Forbes hosted a panel discussion at the National Association of Broadcasters Conference on April 15, 2008. Participating companies included Alcatel-Lucent, Microsoft Mediaroom, Forrester Research, and IP Prime
The Microsoft Mediaroom TV platform is enabling service providers like AT&T and British Telecom to offer exciting new TV experiences through a software-based application environment that is giving more than 1,000 developers new tools to redefine the way we watch television in our homes.
“The power of software is twofold — it’s adaptable and improves over time to deliver richer and more meaningful experiences, and it also enables third parties to get involved and introduce creative new elements,” says Christine Heckart of Microsoft Mediaroom. “The technology is now here to enable some very exciting new TV experiences in the near future.”
At this summer’s NXTcomm08 conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft will show how Mediaroom could bring real-time features of NASCAR.COM to the TV. While watching Sprint Cup Series races on TNT, fans could have the ability to choose between several different live in-car cameras, live pit crew-to-driver audio and access information relevant to the race, all while watching the main broadcast.
Unfortunately, if you ask viewers in a survey if they want this advanced interactivity, they will claim little interest in the most advanced television features. We at Forrester believe that consumers are not capable of anticipating their interest in these features because until they see them in action, they won’t know how satisfying they are. We’ve seen this before with online shopping in the late 1990s and DVRs in the early 2000s. It will happen again with interactive TV features in the next three to five years if TV service providers and vendors conspire effectively. We recommend that providers do the following:
Give the TV a home page. For now, much of the interactivity — and most of the user configuration required — will have to be merchandised effectively by placing it in the user’s path. The only problem is that the TV experience has no defined paths: sets and set-top boxes automatically tune into the last channel viewed when turned on. Borrow the home page concept from the Web and offer an obvious and compelling pad from which advanced interactivity — and simple viewing — can both easily be launched. TV service providers beware: Manufacturers are hot on this trail. HP’s newest Media-Smart TV features a home page that integrates TV, access to personal media and Internet-delivered movies.
Provide interactivity that is channel- or show-specific. Just as the DISH Network and HSN are working to integrate shopping and viewing into the same channel, NDS reports that when its partners offer branded games directly from the shows that the games are based on, game play rates are much higher than when the same games are offered on a dedicated interactive gaming channel. For example, Discovery Kids in the U.K. found that by programming games to coincide with specific shows, anywhere from 20% to 50% of viewers also played while they watched.
Leverage the PC in the next room. Respondents we survey give personalized TV recommendations a lukewarm reception, possibly because they can’t imagine how this could work in a TV environment, where the pain of entering preferences can stop just about anything interesting from gaining momentum. Borrow a page from TiVo and Amazon.com Unbox’s combined playbook, and let customers rate movies and indicate genre preferences on your customer service Web site. There, people can use a mouse and keyboard to do in minutes what would take half an hour on the TV screen.
This strategy of seduction by incremental interactivity makes sense for consumers whose behaviors are ripe and ready to be coaxed further, but it also makes sense for operators who can’t afford to go whole hog because they are already deep into their capital expenditure budgets to handle new set-top boxes and video-on-demand upgrades. While we wait for this steamy relationship to build to a boil, however, media strategists and the advertisers that fund them don’t have to wait for advanced interactivity to hit the TV to learn how to exploit it. They will use the Internet as their proving ground, eagerly eyeing IPTV’s ramp-up, excited to port the lessons learned from the Web to the TV.
Forbes hosted a panel discussion about the new and compelling opportunities made possible by the two-way connectivity of IPTV. The Business of IPTV: How Targetability Will Change the TV Game was held at this year’s NAB Show.
• John Giere, CMO, Alcatel-Lucent
• Joe Seidel, Director of Worldwide Partner Development, Microsoft Mediaroom
• William F. Squadron, President, IP-PRIME (a division of SES AMERICOM)
• James McQuivey, Ph.D., Vice President and Principal Analyst, Forrester Research, and panel moderator
Television has come a long way since RCA introduced America’s first TV set at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.
Back then, no one could have predicted television’s impact on the way we live.
In a 1939 editorial, the New York Times concluded, “TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen — the average American family hasn’t time for it.”
Fast-forward to today. According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than four hours of TV each day. In a 65-year life, that person will have spent nine years watching TV.
As consumers, we’ve benefited greatly from the significant advances that enhance our enjoyment of television. Digital cable and satellite have given us more programming choices. Digital video recording (DVR) and video on demand (VOD) give us more control over when and what we watch. And HDTV gives this content lifelike picture and sound.
Nevertheless, television has not kept pace with other forms of communication and entertainment that have been significantly enhanced by Internet technology. The television has remained an unconnected device, much like the computer before the proliferation of the Internet.
For the better part of a century, the images on our TV screens have been chosen for us and broadcast into our homes on a one-way basis. This is beginning to change now, and Microsoft is playing a leading role in the transformation.
The Microsoft Mediaroom Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) and multimedia software platform, an Internet-based subscription TV service offered by telecommunication companies like AT&T, makes the TV a fully connected device by linking it to a two-way, broadband network. Today, Mediaroom is enabling telecommunications operators to provide consumers with next-generation TV experiences, including standard- and high-definition live TV channels, advanced VOD and DVR, and several connected TV experiences that link your TV with other gadgets, including PCs and the Xbox 360 game console. Microsoft’s vision for TV is to allow consumers to experience rich entertainment content on any device, anytime, anywhere, and Mediaroom is a centerpiece of this strategy.
“Microsoft is committed to making the TV a first-class citizen in the digital age,” says Enrique Rodriguez, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Connected TV business group. “Mediaroom drives the very best pay TV service available today, and the technology is still in its nascent stage. Mediaroom represents a great opportunity for service and content providers, advertisers, technology providers and especially consumers.”
Mediaroom now powers the TV services of over 20 leading telecommunications providers, including AT&T in the U.S., Deutsche Telekom in Germany, British Telecom (BT) in the U.K. and Reliance Communications in India. Fourteen of these service providers have already launched commercial services, most in the last two years. Microsoft’s Mediaroom is already delivering connected TV services to about 2 million screens around the world.
One of the key connected TV scenarios Microsoft Mediaroom is enabling today is Xbox 360 with Microsoft Mediaroom, which takes connected entertainment to the next level by integrating Microsoft Mediaroom and the Xbox 360 game console.
“We have a solid foundation,” says Microsoft’s Rodriguez. “Our plan is to take this a step further and increase the rate of innovation with new services and scenarios. This is a very exciting time to be in the TV and entertainment industries. The future of television is just around the corner, and it promises to offer consumers much better experiences than what they’ve been accustomed to.”