Category Archives: television

The dismal rise of smart TVs

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 5.36.09 PM


Why are smart TVs not scaling?

Nielsen published some interesting stats recently on technology adoption in the United States. Broadband access to the Internet is now near 80%, meaning even Grandma has it. Smartphones have skyrocketed from about no use in 2007 (when they were first released by Apple as a category) to adoption by 3 of 4 adults. Tablets went from zero in 2010 to 46% last year, and today should be in the hands of 1 in 2 consumers. But smart TVs are trailing … in 2014 reaching only 13% of the U.S. population. At that lackluster growth rate, in five years only 1 in 4 U.S. households will have one.

Smart TVs are basically large video screens connected to the Internet, allowing you to “stream” content online, from Kevin Spacey taking over the world in Netflix’s House of Cards to YouTube videos. There are numerous reasons adoption may be slow: the average U.S. household already has three TV sets; consumers recently went through mass spending on flat panels, as they emerged as a sexy category about a decade ago, so may be reluctant to upgrade yet again; and the remote controls of the smartest TVs still don’t lend themselves to typing in commands for Internet video searches. Between the cost outlay and the lousy absent keyboards, it’s little wonder few have adopted to Internet-connected flat panels.

But there is a deeper psychological issue at play, too. When Robert Sommer first wrote of “personal space” in 1969, he suggested we actually have three fields of taking in information: an intimate space near our face or ears, similar to a lover’s whisper; a personal workspace about arm’s length away, the distance of tools in our hands; and a social space from about 4 to 10 feet away. Today’s technology fits perfectly in each of these fields: mobile is intimate, laptops are personal/work space, and TVs are social. We are more likely to speak up in our intimate space (“Honey, please move your elbow”) and more focused on listening in our social space (“shh, don’t interrupt the storyteller.”) This is why our thumbs crawl over mobile smartphone keyboards but with TV, we just want to chillax for the show.

Don’t get us wrong. TV is still king of all media. Despite all the hoopla over digital and mobile, consumers spend more than 4 hours a day letting the blue light of cable bathe over them, outpacing time spent on any other communication devices. But our utility of television is one of social receptivity. We don’t want to engage with big screens, but instead, wish for them to entertain us without nuanced input. Like stories from around a campfire, the streams that come from TV are meant for us to be received as passive entertainment. Our guess is “smart TVs” may never take off, even as screen resolutions grow sharper and the flat-panels increase in size until they are as large as your basement wall. Our modality is simply passive as we watch Kevin Spacey. When we want to truly engage, we turn to the mobile Twitter interface in our hands.



2012, the year of the TV

For the first time ever, in 2012 the average U.S. home will have three television sets. What does that tell us about society?

It’s a paradox, really. Talk to many in the ad industry and you’ll hear “TV is over.” Gurus from Don Peppers to Joseph Jaffe have made livings suggesting the fragmentation of mass media has spread the disease of consumer inattention, an inability for marketers to maintain the push messaging strategies of yore. Bob Knorpp, a friend of ours who hosts one of adworld’s cleverest podcasts, The Beancast, expressed surprise a few weeks ago when someone mentioned TV ratings were up in 2011. “How is that possible?” Bob asked. “I thought TV was supposed to be dying.”

Yet what’s happening is more complex — time spent in front of TVs is at an all-time high, while within that time video fragmentation is making audiences more difficult to reach. If TV were a date, she’d be having more sex but with many different people. Our passion for television is hot, but alas, she has become promiscuous.

Here’s the good news for TV marketers:

+ The average U.S. consumer is exposed to more than 4 hours and 50 minutes of TV daily. Both web and mobile use, by comparison, rank under 1 hour a day. TV is the largest canvas to paint your brand picture.
+ 97% of U.S. households own TVs.
+ HD video has renewed interest in television, with 67% of homes now able to receive high-def video vs. only 14% four years ago.
+ The cost of TV sets continues to plummet, with high-def 60-inch LCD panels now below $1,000.

Yet big challenges loom:

– Advertisers push too many commercials out. In November 2010 an estimated 19,752 commercial messages of assorted lengths were played on TV during prime time, up 43% from 2000. Average commercial time per television hour is now around 18 minutes, vs. about 8 minutes in the 1960s.
– Consumers can’t possibly digest all those ads. The typical person in the U.S. is exposed to 166 television messages each day. Can you remember more than three TV ads from yesterday?
– Consumers are rebelling in two ways — either doing something else when ad messages run (typically “concurrent media use,” looking away at laptops or mobile), or using time-shifting tools such as TiVo and DVRs to record television and watch it later, fast-forwarding over commercials.

