The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) launches its overwhelming crush of techno-gadget goodness this week, and for the sixth consecutive year, I’ll have the privilege of attending. Over these last few years, the show has become an important event for agencies and marketers, recognizing the ever-increasing importance of technology in the new marketing landscape. This year, agencies under the VivaKi umbrella have collaborated to build a curated experience for our clients, including customized tours, special events, and a guidebook highlighting some of the most important trends and shifts in consumer behavior. You can follow our tweets from the show using this hashtag: #VivaKiCES
My focus in this initiative has been Converged TV, which we loosely define as democratizing the television by bringing the power of the web to the living room. Together with VivaKi colleagues Rex Harris from SMGx (@teereximus) and Ashley Swartz from Digitas (@Redfurynyc) as well as partner Frank Barbieri from YuMe (@frankba), we created an overview of the evolving TV landscape. And, while I can’t share the entire piece here, I can share some of our predictions for the coming one to two years and beyond.
Shared and Personal Experiences Continue to Merge
This is an existing consumer behavior. Over three-quarters (80 percent) of mobile web-capable phone users are on their phones while watching TV, engaged in a wide variety of web behaviors (Razorfish/Yahoo “Mobile and Tablet TV Multitasking,” November 2011). Some are related to the TV program and others are not. In 2011, we saw an explosion of startups aiming to capitalize on this inherent behavior and to enable it to go further. IntoNow, GetGlue, Miso, and others bring a social bent to the party. Shazam and others use automatic content recognition to quickly enable interactive experiences related to programming or commercials. Nielsen’s media sync technology has given content developers the power to create a synchronized mobile or tablet experience. We expect that these companies and others will continue to push innovative solutions over the next few years. We also expect to see a lot of experimentation from TV programmers and content developers as well as marketers. We’ve seen glimpses of what’s possible, but for the most part, no one has yet cracked the code on the second screen experience – what’s the right balance of additional content so that it’s not completely distracting from the big screen? As we enter 2012, both successes and failures in this space will be equally valuable in helping us figure out the best ways to engage with consumers in this new channel.
Looking further ahead, we expect mobile multitasking to continue to be a factor even as better and easier interactivity comes to the big screen. Form factors will evolve, but people are increasingly addicted to their personal devices and we believe they will always want to have a personal experience, even while sharing a big-screen entertainment experience with a room full of family members.
The Remote Evolves – Today, Mobile. Tomorrow, Your Body
Some platforms are already enabling a new remote control experience. TiVo and Comcast have mobile phone/tablet applications that allow viewers to control their respective set-top boxes. Certain Samsung TVs and mobile phones work in concert. It’s changing the way consumers browse and search for content, leveraging a more intuitive interface and more natural ways to discover content. But it’s really just the beginning. Voice and gesture control may one day completely eliminate the need for a hand-held remote control. Concept videos from Microsoft have recently hit the web, showing tantalizing glimpses of a gesture and voice-controlled viewing experience. Hitachi has, for the last several years at CES, shown off its own interpretation of gesture control. We expect these technologies to mature and gain scale quickly, presenting marketers with more intuitive and immersive ways to engage viewers.
The Holodeck Is Coming to Your Living Room
3D television has been a common theme at CES the last few years. Several major TV manufacturers have dedicated a small portion of their booths to showing these demos. And, innumerable smaller companies/startups have been pushing 3D, and even holographic imagery without glasses. Many pundits believe that glasses-free 3D is the key to mass adoption of 3D TV, and we agree. People might don the glasses for special movies or live events like the Super Bowl or big awards shows, but few seem willing to go that far for your average episode of CSI. Most current glasses-less 3D implementations lack speed and quality to deliver an HD viewing experience, but it is improving. And, as the technology becomes more accessible by eliminating the need for specialized glasses, we expect adoption to grow. The larger, macro trend – toward more lifelike viewing experience – is also undeniable. When paired with natural controls like voice and gesture mentioned above, this trend foretells an entirely new primetime entertainment experience – something like Star Trek’s holodeck, right in your living room.
