The U.K.: greenhouse for new media ideas?

3 12 2007

It’s a badly kept industry secret that Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB satellite TV platform saw the introduction of both interactivity and its Sky+ DVR in the U.K. as a test-bed for rolling the services out in other key territories.

Now it looks as if others are learning from both the Murdoch approach to digital product innovation and the potential of the U.K. as a greenhouse for emerging ideas and propositions which may capture the imagination of customers in other territories.

Last week, Casey Harwood, SVP of Turner Broadcasting System Europe [which operates movie channel franchise TCM, as well as a slew of kids’ channels such as Boomerang] told guests at the Broadcasting Press Guild that the mix of digital platforms in the U.K. makes it the ideal springboard for launching new media initiatives.

So what is it about the U.K. digital market which makes it unique and ripe for such experimentation?

Firstly, the U.K. enjoys an ultra-competitive multichannel market, which sees IPTV newcomers like BT Vision and Tiscali TV jostling for position alongside maturing incumbents such as Freeview and pay TV delivered by Sky and Virgin Media.

It’s fair to say that the new arrivals have yet to establish themselves with any sizeable customer base, facing not only the formidable marketing might of the incumbents, but also the challenge of trying to pithily explain the benefits of what, to many, is an entirely new way of consuming traditional TV services.

But it’s this very competitiveness which makes the U.K. such a lively market in which to pilot new services and ideas, albeit for players with relatively deep pockets.

Turner’s move reflects comparatively lower costs for market entry: trialling a new service via the web carries with it only the developments costs of the content proposition itself and any associated marketing. Contrast this with the cost of agreeing a carriage deal: whether linear or non-linear + marketing and the econmics easily stack up.

Turner aren’t the only ones watching the U.K. either: in a post earlier today, thebeyondnessofthings observed how Disney sees Blighty as a key market in determining its prospects beyond a largely North American customer base.

But a warning from history to the fearless: TiVo, the company which can be credited for attempting to make the DVR product category its own, attempted to use the U.K. as a test-bed for a pan-European rollout back in the late nineties. Through a co-marketing deal with Sky it managed to accumulate a customer base of ~ 50K subscribers, only to humiliatingly retreat from actively selling its product into the market when the very company it chose to get into bed with unashamedly learnt from its mistakes and moved in to pick up the spoils.

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.

What keeps ad execs awake at night?

3 09 2007

Great selection of quotes in this Adweek piece, including Carat CEO Sarah Fay:

“Advertising avoidance. I sit on TiVo’s advisory board and the statistics are ominous: 50 percent of TiVo owners skip nearly all advertisements. Their IRI panel shows this is affecting purchase behavior significantly. This behavior also indicates a general rejection of advertising. The marketing industry has to be faster in catching up with the consumer and innovating to counter this trend.”

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…

Could Microsoft save Netflix?

12 08 2007

Rick Aristotle Munarriz speculates on some strategies for turning around beleaguered Netflix, in this column over on Motley Fool: the company should be sold to either Amazon or Microsoft.

More interesting still, some toplines on the addressable universe offered by each potential suitor:

  • 4.3 million TiVo owners can now access the Amazon Unbox online video service.
  • While Microsoft offers a customer base of 7 million active registered users via its Xbox Live service; with 10 million expected by next summer.

Microsoft’s ploy to catch-up with the social nets

27 07 2007

Microsoft was a pioneer when it came to bringing instant messaging into the mainstream, arguably the forerunner to today’s social nets phenomenon. But its MSN portal today looks as if it should be a curiosity unearthed on the Antiques Roadshow. Not for long, if you take at face value comments from Todd Herman, MSN’s director of advertising and biz dev, in this interview.

The piece is peppered with some great observations, such as how NBC’s use of short-form video on the web is attracting viewers who might otherwise shun TV news and “out Tivoing TiVo”, as well as Microsoft’s ‘Project Warhol’, aiming to bring more consumer-generated content to the MSN site. Still, the interview is more than a year old and we’re yet to witness significant delivery against Warhol, an initiative Microsoft have thus far been uncharacteristically enigmatic about.