June 19, 2012
The Future Of TV: The Battle For The Digital Living Room
By J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D., MobileTrax LLC
Two recent developments got me thinking about the future of television: 1) the approval of Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility and 2) Motorola Mobility’s announcement of DreamGallery (a platform for the management of the distribution of TV and other video content in what Motorola calls the world of the networked DVR [nDVR]), suggesting that personal DVRs should move to the cloud.
We are about to enter an era where a walled garden around TV distribution and consumption is going to come crashing down. Many TV shows are now available through the Internet, and we can use DVRs to skip over commercials, the lifeblood of revenue for cable operators. But through this process, everyone stands to win – content creators, networks, cable companies and operators alike – as well as (most important) consumers.
For the past 60+ years, television has been created, distributed and consumed in one way: content creators worked with networks who worked with cable operators who installed lines and set top boxes in homes so that people could watch hundreds of channels for a monthly fee – all within a walled garden. If you wanted TV, you purchased a monthly subscription from a cable or satellite operator (e.g., Comcast, Cox or Time Warner).
With the advent of the DVR, the creation and distribution process remained the same, but the content was stored so it could be watched at a time convenient to the consumer. The consumer also has the ability to pause, fast forward and rewind through the recorded show (including forwarding through commercial breaks), thus reducing the value of commercials to the advertiser.
But now, we have a growing library of video content available over the Internet. Places like Netflix, Hulu, M?vio and Pandora provide excellent video and music distribution via streaming over the Internet.
What’s needed is a way for Internet content to be discovered and organized so that we can easily find and play it. In other words, we need a new-generation electronic service guide (ESG) that can span the channels and Internet content from both operators and the Internet, so that you can have one user experience in which to find content. Comcast offers pieces of this vision today.
I feel there’s also a need to find and play previously recorded broadcast shows to solve the problem of accessing a show that was broadcast in the past week or two. You can do that today for some network shows via the iTunes store (for a reasonable price), but it’s really only a small portion of all television that’s broadcast.
We should be able to store the shows and content in the cloud or, perhaps more succinctly, keep them in the cloud but have the ability to stream them to one of our four classes of devices (TV, phone, tablet or PC) whenever we’d like.
We should be able to purchase content (at whatever the market will bear) and keep it locally in the storage inside or attached to the set-top box. We should be able to use our smartphones and
tablets and computers to search, find, review and record content.
DreamGallery is a good example of what I call Intelligent Media Management – a class of new video-management software and services that will facilitate being able to have a single-user experience to find video content and make it available to us.
Identifying video content from 500+ cable channels as well as video and music content located throughout the Internet in one unified user experience is very challenging, but the result would allow consumers to find what they want, discover things they might like (but didn’t know about) and enjoy, whether it be on a large flat-panel TV, a computer, smartphone or tablet – all brought to you on your nDVR – available anywhere on any device.
It also seems obvious that we’ll eventually end up doing away with running cables through the walls of our homes to “media outlets” in various rooms. Advanced Wi-Fi (802.11ac and 802.11ad) will enable full HD streaming to screens located in different rooms in the home from the media server sitting in the closet and attached to a wireless router.
The Google Plan
That brings us to Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which has everyone focused on smartphones. But, Motorola Mobility is one of the largest manufacturers of set-top boxes for cable-TV companies. And, they recently announced DreamGallery – a software platform to integrate cable content with content found through the Internet – and to deliver it in one unified user experience all through a nDVR.
Now, think for a minute what Google is likely to do with DreamGallery. First, they convert it to operate as part of Android. Next, they open up access to DreamGallery to be not just for cable and satellite operators but for all ISPs. This doesn’t mean that operators are shut out in some over-the-top (OTT) manner. Rather, operators become ISPs to the home, providing not only their licensed content to 500+ channels but, also, Internet access to millions of sources of video content distributed throughout the Internet and content provided through such third-party providers such as Netflix, Hulu, M?vio, Pandora, YouTube, Spotify, iTunes and Amazon.
We’ll still pay $150 per month, but we’ll now have access to more content (which could be overwhelming), and we’ll have a user experience through software that will make searching, identifying, discovering and enjoying content easier than ever before.
What does this say about the future of traditional TV commercials that pay for much of the original TV and video content if every user can eliminate them like spam is filtered out in the email stream? I believe we’ll see advertisers re-focus their efforts on integrating their messages inside the content of the shows, not simply as product placements but also integrating them into the plot of the show. Ford has done a great job at this with “American Idol,” producing a music video featuring “Idol”’s participants all using a Ford product. It’s professionally produced and entertaining. It’s become a positive addition to the show, not a diversion to be skipped over.
And what does this say about the future of TiVo with the introduction of this new Intelligent Media Management software? TiVo brought us a great user experience for viewing video. It’s not so good at finding video content because of their focus on using a remote control to spell out letters painfully using an on-screen keypad. But if you go to TiVo.com, you can search for shows just like you use Google or Bing to search for something. That’s the foundation on which DreamGallery is created – it’s based on the user having the ability to more easily find video content. DreamGallery does not focus as much on the playing content as TiVo does so well.
What About TiVo?
Like many of you, I love the TiVo user experience. It’s simply the best user experience of any video content provider out there. But in this new world of the digital living room and content provided through the cloud, TiVo has to go upstream and offer integrated hardware, software and, perhaps, video content – all provided by their own nDRV. In essence, they would become a virtual operator that would require significant additional capital or they have to expand their software to be able to provide easier cloud-based access to both TV and Internet-based programming. They, also, have to get aggressive to license their software to all cable and Internet suppliers so it’s resident in their systems when it arrives from the operator. If they don’t do this, then the likes of Motorola DreamGallery will “eat their lunch” with a superior offering.
For example, Comcast announced an alliance with TiVo a few years back that was going to enable anyone to load TiVo software on their Comcast DVR, but it has only been offered in a limited number of cities, like Boston. They should have rolled that out nationwide a long time ago. Perhaps Apple or Microsoft will acquire TiVo and make it the centerpiece of their digital-living-room initiatives.
No matter how you look at it, we’re in for some gigantic changes in the way television is delivered to and managed in the home. We’re in for some major announcements by major players. I am confident that, within 10 years (and likely much less), the vision outlined here will become a reality. All of us will be able to easily find and enjoy rich media (video, TV, movies and music) that we can either stream or purchase and enjoy on any device, whether it’s a 60-in. flat-panel display in the family room or on one of our mobile devices. It won’t be free, but it will be easier to manage than it is today.
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D. is principal analyst/Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This piece is reposted with his permission.