Web-Like Personalization Hits the TV
Microsoft’s Kinect already allows users to log in to their Xbox Live accounts simply by walking into the room. It loads personal settings like your individual avatar and graphic display choices. The next logical step with this and similar technologies is to personalize the entire viewing experience, not just the menu system and interface. Major pay TV operators have been marching slowly toward household-level addressable TV advertising, but this kind of personalization may well take it to the next level. Imagine a content experience that’s different when one individual is watching versus when a group is watching. The system automatically tailors content recommendations to those in the room and creates a unique synergy between the group viewing experience and personalized content on tablets and mobile devices. And, addressable TV advertising gets better, too – it becomes based on who’s actually in the room at the time the ad airs. Further, cameras like the one used in the Kinect system can detect facial features and may soon be able to determine whether or not a person in the room is actually looking at the TV screen, radically reinventing how TV advertising is measured.
“Social TV” Becomes an Obsolete Term
Digitization of content makes it fluid, and thus shareable, which today is challenging on the TV due to both technical limitations and business model restrictions. These walls will come down over time. At the same time, we expect social media to continue its explosive growth and to proliferate on all digital platforms. Mobile, for example, is already becoming the primary access point for social media. We expect that the future TV viewing experience will have social hooks so deep and engrained that all viewing becomes social. It enables the free sharing of content as well as next-generation shared viewing experiences with friends and family in different locations. Social commentary from the likes of Twitter and Facebook will be even more easily accessible, creating a real-time water cooler effect. It may also enable asynchronous social viewing so that users watching a time-shifted program via DVR or VOD are still able to see (and participate in) social commentary that’s synchronized with the viewing time rather than the show’s original air time.
The Cloud-Based DVR
The industry has buzzed about this for years, but the success of streaming video services from the likes of Netflix and Amazon are clearly demonstrating that consumers are hungry for on-demand video, and technology is finally catching up to the vision. VOD and streaming services are merely a stepping stone though to a smarter, device-agnostic on-demand world where it’s easy to start watching something on your laptop, move seamlessly to the television, pause to take a break, and resume exactly where you left off on your mobile phone or tablet. It’s like Amazon’s whisper sync service for Kindle, but for video. Apple’s iTunes does this today, of course, but only if you sync your devices back to a computer first.
Apple Makes a TV
This is perhaps the most talked about non-existent product. It has been rumored for years, but we do believe it’s coming. IOS5’s AirPlay and AirPlay Mirroring give us a glimpse of what might be coming, with seamless integration of a mobile device and TV. Video from your phone or tablet instantly appears on the big screen and looks fantastic. Any content and any application can be made to appear on the TV screen, and some applications take full advantage of the connectivity to create a completely new kind of two-screen interactivity. If Apple simply puts that ability directly into a TV, it may well have a winner on its hands.
The GRP Dies and Is Reborn
Ratings and rating points have long been the currency of the TV buying world and a proxy for impact. But as the TV ecosystem changes, new metrics will emerge that will enhance or possibly replace that as the currency by bringing deeper attributes, behavioral data, and actual consumer response to ads into the mix, rather than trading on program viewership numbers by broad age/sex demos. We’ve alluded to some of the possibilities already, such as using a Kinect (or similar) camera to know who is in the room and watching TV. The signs of change are clearly visible even today. Twitter is partnering with Nielsen to develop an engagement companion to TV ratings. Social listening companies like Bluefin Labs are focusing in on TV and TV advertising to help marketers understand the real-time conversation around their spots. Mobile check-in services and automatic content recognition are creating a reliable link between viewing behavior and surfing/e-shopping behavior. And interactive ad formats bring their own engagement metrics to the party. All of these measures mean that today’s standard GRP will evolve to a more accurate and meaningful metric, one that is likely to encompass not only commercial viewership, but commercial reach, engagement, and impact.