There were many interesting exhibits, presentations and panel sessions at the 6th annual TVNEXT conference, held October 10-11th in Santa Clara, CA. Some that stood out and were particularly enlightening to this author:
- Rise of the NexGen TV Operator (impact of cloud-based services, over-the-top content delivery, multi-screen entertainment, virtual MVPDs and migration to all-IP networks)
- Anyone can be a digital broadcaster (and distribute what used to be called “closed circuit TV” to a geographically dispersed audience)
- When will TV be everywhere (on tablets, notebooks, smart phones, other gadgets)?
- TV 3.0: OTT Content & Service Delivery at Home and On-The-Go
- Video Delivery with Quality of Experience (QoE)
- Voice Activated Universal Interface (for TV navigation, search, and program selection)
- Second Screen Strategies and Apps (how they complement TV viewing & can be used as a remote device for enhanced TV control)
Due to time and space constraints, this article will focus on Second Screen Apps by reviewing selected presentations. Depending on reader interest (via comments and/or emails to the author), other areas may be covered in forthcoming articles. Have a look at the TVNEXT conference agenda by clicking here
1. Second Screen Strategies: Content is Still King, by David Jones, Executive Vice President of Marketing – Shazam
Key points made by Mr. Jones:
- Mobile devices will be the platform for interactive TV: already at scale, inherently portable, we’re trained to multi-task, no fighting over the remote.
- The Shazam app provides a blend of rich mobile, optimized content and social features.
- Shazam was the official second screen partner of NBC at the Olympics this past summer. Viewers were able to access video highlights, athletes bios, results, medal counts, featured music.
- Shazam for TV was said to be the leading TV companion app. Shazam has partnered with 10 TV networks, including the big four in the U.S.
- Value to networks and creators of TV shows: facilitate new sponsorship opportunities and drive revenues.
- Value to advertisers: empower consumers to engage beyond a 30-second or 1 minute advertising spots.
2. TV Everywhere for Everyone: Custom Subscriber Packages, by Marty Roberts, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing – thePlatform
This presentation examined the technology and business underpinnings that take advantage of growing content libraries to provide operators with the flexibility to create custom subscription packages–to add value, upsell, or promote their services across devices, whilst ensuring business policies and financial obligations remain intact.Here were the key issues delineated for second screen apps:
- Using second screen apps to complement the linear viewing experience is a great idea.
- One of the challenges that programmers will face is addressing metadata and complementary content at the production level.
- Metadata needs to be addressed from a time-based perspective.
- Metadata and content discovery solutions must be able to simplify the end-user experience, in the face of rapidly expanding content libraries.
In summary, the digital media landscape holds lots of opportunity, but it’s also becoming far more complex. There are an ever-growing number of devices, more sophisticated syndication models, more complicated business policies, and new forms of presentation, HTML5 (universal) players versus native apps (with embedded browsers).
3. Enhance the TV Viewing Experience with Second Screen Apps, by Lee Culver, Assistant Vice President, Video Development – AT&T U-Verse
Key points made by Mr. Culver:
- Industry trends make second screen devices and apps extremely relevent. There are many second screen devices (mostly smartphones & tablets) in the living room, those devices are constantly in use (seldom turned off), device usage impacts TV viewing behavior.
- 65-70% of mobile device owners use them while watching TV at least several times a week. Source: Nielsen, Q1 2011 Source: Nielsen, Feb 2012 Mobile Insights; Pew Internet & Mobile Device Report.
- There are lots of challenges and opportunities with second screen apps for Service Providers, Content Providers, Mobile App Developers, and Consumers.
- For consumers, there are new multi-screen interactive experiences. In most cases, wireless devices provide a better interface to control the TV (as remote controls and on-screen navigation/search continue to be quite primitive, according to this author).
- Complementary TV apps provide additional information about the show, e.g. bio of actors, related shows and viewing times.
- Social TV apps simplify the process of sharing what viewers are watching with friends; poll the audience and comment (such interaction is largely absent from pay TV offerings from Comcast/Xfinity and AT&T’s U-Verse, according to this author).
- Discovery and Control apps provide easy to use interfaces for searching content, getting recommendations, and controlling the TV (The author wonders why these features require a second screen/mobile device? Why aren’t they offered via the remote control and set top box that comes with the pay TV service?).
