If you want to give yourself a headache, try and do what I did recently. A friend was house-sitting so I thought I’d helpfully write some notes about how to use our TV. A decade ago the process would have been so straightforward as to be unnecessary: “Switch on and press button 1 for, er, BBC1”.
Now it involves juggling, in sequence, up to four separate remotes (for the TV, the set-top box, the soundbar, and the Fire TV stick) and that’s excluding the Blu-ray player or the Xbox or the Nintendo Switch that are also connected to the TV.
If I had a PhD in computer science, I could spend a week happily programming a single device to replace my current Megatron-like cluster of remotes (as famously depicted in cult comedy Peep Show, pictured above). In time, maybe I will be comfortable shouting instructions at my TV. But for now, the experience of finding content on my TV – even content I actively want to see – is a pretty poor one. Most industries these days pay lip service to the notion that they are customer-centric. TV has some way to go before it fits that description.
An increasingly complicated and messy TV ecosystem is not just an inconvenience for most viewers. It is a threat to the incumbent broadcasters, whose content is harder than ever to find. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the multiple variations involved in accessing services you know you want (let alone stuff you might enjoy but don’t know about). You want to watch iPlayer or All4? On my TV there are multiple different ways of doing that, none of them straightforward.
As on-demand’s share of viewing continues to grow, every broadcaster now has an app that allows viewers to catch up on shows they missed. But that means viewers need five or more separate apps just to access programming from the core channels. Each has its own interface and menu. And changing between them is much more difficult than changing between linear broadcast channels.
No wonder, then, that broadcasters are increasingly working together to create new unified delivery platforms. Conscious of the shift towards on-demand content and spooked by the popularity of global players like Netflix and Amazon, local broadcasters are putting aside traditional rivalries to create shared distribution platforms that will make it simpler for viewers to access their content in a convenient way.
Some such collaborations, such as Freeview Play in the UK or tivùon in Italy, are well established, and already offer features such as a backwards EPG, allowing you to access on-demand content – as well as linear channels – from the main EPG. LOVEStv – a joint HbbTV-based platform created by RTVE, Atresmedia and Mediaset, launched in Spain in November last year. Other joint ventures, such as Salto in France (between TF1, France Televisions and M6), and the German partnership between ProSiebenSat.1 and Eurosport, have been announced but are yet to launch.
In the UK, as elsewhere, the way we access channels and programmes is evolving rapidly. While the traditional EPG is still the default option for many viewers, new players and technologies are looking to guide our TV experience. Connected TV manufacturers such as Samsung are promoting their own homepages, with a tailored menu combining on-demand content from catch-up services, linear channels and videos from YouTube, among others. Amazon Prime offers – via its Fire TV stick – another model for content aggregation (and a ready way to pay for it), while Apple and Google are looking to grow their presence in the TV world too.
The traditional pay-TV providers, in response, are evolving their services to better reflect these new expectations. The latest set-top boxes, notably Sky Q, deliver on-screen recommendations that combine linear channels with on-demand content from Netflix and others, as well as the traditional EPG. And broadcasters are also responding: The BBC, for example, is developing a strategy that will put iPlayer at the centre of its future proposition, with a much deeper catalogue of content.
Ultimately, the future of TV will belong to those products and services that can best anticipate and meet consumers’ needs. That may sound uncontroversial, but for some broadcasters and service providers, it will require a sea change in the way they do business. While technology is still a barrier to delivering a genuinely consumer-centred TV experience, the bigger obstacles that remain are arguably commercial and cultural.
Looking beyond the current complexities, however, the future of TV – delivering personalised curated streams combining the best live and on-demand content from a range of sources – is starting to emerge. Now where did I leave my remotes?
If you’d like to know more about ScreenThink, which tracks awareness, usage and importance of advanced TV features among UK viewers, don’t hesitate to get in touch.