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.

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.

Game is not over….

September 4, 2008

You are not the only one worried about accomodating your Game Console, your satellite receiver, your PVR, your Freeview box (Digital Video Broadcast Receiver, for people outside the UK), and your DVD player on your TV trolley. The good news is that this battle of space is becoming equally important for the big players who are selling you those boxes.

But lets be honest, who do we think is truly best positioned to deliver an all-in-one box? Do we think Sky+ would one day come with a built-in DVD player, or a DVD player would throw in a free Freeview box built in? If you think about it, It is the game consoles that have pretty much every piece of hardware that may be required to deliver an all-in-one experience, and more. The marriage of gaming with the rest of the audio-visual entertainment has been pending, but seems to be shaping up quite fast lately.

Sony just announced a small little addition to their PS3 consoles. Something called PlayTV priced at just £69. This small little gadget instantly turns your PS3 into a freeview receiver, and gives it a PVR capability. This is in addition to their movies and TV programmes download service that they announced sometime back.

How are you going to be reminded to switch between your endless hours spent on Grand Theft Auto, and the news on the US elections? While you record a football match, and get ready to enjoy your new blue-ray release of The Dark Knight? Oh and you also need to remember to download the old episodes of Porridge? How are you going to manage all of this? Easily I say.

By the way, a recent study in the UK reveals that PVRs/DVRs can help improve a relationship! The general percetpion as we all know is that the game consoles can actually spoil relationships. Not if they both come in one box, you reckon?

So we all know that PVRs/DVRs (TiVo, Sky+) owners watch less TV. In fact this has been the main theme of one of the most heated debate in the US TV industry in the past week- Cable Vision’s network DVRs and how they would lead to mass errosion of ads viewership. (For more details on this, please click on: http://www.mediabuyerplanner.com/2008/08/12/court-ruling-paves-way-for-ad-skipping-increase-delays-radio-royalty-decision/

But guess what, in a recent UK based research it showed that PVR/DVR owners watch 5% more advertising. According to the research, the increased TV viewing offsets the potential to fast-forward through the commercials. I wonder if it is today’s reality confronting yesterday’s myth, or a myth in the making itself.

I think some of this can be attributed to the UK’s commercial environment in media. There is a regulation on the amount of advertising that can be shown per hour, and the “irritation” or “fatigue” levels of TV ads are generally lower in the UK. This is compared to the markets like the US where during a live-broadcast of a major sporting event, they stop play to give time to the insane clutter of advertising to be shown to the consumers. If I were them, sitting pretty without the knowledge of how long a damn commercial break is going to be, I would skip ads… wouldn’t you?

Another interesting insight from the same study is that the likes of IPlayer, C4OD, or ITV.com have not eroded the traditional TV viewership. The web-based viewing actually leads to more time being spent infront of the traditional TV. The overall audiences have actually increased by 4% over the same period last year.

Now we all know that increase in supply of content leads to a very limited the increase in advertising revenues- that only very initially. The real increase is only tied to delivery of audiences. Ultimately the increased content leads to fragmentation of advertising revenue into showing of ever more number of commercials. According to this study, a total of 2.4 billion commercials are shown every day, or a massive potential of commercial vieweing of 42 per person!

Happy planning your TV! If I were you, I would invest in high potential and growing area of web-based TV viewing (mind you that is almost on the traditional TV screens now with Wii’s Iplayer, and XBox 360’s BT Vision), while being careful about not losing audiences through the good old idiot box.

Everyone is impressed by the growth of PVRs/DVRs. It is truly overwhelming, and of course the reason is that these devices completely changed the viewing experience for us.

The first big thing about the PVRs was that it liberated programming from the shackles of TV listings, and allowed you to watch what you wanted to watch, whenever you wanted to do it. The second advantage was that it allowed you to skip advertising- just like any other recording medium would have been able to do.

In essence, what PVRs/DVRs actually do is store hours of content on a hard-drive next to your TV so that you can access it anytime- making your viewing experience virtually that of “on-demand” TV. But do remember that it is a virtual on-demand experience. What would happen if the TV really became on-demand? What would you do with your PVRs? Why would you want to spend money buying storage capacity in your home, when your broadcast provider is already doing that for you at a remote location?

If there is ever a case of having some sort of storage or digital play-back device at home, it is that for a device like Apple TV, or a generic media player attached to your TV. What that allowd you to do is “rent and buy” movies and TV series for you to keep- just like your old DVD collection. A mixture of an Apple TV like device, with a PVR might just be a better answer. There are some devices in the market currently that aim at doing that, though without much of an organised interface, or thought behind them.

There are also quite a few services that offer video-on-demand. Virgin’s limited on-demand TV is one example. All the major broadcasters such as BBC, ITV and Channel four have their programming accessible through the internet- though ironically so far you can only play that programming on your computer.

From an advertising point of view, PVRs or on-demand TV presents a very simple challenge. How do you insert commercial breaks back into programming? Afterall, not all content can be branded, and there is a limit to a viewer’s capacity to watch “sponsored” programming, and ad-breaks still are a relatively more favourable choice then seeing a dish-washing liquid being talked about in an episode of Heroes.

There are technologies that are being worked on and experimented with to get the commercial breaks back into digital media files (that can be played back on TV- on-demand). Keep reading this blog for more on those.