What really grabbed our attention though, were the presentations on the way companies are creating innovative new services that take advantage of recent technological advances such as 3G phones, near ubiquitous broadband and the ever decreasing cost of storing media. In response to this we’ve decided to dig out the HeyUGuys crystal ball, and make a few predictions about the way we’ll be watching movies and TV in the next few years.
While we can’t guarantee that everything we talk about will catch on, it’s probably worth clarifying that we’re not making Tomorrow’s World-style predictions of the far off decades. Most of these services are already out there, or are launching in the immediate future, so we’re fairly certain you’ll get a chance to see them in action soon.
IPTV – Internet on the tellybox
The biggest change we’re likely to see in the next year or so, is the point of contact with the internet. Already the number of people going online via their desktop or laptop is falling. Instead users are accessing services through smartphones and tablet computers. The next device of choice will be the TV. Sort of.
That doesn’t mean that TV isn’t going to become the go-to platform of choice for checking e-mails, or logging into Facebook. Nor will it take over for casual browsing. In those circumstances most users no doubt enjoy the freedom and privacy of their own screen, not one shared with the whole family. But as online video grows more prevalent, and people become more comfortable with IPTV services such as iPlayer and 4OD, it seems inevitable that more and more people would want to watch those shows on the main screen in the house.
Indeed this is already happening. The BBC’s own statistics show that around a quarter of users are watching iPlayer programming through either games consoles, or a set top box. At the moment, that figure represents subscribers to a pay TV service, and relatively tech savvy early adopters, but as more and more TVs are released with an integrated internet connection (read most new TVs coming onto the market), we’ll start to see a steady increase in the number of people using them to watch online video. It’s already the case in much of Europe and Asia, and it will be here too soon enough.
Of course, not everyone will be buying a new television soon, but alongside the rise in internet-enabled TVs, next year will see the rollout of YouView, a joint venture between the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, alongside Arquiva, BT and TalkTalk. The service is aimed at making it easier for users to access IPTV. It will likely centre around a relatively cheap set top box, and will allow access to online content through a ‘walled garden’ of apps, making it simple and easy for users to watch online video content through their existing television sets, and allowing for more providers to offer content to users.
Subscription Services – Established broadcasters doing something new
In the UK, Sky+ is the dominant Personal Video Recorder (PRV) platform, and that’s not really surprising. When the service launched, the only competition they faced was from TiVO, a company that sold PVRs that required a subscription to use (a model that works well in the US). Sky’s offer, which combined their pay TV service with a digital recorder was so much stronger that TiVO didn’t stand a chance. Since then the only competition Sky+ has faced has been from subscription free Freeview boxes.
That changed earlier this year, as TiVO re-entered the UK market, this time partnered with Virgin Media. While what Virgin/TiVO are offering isn’t anything particularly new (pausing live TV, series recording, Video On Demand (VOD) etc.) the fact that it’s delivered through a dedicated cable broadband link means that their boxes are yet another piece of kit that can connect a TV to the internet. Not only that, but it also means that Virgin can offer a much more comprehensive VOD service than Sky, and can also offer access to iPlayer, YouTube and similar services through easy to use Apps.
While they haven’t announced any changes to their Sky+ service yet, if the Virgin/TiVO service really takes off, we might expect Sky to launch boxes with a similar offer in the next few years. In the mean time they have been exploring other options, making it easier to watch their channels away from the main TV. With the launch of Sky Go on the 6th July, the company will make it possible for users to watch Sky News or Sky Sports, live streaming on compatible mobile handsets.
So far nothing we’ve looked at has been particularly revolutionary, simply a shakeup of delivery methods – web based content shown on TVs, and traditional TV content more easily accessible online. Ultraviolet, on the other hand, promises to do something truly innovative.
A few years ago the music industry took a lot of flak for their use of heavy-handed Digital Rights Management, that essentially criminalised users who wanted to enjoy the content they had already paid for across several platforms. UltraViolet is the film and TV industry’s way of avoiding that fiasco, and will allow users to pay for content once, and watch it anywhere, and it’s currently backed by just about everyone except for Disney.
With UltraViolet, users can buy an UltraViolet enabled BluRay, register it with their UltraViolet account, and then download it to up to 12 ‘devices’ registered with their household account, no matter where in the world those devices are. They can also stream the videos to any device they like, whether at home, or away. Indeed, they can if they wish stream it to three different devices simultaneously.
Or rather than buy the Blu-ray, they could simply download the film to one device, and still have the option of putting it on 11 more at a later date. Presumably this option would be slightly cheaper than purchasing the Blu-ray, although pricing details are yet to be revealed.
There’s also no clear word on what constitutes a ‘device’. We’d guess initially a dedicated set top box, as well as computers that have an Ultraviolet player installed (think the downloadable iPlayer or 4OD player), as well as through smartphones, tablets and consoles through an UltraViolet app. In the long run we’re not so sure, but probably integrated into TVs, or at the very least into Virgin, YouView, and even maybe Sky set top boxes. One place we wouldn’t expect to see it, at least in the short to medium term, is on iOS powered devices (iPhones & iPads). Given Apple’s reticence to open up their platform, and the potential this has to compete with their iCloud service, it’s likely they’ll refuse to play ball.
So there you have it, ‘home’ entertainment in 2012 (or maybe 2013 (or 2014)). We’ve no doubt missed out a lot of other, interesting innovations, and like anyone trying to predict the future, we’ll no doubt be caught out by the next exciting bit of tech released just as this post goes live, but we think it gives a flavour of what’s to come.
If you’ve had any experience with any of the services, or any wild predictions of your own, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.