Saturday, December 29, 2007

Battle for your TV

So I've been wondering who'll be weighing in for the battle for our TVs. There are certainly some interesting prospects on the market at the minute, but I who will win and does there even need to be a winner? This feels different to a format war reminiscent of VHS vs Betamax or more recently (and on-going) HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray. It's more akin to the cable vs satellite vs freeview vs top-up-TV wars we've seen recently.

Both the cable and satellite offerings have pay-per-view content, while freeview generally doesn't. All of these offerings have recording options, although generally with cable or satellite you would have to use the operators set up box, with freeview you are free to choose from a variety of products, some with hard drives for recording.

Two more recent entries on the market are worth looking at further though. BT and Microsoft. BT have released Vision, which is a freeview recorder with pay-per-view capabilities. It looks as if BT have taken two interesting features from the above and merged them before the others had a chance. Get free digital channels, the ability to record programs and the option to purchase movies, TV shows and sporting events all without a contract and monthly fee.

So far so good, apart from the fact with BT Vision, as the content is delivered over the IP network it means you have to have a minimum broadband speed to cope with the streaming, and the way to do that is to have BT broadband. As a side note, to have BT broadband you need a BT land line, sorry all those who switched to cable.

It seems like a lot of competition, but let's not forget the software companies attempts. Well, I call them software companies, but if you have an Xbox 360 or Apple TV then that's hardware really isn't it?

Now in the UK you can download standard definition or high definition pay per view content. Its movies and TV shows at the minute with no sporting content signed up, but who knows what the future might bring. We've been able to download TV content from iTunes for a while now (well not really in the UK) and let's not forget the muted Amazon Unbox.

We're crossing into interesting territory now. With cable and satellite operators you need a billing relationship (and all that implies, i.e. address etc). With BT, you also need that, but have to buy into their other products. With iTunes, xBox 360 Live and Amazon Unbox you pay for what you use when you use it (or use pre-pay credits) and use them where ever you are signed in to the relevant hardware or software to view your content.

Are we living in a world where we increasingly don't need or want bundles? With mobile broadband from providers like 3, and wireless city meshes potentially driving out needing a cable run into your home for land line phone services and broadband, where digital TV is free and pay-per-view content available through a variety of sources be they games consoles, set top boxes or just over the web do consumers want to be tied into contracts and services they can only use in one place?


tstevens said...

Robbie, you're concentrating on distribution channels, and without one mention of P2P or CDNs

Checkout what Bram and the BitTorrent folk are up to

Amazon want Telcos to help them build a CDN, or at least, that's what Doc sees

Then of course there are inevitable plays to put storage in operator-connected network devices

And other more OTT type solutions like wuala

Apple are bound to do more here too, you can now rent movies through iTunes.

Not to mention YouTube with High Quality on the way, and Joost, and other startups.

Looks to me like the thing to do is to get as close as possible to the customer, to the point of sale, and work out how to migrate from a centralised distribution model to a sharded, P2P model without disrupting user experience. Whoever can pull together the right P2P distribution model, where traffic stays in ISP subnets as much as possible (and better, the same telephone exchange area) will win the distribution game, with verym very low margins. The competition is on for the customer experience. Stay as close as possible to the money.

Robbie said...

Thanks Tim,

I was focusing in on the living room experience, what will we actually have in the living room in the near future? Will it be customised computers running Windows Media Centre, Apple Front Row or some other computing running a similar application? Will it be what we've always thought of as traditionally a games console such as the xBox 360 or PS3 which can now also play HD content and stream movies? Will it be a box given away by ISPs like BT Vision with a freeview recorder and on-demand content? Does it have to be only one? And how, if on the move can I take advantage of that content?

With my techie hat on, it's quite exciting to think about the prospect of super P2P nodes at the exchange and online content in HD, but it has to be easy enough for my mum to use it =)

tstevens said...

if OLPC had an S-VHS port...

DE said...

I was surprised to be told how much it costs to broadcast via Freeview. But channels like E4 and Film4 nevertheless chose to move over from pay per view.

I can appreciate now thats its a very good consumer solution: you can pick up a box at Tescos, you can extend it via top-up, it has state run and private content side by side. Note that the +1 channels use abundance to reduce the need for PVR.

I think Playstation and consoles will continue to play games, because the social meta data and experience of say Youtube doesn't quite fit the console model. (And thats how I see non broadcast media going - pushed through social media. )

Its hard for Sony to come off the formula that a console is there to sell Big Games at Xmas. Whether off the shelf or downloaded. I think anything else is foreign. I can't help thinking that while Valve use Steam to push episodic releases of Half Life, it hasn't quite worked. In fact it underlined the relative success of Halo 3. Thats what the consumer wants still.

Slingbox is the missing piece to see your content while on the move.

jayfresh said...

In the light of the recent news you picked up on, this discussion looks even more visionary. ;)