today, it’s money in the bank. But to actually hear something from a fleeting moment, like a concert, that I experienced but would never expect to hear again, is both very cool as well as a little unnerving. It’s possible to reconstruct a lot of our media past from the content now available online. I suppose the ultimate nostalgia trip would be that seen in the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror – but we’re some ways from that… I think.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, “The Genius Box”. Details here . 

2019 MIE Conference Summaries

MIE Conference logoAs guest-blogger for the 2019 edition of the Media Insights & Engagement Conference (which is put on by knect365), I wrote up summaries of the keynotes and the break-out sessions I attended. You can find the daily summaries on the knect365 website:

Day 1 of the 2019 MIE conference: Day 1 (Jan 29 2019)
Day 2 of the 2019 MIE conference: Day 2 (Jan 30 2019)
Day 3 of the 2019 MIE conference: Day 3 (Jan 31 2019)

Also, read my three pre-conference posts here:

2019’s New SVOD Services: Blitzkrieg or War of Attrition?

Connected TVs: Corporate Connections as Important as Internet Connections

Does AVOD News Reveal a New Phase of SVOD?

 

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, “The Genius Box”. Details here . 

Does AVOD News Reveal a New Phase of SVOD?

My third post as a guest-blogger for the 2019 edition of the Media Insights & Engagement Conference (which is put on by knect365) asks if the recent flurry of AVOD news shows a new phase of SVOD.

“Hot on the heels of Nielsen’s announcement that its Total Ad Ratings product now includes OTT and mobile viewing comes NBC Universal’s announcement that it will be launching a new ad-supported OTT (AVOD) service in 2020. Other reports cover entry into the AVOD market of Amazon’s IMDb Freedive and Sinclair Broadcasting’s STIRR. On top of all this, Viacom acquired Pluto TV. What’s causing this mini-land rush on AVOD?”
Read the rest of the post at the knect365 website here.


MIE Conference logo
Attend the MIE conference, January 29-31 in Los Angeles to hear industry thought leaders on this topic and many others. Details about the conference can be found here.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, The Genius Box. Details here . 

Smart TVs: Corporate Connections as Important as Internet Connections

My second post as a guest-blogger for the upcoming 2019 edition of the Media Insights & Engagement Conference (which is put on by knect365) discusses the choices CE manufacturers have to make to ally their smart TV sets with third-party smart home hubs.

“Last week, the news about connected TV sets came fast and furious as the annual CES got underway. And the connections in the news aren’t so much about streaming to the set, although that’s the byproduct. It’s about the corporate connections between TV set manufacturers and smart systems.”
Read the rest of the post at the knect365 website here.


MIE Conference logo
Attend the MIE conference, January 29-31 in Los Angeles to hear industry thought leaders on this topic and many others. Details about the conference can be found here.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, The Genius Box. Details here . 

2019’s New SVOD Services: Blitzkrieg or War of Attrition?

I’m guest-blogging again for the upcoming 2019 edition of the Media Insights & Engagement Conference. My first post deals with legacy media giants finally jumping into the deep end of the OTT/SVOD pool in 2019.

“The last year of the Twenty-Teens will finally see the emergence of the legacy media’s competitors to Netflix. Coming out in 2019, they will be ready to do battle in the early Twenty-Twenties for America’s audience. Whether this will be a come-from-behind victory, or just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, should be clear relatively quickly.”
Read the rest of the post here.

 

MIE Conference logo
Attend the MIE conference, January 29-31 in Los Angeles to hear industry thought leaders on this topic and many others. Details for the conference can be found here.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Don’t miss future posts by signing up for email notifications here .  
– Read my new book about TV, The Genius Box. Details here . 

Will Comcast Set Us Free From STBs?

Comcast Xfinity logoIn what should be a surprise to no one, Comcast is pushing forward to eliminate its set-top boxes (STBs) in homes with connected TVs. The surprise is that it’s taken this long.

For pay TV companies like Comcast, this is a no brainer. From a systems development perspective, these companies have been held back by the multitude of STBs they have to manage that are of different ages, models, and manufacturers. In a real sense, their innovations could only be as good as the worst box to which they still had to design.

For consumers, this is a welcome step in the right direction. As I’ve noted a number of times over the years, viewers prefer to reduce their boxes and have those services as downstream towards their sets as possible – preferably built into the set. This is why TiVo’s separate boxes lost out to less-capable DVRs built right into pay TV STBs. Or in the VCR and DVD era,  combo TV sets had those devices built right in. Or why today Roku and FireTV software are consolidated into sets.

