John Lynch

The ever so slow rise of smart TV technology (part 3)

The dumb box in the corner is definately getting smarter, clearer, bigger, thinner and sounding better. It has also apparently reproduced and invaded more rooms of your house and teamed up with companion devices to infiltrate, digitise, personalise even revolutionise your TV viewing life. Should we be getting excited now?

tocvh screen TV controlIn part one we predicted the growth of new sources for TV content, part two focused on with how that content could be delivered in the not too distant future. In this piece we explore how technology will influence and change the TV content viewing experience. 

According to the research, the hottest TV technology globally in 2011 has been fully Internet-connected TVs. These connected TV’s are split between the so-called “smart TVs” and the more basic connected devices such as the Sony PS3, Microsoft’s Xbox and Nintendo’s Wii, Apple TV, Boxee, Roku, Blu-ray player.

The uniting factor is that they are all delivering non-linear catch-up TV and on-demand movies. This new ‘connected’ aspect alone has shifted consumer perceptions of TV technology from a dumb box to stare at by appointment to an expectation of TV as having Internet-like search and discovery qualities as well as smart phone like apps and advance user interfaces.

This is a big change and there is a lot of talk around the connected TV revolution, but from our research it’s seems to be coming more from manufacturers and not from consumers. Those consumers that have drunk from this well seem to be happy but only relatively excited and certainly not evangelical about the product and its importance to there lives. Its like they are saying I get that I can watch the web on my TV, but there are still asking why would I care?

Lets try and put this into perspective. Firstly growth of connected TV's is undoubtedly strong with shipments set to continue to see big growth. Parks Associates predict a compounded average growth rate globally of 58.3% between 2011-15 with the Asia-Pacific region the driving force. On the back of this according to a recent (Oct 2011) study of 3,000 consumers in Europe, the United States and Asia, by global consulting firm Bain & Company 'Connected devices and services: Reinventing content', this surge in next-generation connected devices will drive online video uptake to 60% of households in theses regions by 2014. Thats two thirds of us in a little over two years that are meant to be using connected TV to watch video. However are we expecting this revolution to happen just because people are buying connected TVs or are people buying connected TV simply because all the best TV come with this feature?

The flip side of the Bain & Company survey is that a lot of people have connected TV's but havent bothered to 'connect' them and even those that do connect a high percent dont use the feature. The Leichtman Research Group, Inc. (March 2011) claims that 30% of all households in the US have at least one television set alreasdy connected to the Internet via a video game system, a Blu-ray player, and/or the smart TV set itself. This is up 6 percent from 24 percent a year ago but only 10% of these households use these connected devices at least weekly. This is however up from 5 percent a year ago.

flat screen TV salesThis means that yes connected TV viewing is growing but there is still no game changing compelling explosive reason for buying these connected TV’s now outside of them looking good on the wall. Cost must still be a factor as a lot of us are still in a recession but are these TVs being built with the wrong set of assumptions (and technology). Why for example are we happy to shell out so much for iPads but not for a great-connected TV? Should the focus be more on usability, interaction and making it easier to connect the set and less on the big and shiny bits. And where are the complementry TV products that will drive use of connected TV's. For example the Leichtman Research Group claim that the main accelator of the use of connected TV devices that doubled use in a year has been Netflix, a product not connected to the technology at all.

So TV technology needs to address three things to really be game changing. Firstly device interoperability needs to become a lot more idiot proof. I have an iPad, an android smart phone, two connectable TV’s of different brands, two new macs lap tops and one older PC. This is a lot of potential screens but none are talking to each other. Mine may be an extreme example but there is simply no real interoperability between my various screens. Secondly, apart from my iPad and smart phone, the different ways I interact with these screens has not changed since i have known them. Why cant device interactivity be more universal, intuitive and human? Lastly why can’t these screens double up as anything else? A friend told me yesterday that his smart phone was great, but unfortunately not so great as a phone. His sarcasm aside, his point was he didn’t mind the phone was so much more than a simple means to call someone. TV Manufacturer need to consider the smart mobile model and that their screens may not be simply purchased as “TVs”.

