SocialTV – Time for some answers

I’ve been quiet for a couple of weeks now as I have been working on a new project related to socialTV. The project started when I tried to write a blog post that defined socialTV – what I have discovered was that socialTV is really a new ecosystem that is developing and that the second screen services, connectedTV services, widget et al. all are just a part of that ecosystem. So defining socialTV was hard as everyone was using the term for the individual part of the ecosystem that they were working on. That project is nearing completion and I would hope to be able to blog about my results by the end of the week.

What I found though was that there was no real consumer research into socialTV though – many companies are developing technology, many start-ups are launching, many bloggers (including myself) are talking about socialTV – but no one had actually spoken to the consumers.

With the help of my wife (who runs a media research company) I put together a short survey that tries to answer a couple of key questions.

– do people want socialTV

– when do they want to use socialTV
– what functionality do they want from their socialTV

The survey can be found here – it would be great if people could complete the survey and pass onto their friends/family. I’m particularly interested in women at the moment as currently I have a heavy male skew.

Once the results are in, I’ll be blogging about each area of the results so that hopefully we can all get a better understanding about what consumers actually believe and want socialTV to be.

GoogleTV – Now Sony Are Involved!

When I wrote my original blog post on GoogleTV I must confess that I was just looking into the  future and was not to concerned on whether it would happen. But today the NYT have released some more information which would seem to indicate that actually my predictions were nearer the money than I thought!

So now we Google, Intel, Sony and Logitech all working together on GoogleTV, with the promise of an open platform so that developers can create new and exciting applications! With Logitech now involved as well we can also imagine a special remote control, perhaps with added functionality to ease navigation.

Now this is still all being denied by all parties – but if this is true, Google, Intel and Sony…..connectedTV could become very interesting in 2010.

Getting political for a second – why should the UK public fund the development of Canvas which will be limited to the UK, when 3 of the largest commercial organisations in media are developing probably a superior product, that will be truly open (does anyone really believe Canvas will be open?) and will also have the ability to be global!

Time to get excited!!

SocialTV Forum – The Afternoon

Football is game of two halves (god how often do you hear that), but so it seems was the SocialTV Forum. After a disappointing morning session my expectations of the afternoon were not great. And while there were still some issues, there were also some gems and a definite positive reaction to how the morning had gone.

The afternoon kicked of with a panel session, which had more weight to it than the whole morning. With Richard Lindsay Davies chairing and panel members including Rahul Chakkara and Claudio Venezia. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that it took 5 hours of this conference and Lindsay Davies to even mention Project Canvas! Not sure how you can have a socialTV conference in the UK in 2010 without discussing the giant publically funded gorilla that is Canvas! But even when Davis mentioned it – it was only to say he didn’t want to talk about it!! Which seems strange as recently that  is all he does seem to talk about!

Rahul Chakkara was fantastic to be honest – interesting, insightful and when the panel began to drift he even took over from Davies (oh the irony) and pulled the panel back on course. Venezia was the only other panelist who really added value to the panel – he talked the words all VC’s love to hear, about how socialTV needed to be disruptive and the new industry needed innovation.

There was also someone called Tom on the panel (not on agenda) who said he didn’t know what socialTV was, but it was here already…..yeah, and that was his most insightful input into the panel as well. The panel didn’t really go anywhere, achieve any objectives – but Chakkara and Davies were good to listen to. Chakkara even joked at the end that he could not believe Canvass had not come up – and asked delegates to email him as he wanted ideas to help the industry evolve.

Both Davies and Chakkara were value for money – but I’d have liked to have heard both of them speak individually. They both have great  expertise and very different opinions on how the industry will evolve and it would have been a great chance to see both sides discussed side by side.

Next was the gem of the afternoon – T-Mobile had dropped out so Simon Dyke and Malcolm Lewis stepped up to the  plate with a demonstration of Oona a socialTV platform being developed by the NDS R&D department. Here we have some real innovation, applications that are live, working – contextual social interaction based upon the program being viewed. Facebook recommendation engines for what to watch, Twitter conversations based around the program you decide to watch, Flickr/Youtube supplementary content based on the contextual metadata supplied with the program. All being controlled by a remote, not a keyboard!!

As Simon stated “With television, there is ALWAYS a context” and NDS are using that context to serve up the social services consumers may/or may not want. A great Q&A session and some insight – whilst NDS are known as a B2B technology supplier, they did admit that Oona could be launched as a consumer product – and NDS do already have consumer brands out there! Interesting times at NDS, by far the best session and to see real innovation that was actually working was fantastic.

Around this time I tuned out I have to confess – I heard some of  the next panel, Martin Jarrold was awful and just droned on and on about nothing/everything. Andrew Keamey and Nick Hopkins were a league apart in this panel, but you began to suspect they knew it and that the audience was already lost. Both of these two had good opinions and an insight into what UPC and Virgin are planning in relation to this area would have been great…but for some reason the chair would not let them.

