The merger of the computer and the TV set has long been heralded as an epoch with the same potential for changing life as we know it as the first lunar landings. Bill Gates was banking on its arrival twenty years ago. Unfortunately for Bill, it didn’t come soon enough, now Google is set to be the principal beneficiary of the Connected TV Age.
That Age is starting to dawn, as was ably demonstrated at yesterday’s The Changing Face of TV Advertising seminar, one of a series of ‘Antenna’ Programming Events organised by London’s Decipher agency, specialists in TV technology and its commercial implications.
Decipher’s iBurbia studios hosts an assemblage of hardware to turn even the most early adopting gadget geek green with envy – Samsung’s new SmartHub set, Virgin TiVo, Sky Anytime+ and PS3, all connected to a baffling array of set-top boxes with individual remote controls.
Maybe the technology is still baffling the early adopting consumers of this hardware - of nearly one and a half million of these connected TV devices now in UK homes, we were told that only 20% have actually been connected up to the internet.
The home screens of these sets resemble an Apple iPhone home screen, replete with app buttons for the usual suspects – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, web browsing, VoD services, such as BBC iPlayer, 4oD and LoveFilm.com, and, of course, broadcast TV. The EPG offers the usual listings, together with a carousel of still images that click through to video of movie and TV show trailers. Some of these are commercials, paid for by movie companies trailing their latest cinema release, or retailers of video and audio entertainment.
In truth, the commercial exploitation of this Connected TV world is in its infancy. We are awaiting the much delayed launch of Sky AdSmart, Sky’s targeted TV advertising offer.
Sky we were told already knows a hell of a lot about its users from bought-in consumer data - from general demographic profiles of viewers to detail on who we buy car insurance from and even the ages of our kids. By connecting the web through a broadband pipe to the set-top box, Sky stands to learn a lot more about viewers’ behaviour and purchasing habits. This wealth of knowledge is to be offered via AdSmart to advertisers in the form of a segmentation of Sky’s audience, with the ability to serve different ads to different segments of the audience.
For example, we were told that perhaps five different ads for the first in centre-break of a popular show could be pre-loaded overnight onto your set-top box. A signal sent to the set-top box would then serve one of these ads to your screen based on the segmented profile of your household. By overlaying Barb data, or by allocating different screen interfaces to individual family members (using the remote control to identify who is in the room watching), this profile could be refined down to individual viewer level within the household.
Connected TV sets will also see the return of red button interactivity with much more sophisticated commercial possibilities for advertiser funded programming and extended advertising content, with ‘straight from screen’ e-commerce possibilities. View the Heston Blumenthal recipe ad for Waitrose and then press the button to order the ingredients to be delivered to make the dish at home.
For PVR viewers, there is also the ability to serve different ads, more topical ads perhaps, into your recorded programmes at the time you view them.
There are, of course, problems. Connected TV will only increase the amount of TV viewing that is done outside of the live broadcast, with the potential for ever more skipping through the ad breaks. TV creative will need to adapt to meet the new challenges for viewer engagement. There is currently no standardisation of technical specs for such things as web page displays, EPGs, or ad formats. Sky only intends, at least for now, to offer AdSmart on its own programming – Sky One, Sky Sports etc.
Perhaps most important of all, the planning, buying and scheduling of TV advertising is set to become a whole lot more complicated for advertisers, their agencies and for broadcasters. The greater sophistication in targeting offered may come with too high a burden in extra workload to make it financially viable. Is a broadcaster who carves up their audience into numerous segments and then has to sell the same ad spot many times over to each of these segments going to be compensated by the advertiser? Or will the advertiser expect to pay proportionately less for an ad that only reaches one segment of the audience?
As was pointed out several times in the seminar, the developments in Connected TV are, at present, being driven by technology ‘push’, not consumer ‘pull’. And here lies the greatest challenge, perhaps fatal flaw, in Connected TV. Right now, it is a very clunky technology. For example, navigation around multiple screens, menus, app buttons etc has to be done through the TV remote control. When we are now all used to touchscreens.
Although technologically wowed by the possibilities, I left the seminar somewhat sceptical about Connected TV. I can see it will appeal to group of people who probably already watch a lot of TV through their laptops and who are big VoD consumers and social media users. But for the rest of us, I wonder if the Connected TV will be bypassed in favour of smart tablets that we will use for simultaneous web browsing etc, leaving the big TV screen to do what it does best, enable swift uncomplicated access to broadcast TV programmes/movies in HD quality with zero screen clutter.