Saturday, August 09, 2014

On demand TV opens up a brave new world

There is a revolution happening in the way that television content is consumed and commissioned.

No longer are viewers obliged to watch what broadcasters schedule. With more and more on demand services, and the facility to stream other content to the TV screen, viewing habits are rapidly changing.

But there may be a price to pay for this convenience and accessibility.

On demand

Companies like Amazon and Netflix now offer TV on demand services. Subscribers can choose from a wide range of films and given their broadband speed can cope, the content is streamed to their 42" TV in their living room.

Sky, in Britain, also offers similar services to its subscribers, enabling people to view programmes and films outside the normal schedule.

In the last year there's also been an upsurge in devices such as Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV which allow users to pull in content to less Smart televisions or those which don't have an Internet connection.

Users of Google's Chromecast can, for example, stream Netflix subscriber content, YouTube videos, programmes via BBC iPlayer or films purchased in Google Play.

Roku offers slightly more content, with Netflix, NOW TV, Sky Sports, ITV, Demand 4, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport being just a few of its available services. Apple TV offers a similar service to both the above with iTunes video content replacing that of Google Play.

Whatever service or platform one opts for there are several things viewers will be tied to. With regards the Apple TV and Chromecast routes, users will be tying themselves into an ecosystem if they decide to 'buy' movies.

Growing content

There is a drawback with all such services and that is a feeling of information overload or an overwhelming choice.

Once upon a time British television consisted of only a single BBC channel, expanding later to two BBC channels and one commercial channel. By the 1980s Channel Four joined the list with Channel Five arriving by the late 1990s. For those prepared to pay extra, satellite and cable brought hundreds of channels to the small screen.

However, viewers might still find themselves missing their favourite programme or find that broadcast times did not fit into their schedule. Thus, with the advent of fast Internet connections, on demand services were born.

Targeting audiences

In the past, broadcasters could only guess the popularity of a certain programme through surveys and by providing a select group of people a box which would log a family's television habits.

Such information is useful to advertisers and those selling commercial slots. Advertisers are interested in targeting as many people as possible, and broadcasters are in the business of making as much money back from their programmes as possible in order to fund new productions.

With the advent of on demand TV there are big advantages for the consumer, advertiser and programme maker.

With every click, online services can log how users consume content. They can see what is watched, how much and when. Just as Google and other search companies target Internet users with tailored advertising, so too can the likes of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Apple iTunes.

Privacy concerns

Within a few years it is likely that such companies will have a massive database of family viewing habits and interests.

This may be useful to the average individual as they are offered films and programmes which closely resemble their interests. Indeed such profiling already exists with Google Play, Amazon and other online trading stores offering suggestions and recommendations based on previous purchases or browsing habits.

These offerings sometimes fall wide off the mark, but this profiling will get better in time as companies refine their techniques in collecting and analysing user information. In fact in the future these companies may know you better than you know yourself!

There is a downside to all this tailored content, other than giving up our privacy. There was once a sense of community when there was only a choice of three of four channels. Conversations at work or down the pub might often revolve around a recently broadcast television programme.

Now, with hundreds of channels, DVDs, and on demand streaming television, the chances of a person having seen the same programme as you is dwindling fast.

In many households the news does not have the same importance it once did. In fact families will often only pick up a newspaper for the television schedule.

Television has long been blamed for killing the art of conversation as families sit in stoney silence watching the box for hours without saying anything to each other. The children's charity I CAN, in a 2007 survey, said the TV is affecting young children's ability to string a sentence together as parents increasingly spend more time watching TV and cleaning around the house than they do talking to their children [Daily Mail]. Of course it's not just the TV. The whole online, interconnected world we now live in - with Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google+ and others, is actually making people less social rather than socially connected.

Even if one can muster up the strength to drag oneself away from the TV, the topics of conversation down the local pub are dwindling fast. However, with nothing to discuss concerning a recent TV show or major news story, at least we British can fall back on our usual topic of discussion - the weather [BBC / Globe & Mail].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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