I have a confession to make: for most of 2014, I didn’t watch broadcast television.
For the last eight months of the year, ALL of my video consumption was taken on-demand, sourced entirely from Netflix and the BBC’s iPlayer.
This may not seem much of a confession but my role, and the focus of the team I work with, is to design and support the complex systems that traditional broadcast television depends on.
Why then have did I go 100% VoD you may ask?
My life this last 18 months has been filled with building, sanding and painting as we renovate the house I live in with my family. Early on in the work, the feed from our aerial to our TV was removed when new windows were put in. This was planned and we knew we’d be without TV until I could put a new aerial on the chimney and run the cabling through the house in a less unsightly manner than the previous owner. We just didn’t expect to be without linear TV for quite so long.
Linear broadcast television now exists in a much more complex environment than when it only had to compete with VHS. Ericsson predicts that by 2020 there will be a 50/50 split between viewership of VoD content and linear content, but this shift in viewing habits is a relatively gradual process. My transition to a VoD only life was instantaneous.
The first few days of VoD seemed normal. My daughter’s daily fix of CBeebies came via iPlayer; and my wife and I began to binge on “box sets” or catch up on films we’d failed to see at the cinema.
As time went on, though, the loss of linear began to create interesting behavioral shifts. Bereft of any live channels, our main source of news information dried up. Our daily news input shifted from evening television viewing to online morning reading and over time, Twitter became our main ‘curator’ of world news.
I spent more time with my daughter in the evenings because at the end of each iPlayed [sic] programme, another needed to be manually selected. And they’re all pretty short programmes.
We stopped watching any live events. The X Factor and sports coverage were off our radar all summer. The annual gathering to watch the Eurovision Song Contest was via an internet stream plugged into the TV, which was almost bearable, in spite of the low bit rate and upscaling – except now, I couldn’t use the iPad to trawl comments on Twitter (which, frankly, is the best part of Eurovision) as it was tethered to the telly.
In December, with a new roof on, linear TV was reinstated in our household. The first to experience the joys of the dusted off Freeview box was my daughter. Settling in for her usual evening slot of CBeebies, all seemed normal until a programme ended, a presenter appeared in vision, there was a trail, and then another programme. A shout came from the lounge: “DADDY! The television’s working itself!”
The presenters and songs the BBC make for their children’s channels – yet absent from VoD – had made a return to my daughter’s life.
My wife and I rejoined the linear world with ITN’s evening news and discovered, through trailers and EPG, programmes we had never been aware of.
We still binge on Netflix, and we still use iPlayer – “CBeebies goes to bed, but iPlayer never sleeps”, says my five year old. But linear television, far from being a dying method of consumption, still has a strong place in our lives and some unique aspects to it. My unintended experiment has, if nothing else, shown what VoD platforms might need to offer to get beyond that predicated 50% viewer share.
Content discovery has to get better. Finding stuff similar to stuff we have watched is all well and good but there’s a need for recommendation engines to also widen our view of the world and introduce us to things we may not have sought out.
Live and VoD need to exist on the same platform. There should be no need to turn one thing off and another thing on to move from pre-recorded content to live content and back again. The experience should be seamless.
VoD needs sequencing. Whether it is automated or human curation of content, VoD needs to be able to sequence and package sequences for all audiences. This will move us from box set binging or manual selection of each show to less specific requests. “Play me 20 minutes of content for a 4 year old”; “Play me funny stuff, opt to the football, and then an action film”; “Music videos please, no jazz”.
Ironically VoD’s push beyond the 50/50 split may happen as it begins to look more like linear. But it’ll be better than linear. It will be a linear looking experience that we can dictate, that is customised to us and one we can take anywhere.
What then for the complex systems that traditional broadcast television depends on that I help design and support? Their complexity is made more so as we begin to see these two types of media consumption converge. We have both VoD and linear platforms to build and we need to sand down the edges, and paint over the cracks so that viewers can’t see the join.
A bit like my roof.
Richard Cranefield, Strategic Product Manager, Playout