For a number of years, pay TV providers have offered a STB work-around through their mobile apps. I often use my FiOS app on a tablet to search, set my DVR, or change channels. But unlike my old Comcast Xfinity app, it doesn’t allow me to initiate a VOD program on my TV set (yes, I’m one of the few who frequently uses VOD). This is a big drawback as it means I still have to struggle with my remote and the clunky STB interface.

The Revenue Hole

This evolution towards a totally app-based interface is welcome to both sides. It can only improve the user experience. But the interesting question is how will pay TV services make up the loss of rental fees for their boxes and the remotes. This is not an insignificant number considering the average pay TV home having about three sets. That’s roughly $25-30 a month that will be lost to a pay TV provider when a home goes connected. I suspect an “app convenience fee” or something is in our future, as the price of the replacement of our STBs.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Get notifications of new posts – sign up at right or at bottom of this page.

From Replay to Roku

There were a couple of interesting stories in the past week on Roku and its CEO, Anthony Wood.

The first, published by MediaPost, discussed Anthony Wood’s history in ReplayTV and then Roku. I had not realized that the same person was behind both devices. Talk about having a good eye for the future! replayTV logoReplayTV, as some may remember, was TiVo’s main competitor when DVRs hit the market in 1999. Similar to the BetaMax versus VHS debate when VCRs emerged, ReplayTV was generally seen as superior to TiVo. But like the BetaMax, it quickly fell to the wayside. Of course, TiVo was never a big hit either – most consumers got DVRs packaged within their pay-TV set-top boxes – but it has managed to survive by licensing its software and leveraging its viewer data.

Roku

Wood then launched Roku in 2002. It has been far more successful than Roku logoReplayTV, leading the market in streaming video boxes even as tech giants Apple (Apple TV), Google (Chromecast), and Amazon (Fire TV) each entered the market. But like the DVR, the drawback of streaming boxes is that the value is in the software, not the physical box. One factor is that the margins on manufacturing boxes quickly drop as physical product is commoditized by multiple entrants. The other is that consumers prefer to reduce set-top boxes and move features as downstream as possible, preferably into the TV set itself.

The second article, from The Verge, discusses the ways Roku is trying to broaden its base away from relying on sales of their boxes and sticks. Wood admits that device sales do not cover Roku’s cost of doing business. These newer revenue streams include licensing their software to TV manufacturers to build directly into sets, selling advertising that is delivered to viewers of the various channels available through Roku, and the build-out of their own, ad-supported Roku Channel. More of a head-scratcher is their recent entry into the wireless speaker space – presumably a low-margin, crowded market.

I’ll Have What He’s Having

Wood’s track record certainly shows he’s had his crystal ball tuned to the right channel for two major TV developments in the past 20 years – DVRs and streaming. It behooves us all to see what he thinks is next – even if his business plans don’t always keep pace with his technology innovations.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Get notifications of new posts – sign up at right or at bottom of this page.

Netflix muzzles viewer reaction to their algorithms

Netflix logoAn interesting thing happened on the way to Netflix’s world video dominance, driven by their inscrutable algorithms. The opinions of actual viewers have been tuned down or out by Netflix.

A year ago, their viewer rating system was neutered with a switch from a five-point rating scale to a simple thumbs up/thumbs down. This change was explained away as a way to improve user experience. But it may have had more to do with avoiding middling ratings for Netflix originals when viewers compared potential viewing choices. A less discrete measure evens things up.

This neutering is furthered this year by the closing of the viewer comment section on Netflix. Doubtless this is somewhat driven by the troll mentality found anywhere online comments are allowed. But it also means that Netflix users cannot now comment on their content – or see previous comments. This again could influence viewer choice and decisions.

Netflix may trying to deal with the reality that a firehose of content isn’t going to generate hit after hit, even with high-level data analytics. By reducing the context of a viewing decision, they can improve the chances of their less-successful originals to be picked.

Batting .350 Is a Success in TV, Too

Of course, there has always been the argument that if there was some way to analytically improve creative development, wouldn’t broadcast and cable networks have figured out some way in the past to improve their pipeline? In the 2009 through 2015 broadcast seasons, an average of 64% of new scripted broadcast programs were not renewed. And that “failure” proportion would be even higher if cancelled pilots and non-renewals after a second season are included. An improvement of even ten percentage points would have huge impact on networks – and still, half of programs would fail. But no secret formula – star, logline, or format – seemed to consistently explain success or failure.

There is no doubt that Netflix’s algorithms can identify many viewer segments to target. Data can help with green-lighting and marketing new series. But the bug in the machine is that television is a creative medium – and data crunching can’t help bad writing, directing, or casting. As Netflix seems to be heading towards premium pricing, the least they can do is let their viewers keep their say.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
Get notifications of new posts – sign up at right or at bottom of this page.