So it is happening. Finally. Adobe has partnered with TV manufacturers to incorporate Flash directly into TV sets to enable video players, widgets and applications. A step forward towards really converging TV into a smart internet enabled entertainment platform. What is next? Operating platforms and standards for TVs? I have a feeling Windows Media Centre is a thing of the past unless they innovate fast. And for all you know Android might jump up to offer a standardised environment to the likes of Samsung. Touch screen TVs should also not just be restricted to CNN anymore, and will soon be in home. Anyone up for a Giant Android screen or a 50 inch screen iPod touch?

Only if Apple could put this all together in a neat and clean design, and not restrict us to a Quicktime format, we will all be very happy. But such is not life. We will have to live with a less ideal world before our dream screen comes to life. This is just the start of the convergence, and open-source, standardisation, and other such boring debates will have to wait for a bit.

A brief history of TV

April 16, 2009

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Something that I put together recently through different sources. I may have missed out on some major events in the history of TV. Please leave your comments and point me to those events,  and I will update this chart. you might need to download it to view it properly.  If you are not able to view it properly, send me a message and I can email it to you.

In the world of on demand content and the fragmented world of digital platforms, it is fairly important for search to work properly for Videos.  After simply just playing with the idea for quite sometime, some of the big names in the industry are really beginning to crack it.

YouTube has its own way of searching for video files that benefits from not only the tags but also google’s search intelligence.  TiVo just recently annoucned their new search function.  Fairly comprehensive though, it only allows you to search through data that sits “outside” of a video file. Not the most cutting edge way of video search, but given its TiVo the usage of this is likely to widerspread and at least it recognises the need for a must have function for the future of Video.

How does the search currently work in Video? Well the simplest way is to search for “tags” associated with a video file, or search for terms within the video file names. Now that is not very effective, as the tags and the name cant possibly fully describe whats inside a video file or in the content, can it? To offset this, some of the set-top box manufacturers including TiVo search through “closed captions” (subtitles for instance) or the Electronic Program Guide data alongside a video file to search for the contents of the video file. It would allow you to even search for scenes with famous quotes from the movies (The BigMac scene from Pulp Fiction for instance). Whilst very useful, its still a very 2008 way of searching for video, and a very cumbersome one that too.

Then there is Blinkx (www.blinkx.com). They have a pretty impressive video portal that actually searches through the contents of a video file, and delivers you the search results. For example you can look for a particular word and see how many video files are returned. A much better schema for search then “tags”. They seem to have been looking for opportunity in the area of direct to consumer, but in my opinion their biggest opportunity is in franchising their technology direct to businesses like TiVo.  Not sure if they are already doing it, but they are the next generation of search in video, and can really help move the game forward.

The more the amount of content available to watch digitally, the more the need for search. The good news is, that the solutions are here today. Only if the industry can push those forward.

There is a reason Hulu is considered a “game changer” in the world  of online video and streaming television. The unique alliance of NBC and News Corp creates a cable operator of sorts – and aggregates content to deliver a unique place for consumers to start watching it. In the US.

There is similar news of some UK broadcasters coming together to create a VOD platform. I am sure other markets are taking similar initiatives.

In a world when every bit of data will be streamed over IP, do we think platforms such as these would have anything unique to offer? Or would such platforms become seemless backend cable operator type operations, delivering to TV sets of the future? In answering this question, one also needs to perhaps see what it is that really makes the video over internet popular? It is its ability to transcend beyond geographies that really delivers a web 2.0 experience that is the “buzz” today.

Now in this world, what really restricts the ability of platforms like Hulu to make a difference is the way TV software rights are managed. The programs are sold territory by territory, or to cable / satellite operators who pick it up for multi-territories. Even then, the prices are aggregated on a market by market basis. Couple that with how such program rights are sold for broadcast over the internet, and you have a matrix that is too complex to even begin to crack.

There is a need to change this model of TV or even Film program rights management. If one is to combat the piracy or onslaught of free digital distribution, the arbitrage in this trade has to end. What it needs to work around is a distributors ability to stream content across the globe, without restrictions and with potential to earn revenues from wherever in the world they come from.

We, the people in the traditional media businesses, are strange creatures. Having been on top of 90% of the media revenues for years and years our beliefs are strong, we are dangerously naive, and our vision increasingly myopic. We still see the development and “digitisation” of media a phenonmenon similar to our young children wanting to hook their play stations to the TV,  while we want to watch our afternoon comedy.  Nothing to pay attention to here, the children will eventually get over it.