- Entertainment apps allow music, photos, or video to be easily viewed on the TV (this capability for user-owned, non-TV content can’t easily be provided by a set top box/remote control device).
- Gaming apps create integrated experiences using both the TV and mobile device screens (but these are no substitute for a stand alone game console like Microsoft’s XBox)
AT&T introduced a “U-verse Enabled Platform” for second screen devices in January 2012 at the CES. AT&T’s U-Verse Developer program is open to all 3rd party developers. The primary functions are:
- Mobile device pairing with U-Verse TV receiver/set top box (this requires a configuration procedure that’s done over the home WiFi network)
- Send remote commands, e.g. fast forward, rewind to DVR; change channel to IPTV set top box
- U-verse receiver status and notification of change
- Playback of compatible media on the TV screen
More information is at: http://developer.att.com/uverse
During the Q and A during and after the session, Mr Culver said, “AT&T is committed to working with 3rd party developers. We will also be developing our own apps (for U-Verse TV).”
Lee acknowledged that AT&T has to clearly specify how to pair a second screen device with U-Verse Residential Gateway/Set Top Box- both for developers and consumers. The procedure for that pairing takes place over the home WiFi network. It results in the second screen device being able to control the TV screen and viewing experience (via WiFi and NOT an IR interface like the remote control has).
This U-Verse developer program is currently restricted to mobile devices (iPhones and IPads) that run on Apple’s iOS. The apps are downloaded from the Apple on-line app store. More information for iOS developers is at:
No plans to support Android devices have been announced by AT&T.
TVNEXT certainly offered a lot of lot of great content. Please comment on subjects you’re interested in and I’ll try to reply.
Some second screen apps will permit viewers to interact with programs they’re watching. For example, if you’re watching a TV series and a key plot point from a prior episode is mentioned — one you might have missed — you could pull up text on your second screen (smartphone, e-reader or tablet) to get an explanation of the story developments. You could also get thumbnails of prior episodes and see how popular they were with viewers. Might even be able to see which episode’s your Facebook friends liked or watched and submit a program review. Such interactive experiences were promised years ago, but are largely absent in the U.S. pay TV industry. Second screen apps could make TV interactivity a “must have.” We think that has a lot of potential and power.
With respect to second screen apps for discovery and control of TV viewing/DVRs, we wonder why those capabilities aren’t provided by the set top box (STB) via a software download from the Pay TV Service Provider? This is especially a puzzle for AT&T’s U-Verse TV, which is a relatively new offering with very software intensive STBs that process the IPTV formatted real time video, on demand and DVR stored programs. In this case, we think all you really should need is a the remote control device that’s included in the TV service you’re paying for each month. But of course, second screen discovery and control apps would let you do a lot more than what you can do now with the buttons on your dedicated remote control device.
As a U-Verse customer, I am astonished at how difficult it is to use on screen navigation and search to find programs of interest, particulary sporting events and movies. But that is the subject of an entirely different article on pay TV customer experiences, that I’ve been researching for the past few months.
After this article was published, AT&T Corporate Communications wrote me about a second screen app that’s available now for remote control of U-Verse TV. It looks very interesting!
AT&T U-verse Easy Remote app, an iOS app that allows you to control your U-verse TV with voice commands or gesture movements via your iPhone or iPad.
“AT&T U-verse is the first major TV provider to allow customers to use voice remote control capabilities. The app was built with a commitment to universal design and is optimized to give all users access to features to control your TV, including:
- Multiple screen color, button and font size choices which let you customize your iPhone or iPad screen for a better viewing experience.
- A voice initiated remote control to perform a variety of commands, including Channel Up, Channel Down, Fast Forward, Rewind, Replay, Pause, Play, Record and Go to channel (name or number).
- A voice command feature that lets you choose a show you want to watch by simply saying the show title or channel number into your device.
- iPhone’s VoiceOver screen reader, enabling you to hear TV show and channel information as you scroll through your programming guide.
- Gesture commands, which allows you to control shows you’re viewing with different gesture movements.
- One-touch access to closed captioning.”
AT&T May Buildout U-Verse to Remote/Underserved Areas; 7M U-Verse subscribers to get OTT content & Second Screen Apps!