Looking to the future

1. Second screen and companion device TV: The evolution of TV from corner furniture to an all encompassing experience means that all the contextual interactivity you can achieve across TV, smartphones and tablets can actually be replicated in one place, providing you get the balance between lean-back and lean-forward correct. According to a study by Research Company Futuresource (October 2011) with more than 2,600 respondents USA, UK, France and Germany study, almost 50 percent of consumers are already using another electronic device while watching TV at home (the most popular reasons for this was to combat boredom which dosent reflect well on TV content). But this is no great surprise as convergence has given us such multimedia riches that we can no longer contain them on a 48-inch or 60-Inch screen, thus the drive for companion experiences. So, tablets / smart phones / laptops help users to control / discover / interact with the video content that they are viewing on the big screen but this is not real interoperability.

But true device interoperability is when the second screen revolution will really take place and these devices will be driven by interesting services and aps. However it will only happen if TV manufacturers start to attract and reward TV app developers and most importantly have a big enough and active audience to sell enough of their product/service to make it worth their while to develop these apps. HTML5 will help content and services to be created once and then run unchanged across multiple operating interoperability systems but a critical mass of users is essential for an agency to bother developing a real interoperability app and the next Shazam, Angry Birds equivalent for connected TV’s or another Netflix type service.

We suggested that a common OS would help and we got some interesting responses last July when we suggested that Android was the only real option . However since then Google has been busy schmoozing in Korea. We might have been on the right track but Samsung the world's biggest maker of flat-panel television sets (Q3’11 with 22.8 percent worldwide share), has just announced its in the final stage of talks with Google to use its OS and rumour has it that Samsung's main rival LG Electronics (#2 with 13.1 percent world wide share), plans to unveil its version of Google TV at the Las Vegas exhibition. These two moves alone could give Google access to a third of all smart TV built, and suggest that Google is seeking to further expand the reach of its Android operating system into TV sets as they compete with the likes of Apple Inc. 

flat screen TV sales

So will TV app developers get more excited if the future was a common OS across TV, tablets and mobiles? I would suggest YES as it should make it more cost effective, but for seemless 'second screen' interaction it may depend on the OS of mobile and tablet computers being Android also.

Tooking at these, according to Gartner Android's share of the smartphone market has almost quadrupled over the last year, and already stands at more than double that of Apple's iOS. Market statistics for the first quarter of 2011 suggests the gap is widening fast, with market leader Nokia's and its soon-to-retire Symbian OS share falling to 27.4 percent. Second-place Samsung is at 16.1 percent with LG in third place at 5.6 percent. Apple was only in fourth place and market share of 3.9 percent. In the same quarter, HTC, Sony Ericsson, Alcatel and ZTE have announced a broader portfolio of mostly Android-based mid-tier mobile devices. So the future of the majority of Mobile OS's is definately Andriod.

As for tablet computers, though still small, are growing rapidly its going the same way. Apple’s iPad still dominates but a host of rivals have appeared again mid tiered and mostly Android-based devices, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and Sony’s Tablet. All eyes are now on Amazon's Android-based Kindle Fire. IF Google can pull off on Tablets what it did on mobile the future here of the majority is also Andriod.

So in short Goole and Android is poised to do for mobile, tablets and Smart TV’s what Microsoft and Intel did for PC’s.

2. Kissing the Remote Goodbye hopefully: So how will new technology change how I interact with my TV content. Currently my two TVs have seven separate remotes, two for TV channels, two for the attached videos, one for surround sound on the big one and two controls for my Humanax and Grundig set top boxes. Point and click with a remote control all seems a bit dated, as most certainly does multiple remote controls. In the past, interactive TV enhancements stalled, due in part to the lack of a good interface device. As we mentioned above, consumers will need to use these adjunct devices such as smartphones and tablets to interact with their TVs but why should we still think of this interaction in a traditional way of point a click?

