A brief history of TV

April 16, 2009


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.

The TV industry’s most read news this week perhaps has been TiVo’s collaboration with Amazon on product purchase.  T-Commerce, or Watch-Click-Buy phenomenon is not new. Some of the big industry players like TimeWarner have tried it in the US without much success in the past.

In the UK, Sky has been toying with this for a long time with their Interactive Feature- The Red Button. They have been able to pull in some of the businesses to do “press to buy” type of campaigns. Brands like Dominos Pizza have struggled with generating critical mass of response through such campaigns in the UK though.

Imagine a situation where you are watching Jonathan Ross and suppose he is talking to J K Rowling about her new book. On your screen popsup a flash asking you to press a button to order that new book from Amazon right then and there. Or you watch an ad for a DVD release of a film and you have an option to order it right then. Conceptually, it is workable, logistically it is doable, the only question is how popular it would prove to be from a consumer stand-point. Chances of it being popular are quite good. Afterall, there is quite a lot of hype around Interactive Advertising on TV these days. My fear is that content producers might just overdo it in their search for more revenues from different sources. 

This particular partnership also has a bit more chances of success than some in the past because consumers are already quite comfortable using Amazon. TiVo or DVRs’ penetration is increasing by the day. Amazon sell a wide range of products, and hence the points of entry for consumers are aplenty. Also, Amazon’s Unbox (movie and songs download service) has already been on TiVo and has enjoyed reasonable success.

On the other hand, would there be questions on Amazon’s pricing of the products, which we all know is not the best amongst online retailors? Would consumers leave their favourite vendors and purchase products, for convenience, via TiVo?

Branded Content, if put in this perspective, also takes a completely new angle. How annoying or acceptable would it be to see a pop-up every time there is a product shown on screen- during a drama, a movie, or a talk-show? It sort of reminds me of the onslaught of pop-up windows full of advertising on the internet. Like we have pop-up blockers for internet browsers, would there will be pop-up blockers one day for TiVo or other DVRs? We know that anything that gets overly commercialised gets instantly rejected by consumers.

By the way, just in case you are wondering where the title of this post came from, Forrester Research’s Josh Bernoff once described this phenomenon of “watch click and buy” as “Buying Jennifer Aniston’s Sweater”.

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.