The recent Smart TV Summit in San Francisco centered on two big themes: the evolution of the user interface and monetizing smart-TV infrastructure. On the one hand, developers are trying to figure out how to simplify the TV interface and access to hundreds or perhaps thousands of channels or content sources. On the other, it is not clear how to make hay with an enhanced TV experience.

Jeremy Toeman, founder of Dijit Media, pointed out that there never has been a time when technology and TV have moved together so quickly, such that no two people have similar TV experiences any more.

One of the challenges has been that watching TV has become more work when it comes to going through so many episodes and options to find something to watch. But Toeman believes TV, and thus the 10-foot user interface, is about escape.

He noted, “From a consumer mindset, we are putting all of this technology into the house and not necessarily doing something better than turning the TV on and changing the channel. How many takes of these do we need before we understand that TV as a UI concept is fundamentally broken?”

One evolutionary step has been to enhance the TV experience by adding support for special content viewed through such second screens smartphones or tablet computers. For example,  “Game of Thrones” has created a second-screen app that allows users to explore the places and characters during the show in more detail. Toeman stressed the importance of looking at the possibility of new features as part of an ecosystem for creating amazing experiences for users.

And according to Sheau Ng, head of technology R&D at NBCUniversal, “Science is easy, story is hard. It took us awhile to create a story for one screen, but we finally have done a good job. Going forward, using multiple screens, it will not just be about broadcasting to them.”

What Are CPE Vendors Doing?

TV manufacturers also are starting to take the simplified TV interface seriously. Wendell Wenjen, director of LG Electronics’ Innovation Development Group, noted, “We have been very focused on improving the user interface and the user experience, and each generation of TVs has gotten better. For the 2012 mode, our remote has been simplified to eight buttons rather than the dozen in the past; and we now have motion control, which allows pointing capabilities.”

A key concern is whether adding all of this technology to the TV for more precise user targeting can translate into greater advertising value. NBCU’s Ng pointed out that better technologies for correlating what users are watching is a key for monetization.

“We need to aggregate and meaningfully analyze it, and audience analytics are a key element,” he added. “Today, this data is in multiple silos, with TV measurement in one place and clickable metrics in another. With the convergence of smart TV, we are seeing at least the possibility of mapping them together.”

Stefan Maris, Civolution’s senior product-marketing manager, commented that the big value in automated content recognition (ACR)  is in gathering granular user statistics that could be used as part of targeted profiles in ads or to improve programming. ACR technology allows a TV or a second-screen device automatically to identify what the TV is watching for analytics or to cue up content on the second-screen device.

But mainstream programmers are not so bullish on the prospects of highly targeted advertising. Sherry Brennan, senior vice president at Fox Networks, said, “There is a saying that 50 percent of ad dollars are wasted. Even with more granular targeting , 50 percent is still wasted; we just don’t know which. People spending the most money are selling mass products like Coca Cola. I am skeptical as to the value of granular targeting for most products.”

— George Lawton

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