Gesture technology control should become more common. The Nintendo Wii, with its original mass gesture-based controller, has had a major impact on the gaming market with Sony PS3 Move and Microsoft Kinect.  For Kinects launch in November 2010, no consumer-electronics device has ever sold so fast, according to Guinness World Records. So there is a hunger for this sort of control and we are now seeing a third-party applications market develop around gesture interfaces, such as GestureTek’s Xbox 360 gesture-control tools, which is likely to further accelerate innovation in this area.

Beyond movement there is also voice control. The Android-based platform in fact can already be controlled remotely (via voice!) by either an Android phone or tablet. Apples Siri, for the iPhone 4S, is making big news and at the moment no 3rd party app exists but this has to be planned. Couple this with hierarchical data-display improvements and advances in facial recognition technologies, and we should expect a user experience where the TV can recognise your mood and respond accordingly with appropriate content. It will gradually open the door to the kind of TV interactivity that the cable industry has talked about for years.

3. Multifunctional and multipurpose devices:  In the future many of the current screens will be contained within the higher-quality descendants of today’s smartphones, tablet and portable gaming players. Some may be expandable, flexible, or even wearable but above all they will be ubitiquious and each screen will be multipurpose. TV screens sould also be used to monitor a backyard security system as easily as to watch TV or as a replica of your favourite painting, white boards, video-conferencing, alarm clocks so when it’s time to wake, the screen slowly brightens to mimic the sunrise. The potential is endless and from the outset, the enabling devices or screens should be valued as multifunctional and multipurpose. This multifunctional asect will be greatly aided with the advent of my two previous points.

So in summary yes people are buying connected TVs but are they really buying that smart a TV? What will make this a revolution is when consumers simply must have a connected TV and this will happen when their TV's, Second Screen devices and consumers seemlessly interact and when developers and entrepreneurs move in on this interaction to add value to the TV viewing experience. 


Posted by Martin Wright , 29 November 2011

I am currently working with Acxiom and they are making a great play of addressable TV advertising (applying household specific segmentation to subscribed TV viewers). Sadly they are seeing a very slow start to this market but are still betting it will develop for all non-terrestrial delivery channels.

Posted by Phil Roter, 29 November 2011

Interesting topic.

Issues related to take up include the availability of quality content and user interface. The availability of quality content and a friendly UI will drive the number of connected TV's. However the distribution model used to monetise this content has everything to do with it's availability and needs to be determined.

Posted by Harald Amundsen, 30 November 2011

I like this statement "there is still no game changing compelling explosive reason for buying these connected TV’s now outside of them looking good on the wall". It is so true! The so called Smart TVs are still just dumb boxes.

Posted by Michael Anthony Lee, 1 December 2011

My personal experience with these TVs so far is that although it's nice that these features are starting to show up as built-into the TV rather than being offered through set top boxes, a full computer connected to the TV is still a way better option in terms of functionality, application availability, web browsing experience and the list goes on and on. Many of the TVs I've seen have file type limitations in terms of the media they can play, and the web browsers that are built in don't necessarily render all sites well. I find it so much more flexible having my TV stay "dumb" as this article puts it, and having a "smart" device such as a PC built for this purpose connected all the time.

Posted by John Lynch, 1 December 2011

I agree Michael, but there is that unknown factor still in the wings. I think that apps made the iPhone and created a smart phone interest tsunami. It wasn't the large touch screen or design although these played an important role. If TV can have its App moment then its in business but till then i will plug my PC into my so called 'smart' TV as its simple.


John Lynch Digital Ministry John Lynch
Company: Digital Ministry
Position: Editor
Involved in the digital media and Marketing industry for many years, through working at the Economist Group (uk), Universal McCanns, Zivo, emitch, OneDigital, IBM (client side), & now TBWA NY Now in Bath, UK working as a consultant

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