Sky Anytime rebrands as Sky Player

18 05 2008

Proving that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, U.K. satcaster BSkyB has rebranded its online video service Sky Player, in a nod to the success of the Beeb’s iPlayer. New features include live streaming of its six own-brand TV channels, as well as progressive downloads allowing immediate playback of downloaded content.

The re-vamped service, which launched in 2006 as Sky by Broadband and claims to be the first U.K. mass market TV download service, also gets tweaked navigation and some personalisation.

Sky’s mobile TV service will shortly get the Sky Player makeover too, while its Sky+ push VOD DVR service, available to 2.7 million Sky homes, will retain the Anytime brand.

Targeted TV ads ‘three years away’

30 10 2007

When Abe Peled, the brains behind News Corp.-owned set-top box software and conditional access specialist NDS, speaks some of us sit up and take note.

In an interview with the Financial Time, Peled claims that technology which allows advertisers to target viewers according to their viewing habits is about three to five years off deployment on pay TV platforms. As he’s in the business of selling such solutions, it’s no surprise that he’s beginning to talk up their potential. From a man who’s driven much of the technical innovation underlying some of the world’s most successful pay TV platforms, he probably knows what he’s talking about.

For anyone interested in how this is playing out so far, head over to Israel, the report states, which Jerusalem-based NDS is using as a test bed for next gen STBs, just as it did with the Sky platform in the U.K. for 1st gen interactive TV and DVR rollout.

On a related note, could it be mere coincidence that on the same day this interview appeared, Virgin Media, the cable platform arch-rivals of Sky, chose to release the news that it is to offer targeted advertising from next year. But wait for it, the killer quote, by self admission from the company’s content division CEO Malcolm Wall: “There is an issue of measurement. TV is very measured, but for VoD it isn’t there right now.” The technology isn’t there, or Virgin Media hasn’t yet committed to implementing it? Go figure…

Bumper results for Sony, but will it turn around PS3?

26 10 2007

Sony has rebounded from its earlier lacklustre performance to post second quarter profits of ¥73.7 billion ($641 million), fuelled by strong gains in its movie and consumer electronics units.

But what of prospects for its next gen games console, the PlayStation 3?

So far, just 5.6 million units sold worldwide, with the company likely to miss its current financial year target of 11 million units. Plus the double whammy of outperformance by Nintendo’s Wii and just a handful of games titles published. Revenues in Sony’s games division were up 43% at $2.12 billion, however, losses doubled to $841 million.

It’s widely documented that Sony loses money on every console shipped, so even with the $100 price cut for the U.S. version and a lower-priced entry level model for European prospects, all hinges on must-have games being released by the major publishers.

Sony is also getting its ducks in a row when it comes to attracting consumers beyond the hardcore gamers it knows will snap up the consoles, with or without hitting sweeter price points. A new version of the device which morphs the PS3 into a broader home entertainment proposition, combining a TV receiver and DVR, goes on sale in Europe early next year. The company is also ramping up investment in Home, its virtual world which adds everything from community features, through to opportunities for upselling its other entertainment franchises; due to emerge from its beta chrysalis during 2008.

While attractive pricing is an obvious weakness of the PS3, Nintendo’s gamble of producing a lower-specification console which retails for a significantly lower cost has proved astute. Critically, the Wii has cut through to the women’s market, not the traditional preserve of hardcore gamers.

Evidence is emerging that PS3 may be starting to buck the downward trend, with the latest sales figures for European markets showing stronger sales than Xbox 360. There remains, however, a huge gap to close on the best selling Wii.

As disappointing as PS3 sales have proved to date – and in spite of CFO Nobuyuki Oneda’s confirmation that the year one sales target is unlikely to be met – The Street obviously believes overall group performance to be in rude health, with company shares closing up 6% on the day.

Philips brings us the DVR which “knows what we like”

4 09 2007

Spin back to the early 2000’s and the TiVo service was a true revelation in broadcasting. Finally, with the ushering in of a DVR which a) let you self-select the TV you want to watch, when you want to watch it; b) allowed you to skip the boring bits (commercials); and c) re-ignited your enthusiasm for what the medium was capable of delivering. Well, a killer combination.

But then there was TiVo personalisation, the so-called intelligent agent, which anyone with any sense switched off, which also, helpfully, suggested other programmes which migt tickle our pickle.

Forget Amazon-style “Others who bought this, also liked this” type of approach, bring on random selections of content based on: a) deeply flawed content genre associations; b) stuff which you not only wouldn’t like, but absolutely hate. Epitomised, ultimately, not that the sentence preceding this should be linked, to the Wall Street Journal‘s now-infamous 2002 headline: If TiVo Thinks You Are Gay, Here’s How to Set it Straight.

A ‘revelation’ in personal TV has been promised since the early noughties, yet nobody has yet come up with an agorithm capable on delivering against the promise.

But hang on, today, consumer electronics supremos Philips say they can…

So techies: here’s the challenge: before you disappear back into your dens to improve all of our lives, consider this — personalisation technology has to deliver against consumer expectation at least 99% of the time or greater, unless you’re content with ending up in the graveyard of inventions that weren’t meant to be.

I switched my TiVO recommendations off years ago, because they aren’t capable of delivering a true reward. Nor is keyword or favourite actor / director-based criteria. For every film or programme which truly delivers, I get 100s more which don’t.