This is exactly the same attitude I came across in a recent discussion on IPTV, hosted by Alumni of a prestigious business school in France. This discussion took place last week in London and the panel consisted of speakers from two of the key broadcast organisations in the UK, and of some high energy start-ups in the area of internet video. One member of the panel, from a prestigious TV distribution platform in the UK, dismissed Google TV ads as something “just in the US, and not delivering on core fundamentals”. Crap!

Do we believe it “does not deliver on core fundamentals” because we have become the fundamentalists of the TV world ourselves? Google TV Ads is important, not because Google will take over the world one day, but because they are laying the grounds to change the rules of the game for traditional TV. This is how:

– It redefines the way TV is targetted- hence how it is measured, hence how it is traded. Their approach would deliver in the age of digital TV, and the traditional approach does not.

– It challenges the decades long incestual relationship of the research agencies and media owners. Google’s data is more transparent, more real time, and offers more analytics. If there is one thing you can trust Google to do, it is number crunching.

– It helps media owners maximise revenues and advertisers reach, in the age of fragmented on-demand platforms. Traditional models can not even cope with PVR/DVRs.

– Most of the big players in the media and research industry are likely to term Google’s work as something that has a limited scope but would then go and do something similar to Google TV Ads and use their scale to make it sound better. They will.

And if we still do not get it (and I have a feeling we perhaps would but not in the short-term), we deserve to live in a world where most of people still like to be told when they should watch something that they do not want to watch to begin with. We might as well.

When we hear the term DivX, what usually comes to our mind is a media player, or a set of Codecs that we shove into our QuickTime or Windows Media Player to be able to watch a certain type of media file. Did we ever think that this company would take a leap and begin to think about competing with the likes of Apple iTunes in Content Distribution? Well, they have.

They have just signed a deal with Warner Bros.  which gives them the right to digitally distribute their movies. This is in addition to their existing deal with Sony that distributes movies via a plethora of platforms using the DivX technology- including the game and mobile devices. These two deals now give DivX access to virtually half of the world’s movies!

The reason behind such firms backing DivX is their secure platform which prevents piracy. Besides, why should a studio restrict its distribution to one particular digital outlet? Warner also have a deal with Microsoft’s XBox to distribute their movies as well as with Cinema Now- a leading online retailer of movies in digital format in the US.

This is a development that is going to majorly challenge Apple’s closed-loop distribution of- Ipod/Iphone-Itunes-AppleTV. Why should a distributor or a digital retailer like ITunes (or Cinema Now) restrict access to a particular device? DiVX are likely to make the whole movie distribution eco system a bit more open. Although, their temptation to get a bigger share of the revenues via distribution to a proprietary device is quite visible in their DiVX Connected device. This device is a heaven for anyone who indulges in torrents every now and then for a bit of .avi fun!

Lets wait to hear how DivX front this distribution deal, and how much are they going to charge consumers for the movies. Apple’s ability to lead the pricing models for the digital content is quite likely to be affected here. Cinema Now sell movies from anywhere between 10 to 16 dollars. An equivalent of that price in the UK might not under-cut Apple’s current pricing… but then who knows. There is a great potential for DivX to take a leap into an advertising funded model here as well.

I say keep an eye on DivX!

We based personalisation technology to deliver an experience unique to each user is not new. Amazon has been doing it for quite some time, and even some basic movie rental sites have tried it. Most of these personalisation software rely on your behavioral pattern to make recommendations.

Come to think of it, why has this persoanlisation not come to the TV sets as yet? Afterall, in the age of on-demand, or even scheduled digital viewership, this is but a painless task… and seemingly simple that too.

Well an Italian company seems to have finally delivered it. Bee TV,  a startup being run by some acclaimed industry professionals, with the ownership of a Ducth BV holding company seems to be making in-roads into this area.

Their technology works at an upstream level. They work with platforms and broadcasters to deliver  the experience and interface as opposed to selling it directly to the consumers. One can see an obvious business model advantage in their approach, as platforms are the lowest hanging fruits- you go with a few, you would reach million of homes automatically.

However, in my opinion, there is such an opportunity for this type of personalisation to be delivered to the consumers, independant of the platforms- via either a media centre platform, or via a PVR platform. Even a device like Apple TV should be able to do it. For all you know, the new Genius function in ITunes might just deliver this experience on Apple TV for audio-visual content. Alhough it can not be fully beneficial untill Apple TV becomes a PVR.

It is at least a step towards a new direction. Also, can you begin to think how the Google TV Ad serving would work in conjunction with something like this…? Beautifully!

You can watch a demo of the Bee TV service at:

http://www.bee.tv/demo.asp