To say TV is dead misses the point; audience fragmentation does not mean audiences no longer exist. TV use is huge, yet consumers have found new ways to avoid ads. It’s easy to forecast statistics to paint too bleak a picture; years ago Jaffe, for instance, said that DVR use would be in 40% of homes by 2009, while Nielsen just reported that timeshifting viewing in 2010 was just 9% of all viewing (time-shifting is plateauing, a sign that consumers may be too lazy to push buttons to record and rewatch programming vs. just letting the blue glow of cable wash over them). Video use via the Internet is expected to challenge TV, but in 2010 young adults spent just 6 minutes and 51 seconds watching online video daily vs. more than two hours using traditional TV.

There is no question the television landscape is changing, but it’s been doing that since the 1960s. Marketers exploring television as an option just have to be smarter about planning how to reach their targets.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

Image: Al Ibrahim

How Apple will build a hologram

Over at Bloomberg Businessweek today I predict that Apple will soon get in the television business, building real Apple-branded TV sets chasing $14 billion in subscription fees and ad revenue. The triggers for this article were both rumors that Apple’s pipeline suppliers are gearing up to build Apple TV units, and a patent that Apple won last year for a new form of 3D.

The patent is most interesting. It provides a wonderful analysis of what is wrong with current 3D systems: users wear expensive goggles, awkward, and without goggles two or more people can’t experience 3D at one time. Who wants to drink beers during the Super Bowl like that? Apple being Apple, it proposes a fantastic concept that would use Microsoft Kinect-type movement tracking to determine where your head is, and the head of each other user in the room, and then project separate beams of light to both of each user’s eyes to provide a truly holographic experience. Since your eyes are what make the world seem three-dimensional, if Apple’s set could follow you around the room and adjust the image to both eyes instantly, you’d see objects as clear as your desk or couch floating in space. The future of moving images would be perfected.

If this technology comes to market, it would revolutionize more than TV. Imagine having a teleconference with people from the other coast floating in the room. Telecommuting might finally explode. Plane travel could become a thing of the past. Luke’s twisted crush on his sister Princess Leia, when she first beamed out of R2D2, would finally be understandable.

Here are excerpts from the Apple patent, which you can find here.

The hologram would be different

A more recent and potentially much more realistic form of autostereoscopic display is the hologram. Holographic and pseudo-holographic displays output a partial light field that presents many different views simultaneously by effectively re-creating or simulating for the viewer the original light wavefront. The resulting imagery can be quite photorealistic, exhibiting occlusion and other viewpoint-dependent effects (e.g., reflection), as well as being independent of the viewer’s physical position. In fact, the viewer can move around to observe different aspects of the image.

The hologram would support multiple viewers

A concurrent continuing need is for such practical autostereoscopic 3D displays that can also accommodate multiple viewers independently and simultaneously. A particular advantage would be afforded if the need could be fulfilled to provide such simultaneous viewing in which each viewer could be presented with a uniquely customized autostereoscopic 3D image that could be entirely different from that being viewed simultaneously by any of the other viewers present, all within the same viewing environment, and all with complete freedom of movement therein.

Viewers could manipulate the 3D images

Yet another urgent need is for an unobtrusive 3D viewing device that combines feedback for optimizing the viewing experience in combination with provisions for 3D user input, thus enabling viewing and manipulation of virtual 3D objects in 3D space without the need for special viewing goggles or headgear…

The image recognition can be implemented to distinguish between observers and non-observers, so that images are projected only to the desired targets (i.e., to the actual observers that are present) having, for example, certain predetermined defining characteristics enabling them to be distinguished accordingly.

User recognition would support customization

Still further, individual observers 132 can not only be individually distinguished, detected, and tracked, but they can be uniquely identified based upon distinctive personal characteristics (e.g., height, shoulder width, distinctive outline, etc.). Personalized observer preferences can then be stored and associated with each such observer. Then, for example, upon entering the environment of the 3D display system 100, the system would recognize such an observer 132 and customize that observer’s experiences according to the unique preferences and parameters associated therewith. Examples would include automatically authenticating the observer, personally greeting the observer upon arrival, providing a customized desktop for just that observer, providing customized control responses (e.g., responses to head movements) for that observer, resuming the 3D display where it had been previously stopped, and so forth.

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.