TV is an emotional connection, start there and build. In the meantime, I look forward to Philips bring me the brave new world of stripping Dutch housewives (which might be fun, if in traditional costume), but otherwise, not figuring within my already trash-enriched vieqwing diet.

TV viewing in continued decline — IBM consumer research

23 08 2007

The internet is severely eroding TV viewing time, claims a consumer survey released yesterday by the IBM Institute for Business Value. But while consumers are spending increasing amounts of time online, their viewing behaviours may be shifting to the web or mobile devices.

The 38-question internet survey of around 2,400 consumers around the world, almost half of which were aged 18 to 34, found that:

  • 81% said they’d watched video via the internet
  • 19% were spending six or more hours of personal time per day on the internet, v. 9% reporting equivalent time in front of the TV
  • A quarter of U.S. respondents said they owned a DVR and watched recorded programmes at least half of the time; though a third claimed they are watching more TV as a result of having a DVR. But in spite of DVRs, Australians prefer to watch 75% of TV live.
  • Nearly a third of U.K. respondents who watched mobile TV reduced their viewing via a traditional TV set as a result
  • Australians are the world’s greatest contributors to social networks, trailed by the U.S. and U.K.

Video interviews of consumer attitudes reflected by the survey can be found here:

Wired has today [23 Aug] followed up with a great interview with IBM’s Bill Battino, communications sector managing partner for IBM Global Business Services, in particular points on how the coming bandwidth crunch will be managed:

Wired News: If most TV moves to the Internet, do you think the infrastructure/pipes can handle such increased data traffic?

Battino: The question is when, not if. Delivering all but the most basic digital content services over networks that were originally designed for voice communications and Web browsing is challenging, and telecom, cable and satellite operators will, in all likelihood, have to upgrade their networks to compete. Even with higher compression technology like MPEG-4, delivering HDTV, multi-room TV and the like, as well as voice, gaming, Internet surfing and other communication services means that every home must have a bandwidth of 20 megabits or more.

As demand for high-definition television (HDTV), real-time video on demand (VoD) and other next-generation services increases, we are heading toward a bandwidth crunch in many countries with the possible exception of parts of south-east Asia including Singapore and Korea, where 95 -100 percent of households can obtain very high speed access. To deliver bandwidth-intensive content services and the experience consumers demand, telcos and distributors will have to make major investments in upgrading their networks. We anticipate that the investments going into IPTV through Fiber-TV, will accelerate bandwidth dramatically, as well as VC investment in wireless technologies.

Wired News: We hear a lot of talk about the Internet democratizing content distribution, but what are the real chances that other YouTube-like networks (not owned by major corps) will be able to compete with YouTube and the major studios rolling out their own mini-online networks (such as ComedyCentral’s Motherload)?

Battino: Never underestimate the creativity that can come from the VC and private equity community. Just as people thought MySpace had a monopoly, you saw other entrants (e.g. Facebook) generating interest levels. We may see some backlash against the big players, which will open up the window for new entrants. Also, our survey found that the majority of individuals visited sites based on recommendations from their peers; this also leaves an opening for new entrants. Finally, keep in mind that many of the sites now owned by major corporations started as independents and were then acquired.

European Sony Playstation 3 to get DVR, U.S. version may follow

22 08 2007


After initial speculation earlier this month, following comments made by Warwick Light, Sony Computer Entertainment head for New Zealand, the company has today confirmed that the European version of the console is to get a digital terrestrial TV tuner and DVR from early next year — a prediction I first made seven years ago — with the possibility of a U.S. version to follow.

The PS3 will be spec’d with two tuners, allowing users to watch one show, while recording another, one-touch series recording and easy transfer to portable devices, such as the PSP. No disclosure was made on the likely hard disc size or how this may equate to storage capacity.

An official press release has yet to appear on Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s site. But coverage in The Guardian states that the first countries to get the PlayTV-enabled PlayStations are the U.K., France, Germany and Spain. Forbes adds that Italy is also among the first countries to get the new device.

TiVo’s prospects down under

19 08 2007

Following its misadventure in the U.K. in the early 1990s (due, no doubt, to its decision to get in to bed with NewsCorp.-owned BSkyB), TiVo spent the following few years focusing on its key U.S. business.

It’s only in the last couple of years that TiVo has, once again, spread its tenticles further afield: to China and, more recently, Australia.

Not much has been heard of the China (or was it just Taiwan) deal since 2005 which, for a company which has so effectively timed press announcements of any kind to coincide with results reporting, likely means no news is… no news.

But the Oz deal is generating an increasing amount of press, not least this spoiler piece, coincidentally from a paper owned by NewsCorp., which also happens to own the majority interest in pay TV platform Foxtel and offer its own DVR product.

Perhaps a reaction to other reports last week that TiVo has bagged charter advertising partnerships with 20 companies, each paying AU $1 million (US $792,517) each to learn more about what makes ad-skippers tick.

Australian TV and its liberal sprinkling of ads (most usually with very low production values) throughout programmes makes it ripe for DVRs.

Yet, paradoxically, many of its free-to-air broadcasters have actively suppressed the emergence of DVRs through some strange anomaly which allows them to retain copyright over listings information and, thus, strangling EPGs which are the lifeblood of DVRs.

The copyright ruling was successfully challenged in an Australian court earlier this month

But it’s already an overcrowded market: TiVo will be launching against Foxtel’s already-established DVR, domestic company ICE TV — which, like TiVo, offers a platform-agnostic product — and, according to other speculation, possibly a DVR-enabled Sony PlayStation 3 too. 

One to watch…