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Posts tagged: media consumption

Lean forward, lean backward

One of the things that’s been exercising me a lot in recent months is the prospect of, or potential for a dramatic shift in how we use the internet.

I’ve been predicting for a while that 2012 will be the year that the internet will make the jump from the study to the living room.

So what’s new, I hear you say as you clutch your iPhone. I know, I know, the arrival of a second screen in the living room is well-known. But there is more to it.

Two weak (or rather not so weak) signals:

1. Last Christmas was probably the first time that a very large proportion, if not the majority of all tv sets sold was internet enabled.

Of course, hooking up your tv to your WiFi router is still a black art, or at least a painful experience. But these sales are a sign of things to come.

2. Last year, the BBC’s on-demand television service, the iPlayer, served some 1.94bn programmes in the UK. That’s a big number, but not my point. 

In 2010, more than 90% of all programmes delivered through the iPlayer went to PCs. In 2011, more than 30% went to smart TVs, smartphones and tablets. That is a huge shift. In new media speak, you could call it a tipping point.

You’ll say “iPad 2” and “Android phone”, and you’re right. And yes, the iPlayer apps on these devices are all nice and tidy.

But I believe that more and more internet consumption will happen through the television.

If I’m right, it will transform at least three industries:


Suddenly broadcasters won’t compete with 3 or 30 or 300 rival channels anymore, they’ll compete with the whole internet. Already YouTube is a pretty fun experience on my Samsung television (if my USB wifi stick is well behaved and my router not too temperamental). As YouTube and Vimeo and all the other services out there morph into multi-channel offerings, and Netflix and Lovefilm stake out their ground and sign up subscribers, old school broadcasters will have their work cut out. Facebook, meanwhile, will undoubtedly soon enter the “video” game as well. Amazon TV anyone? (Never mind Google and Apple TV).

Now combine video consumption with social and stick a clever User Interface in front of that … and broadcasters will have to pedal pretty hard to stand out.

Of course, the first attempts to make it work will fail. The user interface will be way too fiddly. TV sets will be slow, remote controls difficult to use etc etc.

But throw Microsoft’s Kinect and Xbox into the equation, plus the dozen or so start-ups developing rival (and simpler and cheaper) touchless interface technologies, shake it for three or four years and you’ll have difficulties recognising media consumption habits.

The Internet

So far, so video. Because now it gets really interesting - but also really uncertain.

The internet is a lean forward proposition. We lean towards our computer screen, hover over our tablets, squint at our smartphones.

But what if our tv sets become truly internet enabled. What if the user experience, the “natural user interface” (to use Microsoft terminology), the touchless interface becomes so simple that we actually are quite happy to use the TV to quickly search the web, get the video to accompany the movie, read some background material, scroll through our Facebook timeline? (No, I don’t want to get up to fetch the phone from the kitchen; and the tablet is still hooked up for a battery recharge).

Simples? No, because at that point you as a website owner will have to forget everything that you’ve learnt about online design. Remember that there are only that many Apps or Widgets that a TV can take (or an TV owner is prepared to install). It’s your website that will hit the TV screen. And this website has to be optimised for TVs. It needs to sniff that a television is calling, and send back a page that’s dynamically scaled both in terms of design and content to deliver just enough to provide the perfect “lean backward” experience that suits a tv screen. Don’t forget to provide the right kind of navigation that draws your viewers or customers deeper into your website.

Suddenly, your web development team ain’t gonna be in Kansas anymore.

And this has profound implications not just for the technology of your website, but for its content as well.

Yes, there will be plenty of people still clutching their tablets or wifi-connected smart paper or whatever the future holds. Yes, these will be the ABs or ABC1s who want to go deep. But I believe that a majority may prefer the quick hit of information or entertainment or titillation or comment or video. And touchless user interfaces and big internet-connected tv screens might be their main portal to your content.

Advertising, public relations

That, in turn, will change how companies engage with their customers. How they can push out messages and content. How they can deliver viral messages. The BBC is not the only organisation that plans to build “social” into its on-demand content platform. But once “social” comes into play, the content provider very rapidly loses control over the message and - most crucially - the user journey.

I may be completely wrong, of course.

These natural user interfaces may continue to be fairly cumbersome to use. My time horizon may be way out, say by five or ten years.

Still, I think the internet experience will soon split in two - lean forward and lean backward… or actually three or four if you throw in mobile and the world of apps.

And if you are a digital company, especially if you are a content provider, and miss that trend, you’ll be like the the next Betamax. Or HD DVD.