The :30 second spot ain’t dead. It’s Googled.

Pity the poor tube. The average U.S. home has at least four televisions — more than the people who reside under the roof. Americans watch on average 5 hours and 9 minutes of live TV each day. And yet this big, broad, blue-light bathing glow that we can’t escape is never commented on as a revolution in communications.

Stand by. Google this week hinted it was dipping its toe in the Internet-to-TV waters with Smart TV, hoping to do with big screens what its Android OS is with mobile: capture a new market. Google is partnering with Sony, Intel and Logitech to launch open-source software that streams TV shows, YouTube or home videos to the big screen in your basement. Such integrated video hasn’t caught on yet because most TVs aren’t built to hook into the web, and “bridge” systems such as Apple TV have limited functionality (and require too many damn wires for the average user to contemplate). That’s about to change — now, more than 1 million TV sets in the U.S. are wired for the Internet, and about 10 million are expected to be in homes by 2011.

The battle for the future of television is getting interesting. Hardware makers such as Sony and Panasonic are also pushing out 3-D televisions, partly because the ginormous files required to render 3-D can’t be jammed easily through cable or Internet pipes — you’ll have to buy an expensive Sony or Panasonic box. (Bonus points: 3-D TVs work by projecting regular TV images, but simply flash the images back and forth from two alternating perspectives rapidly in sync with battery-powered glasses that shutter your left and right eyes in sequence; we’ve seen the illusion and it is startlingly holographic.) The irony is cable companies may get caught between two crushing forces, the ultra-high-def holographic 3-D of Avatar films and the ultra-fuzzy-low-res quality of Internet cat videos. Consumers seem drawn to the extremes; that doesn’t bode well for the ratings of mediocrity in the middle.

Image: Jorge Miente

Yes, soon you’ll own a 3-D TV

Technology is best taken with a grain of salt. We’ve written in BusinessWeek that widgets won’t work (wrong), Twitter ads will fail (right), and Google may get its search lunch eaten by mobile (the verdict is still out). But man. 3-D video may change the world.

We discovered this by entering a giant Panasonic booth at the SXSW trade show. Sure, we thought, another visual gizmo. Two guys in front of us were skeptical as well. “I mean, how much better can my eyes possibly see?” one dude asked. But inside the unit, a giant screen and battery-powered glasses gave the future game away. The technology works by flashing hundreds of frames per second on a giant high-def screen, with each frame alternating points of view; the powered glasses have lenses that shutter the left, then right eye rapidly in succession, so fast you can’t notice. The result is two angled images, just like real life, beamed to your brain by each eyeball. Whoa. Soccer balls soared past our head in high-def. Avatar aliens soared through trees. The biggest surprise was typographic and graphics — bright hard edges leap forward, making us wonder what salespeople will do with PowerPoint in a few years.

Panasonic and Sony are pushing 3-D hard. Wired has a complete writeup of Sony’s efforts, which include pushing 3-D into consumer cameras as well, so mom can watch little Johnny wiggle in the air. There’s tremendous energy behind this because Sony has missed some recent tech advances, such as the portable MP3 music market now owned by Apple (and lost a billion dollars in 2008 to boot); meanwhile the average U.S. home now has more 2-D televisions than people. But the real reason is the experience is nothing like you’ve seen before. A minor quibble; with some crowd scenes the people and objects look miniature, a bit of a tilt-shift camera effect that makes you feel like you could reach out and squash them. Guess you’ll have to spring for a big set.

YouTube XL heads for big TVs (and a $76 billion ad market)

Ever wonder why you can’t get the internet on your TV set? Technologists will explain that humans have three distance fields for receiving communication — intimate, the phone in your hand; personal, the 24 inches between you and a laptop screen; and communal, the 10 feet between you and your big TV set in the basement. It all goes back to ancient communications — intimate whispers, personal face to face, and community displays around a campfire — and because the internet fits into the personal distance and TV is the campfire tribal entertainment, well, the two won’t marry.

Or it could be cash. Broadcast television takes in nearly $50 billion a year in ad revenue, and cable another $26 billion — so a $76 billion entertainment industry isn’t very interested in risking it all to let you get free internet videos over your television set.

YouTube is shaking that up in a big way. It announced this week a YouTube XL service to easily provide sharp video in large-screen formats, with a simple hookup from your computer to your television monitor. Greg Sandoval at CNET has a fine review of the service.

Our bet? Google has its eyes on some of that $76 billion in big-screen advertising.

