Can Push VOD be the New Pull VOD?

Here’s a question I discussed at dinner in IBC last week.  If you could start a new TV business today how would you do it.  If your choice was to either  start a VOD based business or to launch a PVR based business, which would you choose?  When we discussed this in Amsterdam, the question was laced with a key assumption. This was that memory innovation will occur quicker than network innovation – i.e. hard drives will get bigger at a quicker rate than networks will increase in size and coverage. Meaning that push VOD, which  uses a PVR’s recording capability to create an on-demand outcome, could benefit from technology innovation faster that pull VOD will.  It it not unreasonable to imagine a generation of PVRs coming with 2-3 TB of memory and 5-10 tuners.

In their Anytime+ service we can already see how BSkyB use push-VOD to mitigate network deficiencies to deliver HD content on-demand.   The mechanism is invisible to consumers who are presented with screens offering the available shows.  We make the assumption that this is done with the agreement of the broadcasters concerned.  However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.  As PVR memory sizes increase, and metadata becomes further integrated into TV systems, it may even  be possible for the platforms to configure a form of push-VOD which remove the need for any kind of on-demand agreements with the free-to-air broadcasters. They can do this by offering two things: a huge variety of new recording options and new, graphically rich, presentation techniques for the recorded shows.

Recording Options

The key here will be offering the consumer new functionality by which they can ‘self—create’ an on-demand outcome.    A PVR from one of the major pay platforms already includes innovations such as ‘green button’ prompts to record a show, and ‘series links’ to record whole series.  Further recording innovations could include:

  • ‘Record all key shows’ from the major channels. The platform could then make an editorial decision about which shows it includes.
  • Record ‘More Like This’ to allow genre based batch recordings
  • Record by artist or director … or
  • Group Record – where a channel is running a theme through its schedule.

Many of these features are already appearing on next generation PVRs like Virgin Tivo.

Presentation Techniques
Until the arrival of Virgin Tivo, PVRs presented their output as dry lists of programme titles.  The on-screen presentation of these lists could be very dull compared to interfaces like TV iPlayer.   If we also assume that thes hypothetical new PVRs would be broadband connected and contain web-like rich media interfaces, it would  be a reasonably simple matter to include new options to:

  • Present recordings by ‘channel’ – so that each channel’s recorded output could be presented on a branded page, in date order, by A-Z or by genre
  • Include rich graphics and browse functions within recorded areas making them look more like VOD players
  • Include rich metadata on recorded shows (in fact this is already available on the Virgin Tivo box)
  • Include social media recommendations areas.

All of these innovations are within reach of the next iteration of STB manufacturers and pay platform systems, who are currently struggling to put together deals to include the FTA broadcasters on-demand output in their services.  By creating self-served push-VOD areas for all the major channels would not have to match the depth or functionality of the FTA online players to succeed. They would have to be just good enough to stop consumers wanting to visit them.

If presented correctly by the platforms, the activity described above would have to be treated as recording activity by the consumer. While a broadcast channel could prevent use of its logos on the channel pages, the only way that it could prevent this broader ‘recording’ activity would be to remove its channel from the platform completely. It would no longer be possible to be half-in and half-out of a pay platform’s system.

Not having to do VOD deals to offer on-demand outcomes must be an attractive proposition for anyone looking for a more simple life in today’s complex TV industry.

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