A Defining Moment for OTT Television?
So here is a challenge. Imagine you are entering into a lift and a fellow traveller strikes up a conversation as you ascend skyward. 'What do you do'? he asks, 'I am in OTT' you proudly respond. 'What is OTT?' he probes. So now you have six floors to go, about 30 seconds of talk time left and your professional reputation to defend. What do you say?
Do you talk about the technology? About the content? Reference a website your companion might already use? Enthuse about applications, widgets, catch-up TV, music, search, recommendations, on demand games, social media, UGC/PGC or home media hubs? Let’s face it, most of us will need to be riding up the Empire State Building to deliver even a semi-coherent description of the power of OTT and still wouldn’t have critiqued the choice of devices that can handle OTT.
In my view, it is the challenge of defining OTT consistently to consumers that will either make or break its commercial success. Not the device technology, not the content, not the licensing issue, not the network capacity, not the standards but the ability to define and deliver against a mass market expectation of OTT.
I do applaud Youview’s attempt to brand a common hybrid/OTT experience in the UK market but of course it is failing to actually launch anything to cement that experience in the consumers mind. Similarly, a number of pundits are using Smart TV as a descriptor but that is being used to refer to TVs, set-top boxes, tablets and mobile phones. The user experience also spans a simple widget on an early TV through to a powerful media centre acting as a hub to play all possible types of media from all possible media sources.
Or do we define OTT not in terms of features and functions but as an experience, a religion, an aspiration, freedom, liberty, empowerment, rebellion, and self-realisation? A grander mission to break the control of our archaic TV providers and establish a new libertarian regime of information and entertainment from all to all? Lovely idea and sometimes I do think we are defining a new world order but I would suspect that the masses aren’t feeling overly repressed by their current TV service!
Let me proffer a solution to this conundrum. First of all we are simply offering enhanced TV. Just like DVR, HD and 3D. Second we should focus on the most valuable enhancement OTT can offer and that must be catch-up TV. Third we should think the best ‘televisual’ way of presenting that enhancement to customers which has to be the backward EPG. So for me, OTT is about presenting broadcast content from the cloud in the most customer friendly way. From that functional ‘anchor’, we can then add all of the wonderful enhancements that an internet connection can deliver. But these are just marketing noise. Noise that has the potential to confuse, distract and deflect. Let the history books define the evolution of TV to be analogue to video recorders to digital to DVR to high definition to 3D to catch-up TV. It is a branding that does what it says on the tin, one that people can immediately see value in and one that does not contain three letter acronyms! Well done Virgin Media who are doing exactly that with these next gen TiVo units. From a purest point of view, not that latest technology, not the most comprehensive feature set but a proper, usable, customer-friendly backward EPG.
I’m not saying that the backward EPG must solely reside on the television or set-top box. It could equally be on a second screen with content ‘thrown’ onto the TV. It doesn’t have to appear as a grid (sorry Rovi) or be two dimensional as the vast majority are today. It can be contextual and linked to the related long tail content. It could spawn apps that are synchronised with the content being watched. It could contain recommendations from family and friends on what to watch. But most of all it takes a consistent, editorialised and embedded paradigm and enhances that with OTT-powered catch-up TV content. That is what will excite the masses to spend their hard-earned cash on OTT-powered features. That is what our industry can hang lots of innovative new services on. That is what providers should embrace to retain and grow their customer base. And that is what I could easily describe in the few floors I have left in my journey in that metaphorical lift.
Is that what you think? As always, let me know…..
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I am currently Chairman of Crisp Thinking, Non-Executive Director of StaffShare Ltd and a partner at Snowy Road Ventures. Previously, I was CEO of Amino Technologies plc after being a non-exec director at Amino and Rawflow Read Andrew 's full bio
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