What ‘Integration’ Means For TV

By Lloyd Mason – November 2011

We’ve been having a long hard think about how increasing interconnectivity of devices in and out of the home wouldn’t improve day to day TV consumption – in summary, we’re drawing blanks.

Connecting the gadgets in your home has never been the most attractive of tasks. It something that should be left to the techies and if you fancied giving it a go, inevitably you’d need the IT department round halfway through to untangle the mess. However, life as we know has changed, and integration is no longer something to shy away from.

Driven initially by the device manufacturers, particularly Sony, Samsung and LG, all our TV related devices – screens, Blu-ray Players and remotes – are starting to talk to one another. What’s more, they’re bringing other pieces of tech into the fold such as PCs, smartphones and tablets.

The key piece of kit which facilitates the ‘talking’ and has been instrumental in the emergence of these systems is the unassuming and often ignored HomeHub (or equivalent home wireless router). By hooking all your devices up to the Hub, ideally using wired connections but increasingly wirelessly too, you enter a brave new world in accessing content.

Agreed ways of working, known as standards, have been outlined between many of the major consumer electronics companies who seek to utilise the power if the home network and connect their devices together to offer a great consumer outcome. The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) are one such set of standards.

So what is this outcome? Simply speaking it is the ability to move and consume content, for our purposes video, anywhere in the home. Anecdotally, you should be able to start watching Avatar in the kitchen whilst washing up on an internet connected TV, continue in the lounge on the main TV which is hooked up to a connected Blu-ray Player, then finish the film off in bed on your laptop or tablet; all without breaking into a sweat or incidentally, the bank.

This is great for consumers, especially if the content they are dealing with is something they’ve paid for (rather than downloaded illegally or been given by auntie Maude) because they need to get as much value out of it as possible. This point is particularly potent in an age where digital rentals and purchases are becoming an increasingly popular method of consumption.

This added value is even more attractive to the pay-TV platforms we have here in the UK, more specifically Sky and Virgin Media. They already have a deep commitment to their paying customers to not only deliver great broadcast TV but also additional functionality such as recording, lot’s of video on demand, a decent level of customer service and provide premium programming such as sports and movies. Allowing their customers to manage and consume this TV in new and exciting ways is a service which only they can offer and combines to justify the Direct Debit exiting their bank accounts each month. This becomes even more essential when low cost subscription services such as LoveFilm and Netflix (UK launch soon) can offer a decent experience for a fraction of the cost.

Platforms have this unique opportunity which broadcasters don’t. The BBC, and it’s sector leading pseudo-platform iPlayer only serve BBC content (as do the other free to air broadcaster players) i.e. They can only aggregate to a limited extent. The other non-platform UK TV aggregators such as blinkbox, YouTube and pre-collapse SeeSaw don’t have the depth of platform-customer interaction or hardware distribution which is needed for comprehensive content ‘ecosystem’.

Virgin Media’s new TiVo box is planning on meeting one request: moving shows from one box to the other. The multi-room plans for the box will allow each installed box to talk over the home network and let users watch their recordings from any box on any other box.

Sky are instead looking to their mobile and tablet apps as the first place to establish multiple-location access to a subscription. Tying up the current Sky MobileTV and SkyPlayer services makes logical sense and the already agreed rights deals for web and mobile have provided a boost the realisation of access on-the-go. The broader title of this initiative is Sky Anywhere with the product now called Sky Go; to support the increased availability of Sky through mobile and the web, the service now includes access to hundreds of wireless hotspots for Sky customers to make a user’s out-of-home experience as reliable as possible. This will be fundamental to the usability, and therefore the success, of the experience.

This is where the current limitations of interconnectivity become evident. Current internet access speeds, particularly from mobile, severely restrict what can be consumed (length and image quality of programmes) and where (only in 3G or WiFi zones). Until widespread coverage of 3G mobile data, accompanied by the appearance and growth of 4G, a decent TV experience will rely on WiFi or be locked inside the home. At the moment innovations such as AirPlay by companies such as Apple have proven the value in such a system; however the “magical” nature is restricted to in-home connectivity, rather than use on the go, which through Apple’s iCloud set-up become decidedly more pedestrian.

With the deliberate intention of sounding like a spoilt brat: I want my TV, and I want it now! Innovations such as DLNA and it’s future siblings should better pounced upon by the platforms. Two of the key boxes are ticked – desirable content and widespread installed hardware it’s just the systems themselves and nationwide mobile connectivity which we are waiting for to make this come alive.

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