TVs and microwaves: Consumers no longer need you

A new Pew study has gotten some buzz over the fact that consumers now view microwaves as more a necessity than television sets. The scary finding for marketers, though, is that most categories of household goods saw a 20-point decline in perception in the past three years as consumers began tightening their belts. You can almost hear the sales of big flat panels screeching to a halt. Marketers of all stripes need to rethink their messaging — because what people needed yesterday is now just a luxurious add-on.

Via Brandflakes.

With ratings down 23.9%, MTV sexes up

You can almost hear the executives at Viacom, MTV’s parent anticipating an 8% slide in operating income in 2009, pound the board table shouting: GIVE US MORE SKIN!

MTV’s audience ratings are down 23.9% in fourth quarter 08 vs. the year prior. The masses of teens are moving from TV viewing to web sites, social media and mobile, so MTV is tarting up new reality shows such as “A Double Shot At Love” where bisexual twin women in tiny bikinis try to decide whom to have sex with. We like the subtle promotion where one hints she has an extra part. The twins’ last names — we can’t make this up — are Ikki.**

Now, dear prudes, let’s pause and consider the Darwinian pressure on content producers to evolve sexual content — because sex still works. In 2008 we saw beavers selling Kotex feminine products in Australia, animals lap-dancing for Orangina in the UK, Calvin Klein baring Eva Mendes‘ breasts, and our personal over-the-top favorite: A Burger King paper tray liner showing cartoons of vegetables cavorting in a red light district. The Kotex-beaver spot drew howls of protest when it first launched but later was credited with capturing 2% more share of Australia’s $250 million tampon market … in just a few months.

Hypersexed advertising also creates a halo effect of public relations, as media tut-tuts over the supposed scandal and provides millions of dollars in additional free advertising. Some of today’s best agencies, such as Crispin Porter, practically build in “public scandal” as a second line on every advertising media plan.

Finally, offline media must compete with the no-skin-barred online world, in which full nudity (as in this promotion for Elave) can be used in videos and sent around with no FCC to stop the message. Sex sells. Sex creates PR. And heck, the online competition uses sex everywhere. It all adds up to more provocation in the year ahead as mainstream media advertisers get desperate for a little more consumer love.

** CORRECTION: Our agency has an eyewitness account from Sarah Ely, who notes the MTV twins’ names are Rikki and Vikki, hence the double-K Ikki. “In the first episode the challenge was for guy and girl teams to lick frosting off of mannequins. They were at it for like two hours.” Now we must tune in!

TiVo makes search simpler on TV

Why is it so hard to find stuff on TV? Parents still struggle to find that show on dinosaur bones while clicking over R-rated material on HBO with the kids watching in the family room.

TiVo announced at CES last week that it is improving television search functionality to mimic that on Google — now consumers can type in the first word of a show they wish to see, and all the corresponding options pop up. This simple move may accelerate consumer drift away from primetime programming, which peaked way back in 1983 when 105 million people watched the last episode of M.A.S.H.

TiVo and similar DVR devices are making advertisers nervous, because they allow consumers to record shows and fast-forward over commercials. This risk is compounded by the so-called convergence of internet with television, in which consumers could surf any video online and avoid all advertising from traditional broadcasters. “Convergence” has stalled for years, due to the conflicting standards and hassle of hooking up various boxes to your television, but it’s coming closer. Wired notes this month that “Sony, LG, Toshiba, Panasonic and Samsung all unveiled Net-connected TVs and enhancements enabling … the ability to access online videos seamlessly from Youtube, Netflix and Amazon, without requiring a peripheral device.” TV will never go away — humans like large-scale theater — but the ads on it soon may be avoided altogether.

6 million TV viewers disappear. Blame the DVR.

Call it Must Not See TV.

The New York Times reports 6 million TV viewers have disappeared in the past year — not abducted by aliens, but simply no longer watching prime time television. This is incredible, representing 13.6% of the 44 million folks who watched prime time TV just one year ago.

The impact on the ad industry will not be pretty. While Nielsen notes that ratings for some shows have gone up — about half the people who watch “The Office” in the Los Angeles market do so with time-shifting on DVR devices, and such habits have actually added eyeballs to a few popular shows — these same viewers are likely skipping commercials. It doesn’t take long to figure out the fast-forward button on a TiVo.

The good news is that viewers are shifting video-viewing habits online. If you are not now testing emerging formats for online video advertising, rethink it. Your target consumers may be there in 2009.

(Photo: Angel R Ravelor)