Install this theme
The bursting of the bubble. Kind of.

Whatever happened to the great digital revolution in our living rooms?

Weren’t we all supposed to be sitting in front of smart TVs right now, browsing clever interactive programme guides that had learned our likes and dislikes, pre-recorded our favourite shows just so, and  infused our personalised schedules with recommendations from social networks?

Remember Joost and all the other experiments?

Instead we still slump in our sofas and lap up whatever channel schedulers throw at us.

Fact: More than 90% of tv consumption still happens real-time. A measly 2% is true on-demand television. The remainder comes to you courtesy of the hard drive of your personal video recorder or (gasp) VCRs.

So, what’s gone wrong? Why aren’t we living  in the much promised on-demand tv nirvana?

Well, dramatic shifts in media consumption habits are like war, or a natural disaster: the best-laid plans crumble on impact with reality.

It’s a lesson we had to learn when the bubble burst, and it’s a lesson we had to relearn the past few years, during the bursting of the bubble.

Here are the five hurdles that brought down the plans of everybody who was plotting our on-demand future:

  • Networks I: Broadband speeds and bandwidth are lagging well behind the needs of true on-demand services (although we should bear in mind that even at peak time, services like the iPlayer gobble up only a tiny proportion of the UK’s internet bandwidth. Who is hogging the network then, you may ask? Well, in the UK about 50% of traffic are blamed on - ahem - adult entertainment.
  • Rights: Broadcasters have learned a few tricks, but sorting out the rights for on-demand access to television archives is still an activity that triggers premature ageing in everybody involved.
  • Networks II: Even when the pipes to our homes are fat and uncluttered (contention ratios, anyone?), once the web videos arrive with us, they are passed through ageing ADSL or cable modems with poor Wifi quality.
  • Televisions: Right now, this is the biggest hurdle. Have you ever tried to connect your broadband enabled television to your router? Well, it can be quite an adventure. For starters, not that many people have their router in easy cabling distance to their main television. So everything stands and falls with the Wifi connections, putting us at the mercy of furniture and walls, especially as we’re not talking about serving some light-weight web pages, but bandwidth-heavy video streams, ideally in HD quality. It doesn’t help that TVs are not particularly good or fast at rendering web pages either.
  • UI/UX: And now for the final turn-off -  the lousy user interfaces and user experience of most on-demand video players. Navigating any on-demand player with your remote control will be a sub-optimal experience. 

So far so bad. But not all is lost.

On-demand television is set to sneak up on us.

Somebody, somewhere will get the hardware or the user interface just right - and will have it built in a way that allows for constant iteration.

Yes, it may well be the BBC and its partners, with its YouView platform. It could easily be somebody else.

And - in a few years from now - bandwidth constraints will at long last be disappearing, while hardware can finally deliver the data speeds we need.

It may happen as on-demand television’s very own iPad or iPhone moment. Not that it will be necessarily Apple who provides the hard and/or software. 

Or it may just come as a result of many incremental improvements - just like ubiquitous internet and e-commerce arrived some time after the bursting of the bubble had seemingly dashed most of our online hopes.

In the meantime, though, the world’s television channel schedulers can celebrate a few more triumphs - albeit it only because they haven’t noticed that their tv sets have become a secondary medium, as attention switches to the smartphones and tablets in our hands.

  1. timdoesdigital posted this
Blog comments powered by Disqus