What’s the next big thing in TV technology? One way to have an educated guess is to follow the money: look at what startups and techs are attracting investment. But just as importantly, to ask pertinent questions about whether they’re flashes in the pan, or will have true staying power.
Zeebox co-founder and CTO Anthony Rose and Catagonia Capital managing partner Dr. Ralph Eric Kunz took to the stage at MIPCube this morning to give their insight, in a session moderated by GigaOm’s European correspondent Bobbie Johnson.
“The media is constantly being disrupted from one direction or another,” noted Johnson, by way of introduction, before handing over to Kunz.
“The freeing up of something that used to be in a nice defendable container into something which is now a very innovative space – stuff is out in the open – and it feels a lot like the music space 10 years ago. Now we’ve got the pre-requisite to have a lot of innovation that wasn’t possible before,” said Kunz, who in a previous role at Bertelsmann had a front-seat view of the disruption wrought by filesharing service Napster in its first incarnation.
He wondered how the established TV industry is going to hedge its bets, as its value is disrupted (and even destroyed). “As an established player, as you look left and right, there’s a lot of danger out there.”
Rose drew on his own experience, having worked on filesharing service Kazaa, before moving to the BBC to work on its iPlayer service, and then to Zeebox.
“Technology always provides new opportunities,” he said. “As a technologist… you’re always looking to do something with it. Back in Kazaa days, the people I worked with saw the rise of the online distribution for music, and the music companies preferred to keep on selling the shiny discs that they had higher margins on.”
He pointed out that the exciting thing about TV now is that anyone can create “companion propositions” for television – apps like Zeebox – rather than it being left to the broadcasters alone.
Kunz noted that the changes will also involve the way advertisers are willing to pay for things, which will lead to new business models. “We’re not quite there yet,” he added.
“It’s going to be a natural effect, that especially very many innovative companies are going to go in there and say ‘look, I can prove to an advertiser that the interaction and engagement was much stronger than in the traditional Nielsen model.”
Rose explained that another big change has been the way TV programme-makers are now engaging directly with their audiences, through websites and apps. A stark contrast to the days when the broadcaster had full control of that consumer relationship.
One of Zeebox’s investors is BSkyB, and Rose noted that “the guys at Sky said that in the evolution of television, there was black and white, then colour, then HD, then PVR. And they think the next big thing is going to be second-screen… They said we need to have some ownership in the space, and embrace it.”
Kunz said that programme makers should be thinking about the implications of there now being many more channels for their content to get to market: not just TV channels, but websites, apps and other connected devices.
He doesn’t like the phrase ‘second-screen’ because it implies that the tablet or smartphone is inferior to the main TV – “I’d rather use the phrase ‘best screen’… I strongly believe that this quote unquote second screen will actually be a complementary way of looking at content, and in some cases it may be the quote unquote first screen.”
Rose said he was initially enthusiastic about smart TVs. “That enthusiasm has really declined for me, because they have failed to embrace what technology can offer,” he said, citing the TV manufacturers’ desire to “own the audience”. “They thought they could create a portal and be the owner of the audience, but the broadcasters fought back… It’s really halted innovation.”
Rose came up with the best zinger of a soundbite though, from the session: “In the future, your TV will be a beautiful but dumb hi-res panel that plays the content that it’s told to.”