Internet-Connected TV (Almost) Comes of Age

Stephen Yagielowicz

A walk around the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) or a perusal of the tech news since reveals an increasing number of TVs are Internet ready; and that although the services targeting these devices may be expanding rapidly, viewers are using these TVs the way they always have; frustrating the efforts of manufacturers and content marketers.

But are Internet connected televisions simply a bigger (or alternative) screen for your computer or mobile device, a jukebox extension to home theatres, or something else?

The bottom line is [that] smart TVs are dumb, they give us too many options for apps most people will never use, and they do so at the expense of making it simple to find the shows and movies we want to watch, no matter where they are, be it online or on the air. -Mat Honan, Wired.com

Shedding insights on the issues is a recent report by NPD Connected Intelligence that reveals Internet connected televisions are being used to watch TV and that’s about all — failing to break beyond the bounds of their TV-centric heritage, with few users going past online video services as a connected activity despite access to alternative content sources.

NPD Director of Devices, John Buffone, says that this decision is not due to a lack of application choices, but rather it seems focused on how consumers are used to interacting with their TV.

“HDTVs, gaming consoles, Blu-ray Disc players, and other connected devices offer an array of applications, ranging from Twitter and Facebook to web browsing,” Buffone stated. But, in general, these have failed to resonate with the audience, not least because there are better platforms, such as the PC, tablet, or smartphone, for such services.”

Buffone points to music services as the one saving grace to date, where the location of the TV and the availability of key music streaming apps such as Pandora have driven a reasonable level of consumer uptake, with roughly 15 percent of connected TV users now listening to online music, as compared to the nearly 60 percent who access Over-the-Top (OTT) video services through their device.

That means that nearly 40 percent of Internet video capable devices aren’t being used for their primary application; which can likely be blamed on cumbersome system setup or operation and which can be changed through better education and more intuitive systems.

“On the positive side, the TV itself remains the fundamental screen for TV viewing within the home and is seeing an expanded array of programming through OTT services that supplement Pay TV subscriptions,” Buffone finds. “The less than great news is that the TV manufacturers are failing to make the TV more than, well, a TV.”

That slack is being taken up by attached devices focusing on TV and video apps, including Microsoft’s release of more than 40 additional television apps for Xbox Live.

“It’s become clear that consumers want broadband content on their TV and that it will come through an array of devices,” Buffone notes. “But will this screen evolve to become a hub for applications beyond TV and video programming?”

Device fragmentation, too many choices and a complex user experience are confusing the matter — with Buffone pointing out the half-dozen or so platforms used to bring the Internet to HDTV, including the TV itself, Blu-ray Disc players (and legacy DVD units), digital video recorder (DVR) and TiVo devices, streaming media set top boxes and video game consoles, plus a range of audio/video receivers.

“While 15 percent of HDTV displays are connected directly to the Internet that number increases to 29 percent of HDTV screens due to these other devices,” Buffone explains. “This is driving the availability of [multiple] connected eco-systems on the same TV screen, leading to a confused user-experience as consumers have more than one way of accessing their favorite TV apps.”

Buffone also points to the trend towards “content throwing,” allowing programming to be transferred from smartphones or tablets to the big screen, or via peripheral devices such as the Apple AirPlay, Samsung AllShare, Xbox SmartGlass and more, which while dramatically extending content viewing options, also lead to complexities for customers.

Buffone’s final bit of advice will resonate with marketers coping with their connected consumers who are currently stopping short of exploring options beyond viewing video:

“To counter this,” Buffone concluded. “OEMs and retailers need to focus less on new innovation in this space and more on simplification of the user experience and messaging if they want to drive additional, and new, behaviors on the TV.”

Making those new behaviors desirable for consumers, as well as moving to an overall simplification of all digital media user experiences is thus today’s task at hand.

“The bottom line is [that] smart TVs are dumb,” Mat Honan wrote for Wired.com. “They give us too many options for apps most people will never use, and they do so at the expense of making it simple to find the shows and movies we want to watch, no matter where they are, be it online or on the air.”

Honan points at Facebook, Twitter, reading books, shopping and other text-centric applications, which are difficult to interact with for viewers at typical viewing distances, where diminished eyesight, a likely lack of a keyboard and poor typing conspire to erode the user experience; and notes that the mere act of firing up many of these apps can be a chore compared to the ease of doing so on a mobile device.

“It’s a far better, more intuitive experience to use the second screen — like your tablet or phone — while you’re in front of the TV,” Honan explains, “which is exactly what people are doing.”

In fact, a Nielsen report finds that around a third of Tweets are related to the content of a television show; typically posted in real-time while that show is airing; with around 38 percent of smartphone and 41 percent of tablet owners using their devices while also watching television. Although Nielsen notes that these usage percentages remain largely unchanged over the past year, there are many more of these devices today — and they are being used more, and more often, by their owners — especially while watching TV.

Another common secondscreen use is to perform web searches about a program, or its content and cast; with 35 percent of tablet owners getting in on the action; of which, most sought discounted offers for products being advertised.

Clearly, television viewing habits are evolving — even if they are slow to change.

The trick then is to find ways of bridging the usage of these devices, leveraging the strengths of each for their own application. For example, increasing social media usage on secondary devices during live TV time, as opposed to time-shifted (and commercial sped-through) programming, is fueling a desire among broadcast execs to combine these mediums together through enhanced interactivity.


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