The afternoon was much stronger than the morning – they were taking questions from the twitter stream, they had some heavy weight people to speak and a demonstration of a real service. A vast improvement – but this could have been a spectacular day if panelist had been allowed to be speakers!

So onto the IPTV World Forum next  week…..a broader remit and a hope to see if I can get on the NDS stand and have a hands on play with Oona!

So what is SocialTV?

It’s a question that has interested me in the past, but the SocialTV Forum has really pulled this into focus for me. There seems to be a real issue about what SocialTV is? Is socialTV about watching TV on your PC with interaction around it, is it widgets on your TV delivered by your CE device, is channel or platform linked?

So I’m going to try (with you) to answer that question – through this blog I’m asking you to let me know what you think socialTV is or what it should be? Once I have these answers (qual research) I’ll pull together a survey (quant research) and then publish the results here.

My wife is a Snr Director for a major media research firm, I’ll get her to help with the survey and results to make sure that they have some real value to us all.

So – what is/should SocialTV be to you?

Social TV Forum – The Morning Roundup

I didn’t get to go to the SocialTV Forum this morning, but thanks to Brightcove I’ve been able to watch the morning unfold from the comfort of my desk by watching their live stream. And have to say I think this was the better option, because if I’d have paid money to go to this event I’d be fuming by now.

We started the day (or I started watching the stream) with Richard Griffiths from Eircom and IPTV provider in Ireland – who havent launched their platform yet, and havent done any socialTV yet…..and this was the keynote!! Richard is a well-known character in the industry and in my role at Playboy we’ve been supportive of Eircom and will continue to be. He had some good views on socialTV – but they were all wrong to be honest. His premise was that socialTV would/should be owned by the platforms. That the platforms would provide the interactivity to maintain control of the services. I think this is wrong for one main reason:

1) Connected TV means that SocialTV will be able to come direct from a TV bypassing the platform. ConnectedTV will not have the middleware limitations, and will not be the walled garden approach Richard was discussing. Why limit yourself to a platform when you can develop for a TV and reach a wider audience without the editorial/commercial interference of the platforms?

The innovation in this sphere will be driven by the companies that work direct with the CE manufactures and build utility based services that transend individual platforms. SocialTV that can only be social if you’re using the same platform/CE device – isn’t really that social!

Next up was Dan Cryan from Screen Digest – these guys are experts at what they know and Dan was certainly a good presenter. But Screen Digest is an analysis company – they show stats, graphs and trends. But socialTV is so new and undefined at the moment that it was all quite irrelevant. Already you could pick up the vibe that people wanted to see and touch some innovation, not hear about the percentage growth in online video over the last 3 years!

The first panel was when alarm bells started ringing for me – we had 3 sales pitches (and Ooyala don’t think Football is a big driver for TV apparently!!) – but then there was Tom McDonnell from Monerosa – someone who has actually built and run socialTV applications! The panel was dull with everyone trying to have their say and sell their company – shame, Tom should have had a solus speaking slot!!

Tom Weiss was next up from TV Genius a comany I only came across yesterday, but one that I am now keen to meet. They’re trying to make this a reality – he talked sense, he was interesting, he had real expertise….he was only on for about 2 minutes though. He was really just there to introduce a client of his Phil Walders from FetchTV who started with those awful words “let me tell you a little bit about Fetch…” He then moved on to try to sell us that an advanced IP based EPG was socialTV…..hmmm.

Eric Elia was next up from Brightcove (must disclose I’m a client of his and having breakfast with him tomorrow) – Brightcove are a great company, but did they fit into this stream? They provide a great service around which you can build social elements – but whilst Eric tried to show something different/new, it did end up feeling like a sales pitch from an exhibitor (a theme from the whole conference).

The final session was a panel of production companies – and Triona Campbell started by telling us how many ‘hits’ one of her show got……I nearly turned the stream of there and then! We’re in 2010, at a social media conference and you have a panelist boasting about how many ‘hits’ something has??? She needs to head down to the Engagement seminar next week and learn where the media industry is in 2010! The panel were interesting – but not for this conference. If the conference had been about Online TV Productions – great. At the end the chair asked them to sum up what they wanted to see from socialTV in the coming year – their answers were:

– Triona Campbell: We need to have product placement

– Robert Marsh: Brands need to take online content more seriously

– Dick Rempt: Industry needs to open up and work together more with brands.

Well – that will drive the SocialTV industry forward!!

And that was the end of the morning session – there were some interesting people in there, but they were not given time to shine (perhaps they were not exhibitors!).

One question comes out before I head back for the next stream – perhaps we havent yet really defined what SocialTV is yet?

Review – MSN Video Player

So MSN have just taught be a lesson in regards to the word BETA! With news of the launch of the new MSN Video Player I trialled the service yesterday (it was in public Beta) ahead of the commercial launch this morning. My review of their Beta site was scathing to be honest and I thought maybe Ashley Highfield had gone and jumped the shark on us. But just as I was about to post this morning, I went back again – and the full launch version is nothing like the Beta version. I was looking forward to ripping into Microsoft, just not sure I can anymore.

The background to the launch can be found on other sites, but what interests me is whether this service is being launched as a direct competitor to the likes of SeeSaw and Canvas – or is just seen as a part of the MSN offering.

The navigation is strong, such an improvement on the Beta version. There are only 3 main headings Categories, Full TV Shows and Movies – with a Queue button at the end, which does not seem to be working yet!

The Categories section then has a subnav which lets you get a full flavour of the offering – Games, MSN originals, News, Sport, TV Clips and Viral. This is a strong point of differentiation from SeeSaw, this service is not just catering for TV Shows but is aiming to be a one stop shop for video content. The Games section for example breaks down further into Features, Reviews as well as the expected Trailers. MSN Orginals has interviews with the likes of Cheryl Cole, Jedward and Kelly Brooks. The News section is a nice idea, bringing together content from SKY and ITN and covering both breaking news and also human interest stories.

It is their TV strategy though that I really like and will eventually pay dividends for them. They have not followed the SeeSaw route and done deals with channel brands, but have gone direct to the production companies. This means that they can sort all content by genre, rather than being anchored down by having to build in channel brands to the navigation. I’m a firm believer that this is the route forward – people search for programs, not channels. One downside is that the show branded pages of the Beta version have gone – this means that the site becomes a bit bland as you navigate around, it lacks personality or any real brand values.

The Movies section at the moment is really just trailers – but what a week to launch with the stunning trailers for Tron and Iron Man2 being able to grace your homepage. You can’t think that it will be to long before a premium service is added and full length movies are available here.

The content strategy here is almost without fault in my opinion; they’ve pulled together nearly all the relevant video content into one place, and managed to create a navigation system which means that discovery is relatively easy.

Commercially they’ve followed the SeeSaw strategy of having two pre rolls before the programming, but what I really liked (as an advertiser) is that the preroll is supplemented by a small banner in the top left of the site. It’s a nice supporting function – though as I watch Doc Martin the banner is empty with a message “Visit our Advertiser”. Unlike SeeSaw you also don’t seem to be able to skip the midroll adverts either, if you try and jump to the end of a program, you’ll get the midroll before it starts playing.

But what is missing again is the social interaction that Hulu does so well. There is the ability to share – but this is literally just a link that you can copy and paste. There is no ability to link through to Facebook or Twitter, no ability to rate, comment, and recommend programming to your peers. In this sense we have another provider that has missed a trick. And the metadata is dull, pointless and useless to be honest. Who wants to know that the episode of Doc Martin I’m watching first aired on the 1st September 2004, or that the rights were provided by the Digital Rights Group? There is so much more that can/should be done with metadata in this environment.

Overall the service is nicely designed (though I’d disagree with @TNW when they call it eye candy), though lacks any real personality. The content strategy is excellent with its diverse range differentiating it from other catch up services – and most importantly allowing for easy scaling of the service in future.

The poor metadata and lack of social interaction both need to be worked on – though my eye keeps going back to the Queue button and wondering what that will bring in the future?

Highfield has produced a very nice video service and with his content strategy has created a service which does manage to differentiate itself. He certainly hasn’t jumped the shark on this one, and has delivered a very solid, if slightly uninspiring, service.

But we’re still waiting for our Hulu – the service that will make TV truly social, that will have a discovery engine at its core. Perhaps we’re all waiting for Project Canvas – I don’t think so, I still think the innovation in this area is going to come from an unknown company, working away at the moment in anonymity.

There is one thing that MSN, SeeSaw et al are all missing – something that many who have run adult VOD services for years know all about – but that is for another posting….

Social TV Forum – will there be answers?

So we enter the exhibition phase of television of the coming weeks – we have the Social TV Forum, Changing Media, IPTVWorld Forum and then of course MIPTV. It’s great that so many great speakers are lined up and I think we’ll get a real insight into the direction that the industry is going in the near future.

First up is the Social TV Forum Richard Lindsey Davies will be a highlight with high hopes that he’ll continue the Project Canvas debate, but for me I’m hoping for a lot from Ian Kegel from BT. As one of the few true IPTV plays in the UK BT have the IP return path to do something really interesting. I’ve always argued that IPTV was built for interactivity and yet the industry has only ever delivered a one way programming – perhaps this is where we learn how they’re going to use the IP return path they have?

Social TV will become and more and more talked about as Project Canvas draws ever nearer, already the arguments rage as to whether dual screen experiences, text overlays on programming and TV widgets will take off.

Hopefully the first of the shows will begin to exhibit what the industry has in store for us!