A look back: The 6 most important video industry trends from IBC (Part 2)

By Jim O'Neill on Nov 22 2016 at 5:00 AM
user interfaces, virtual reality critical to next-gen OTT

This is the second installment in a three-part series looking at the industry trends that came out of IBC. Part 1 looked at how over-the-top services have been embraced by virtually all players in the industry and the growing dominance of offering software as a service.

The industry is undergoing a seismic shift in virtually all aspects and IBC made it clear that, while some broadcasters and operators remain reluctant to move into the next generation of technology, others have embraced it fully. But over-the-top delivery isn't just a massive change for video service providers, it's also a new world for consumers. It's an interesting parallel, as there, too, early adopters have warmly embraced new technology while others, while intrigued, remain at arm's length. Integrating both audience groups will be critical moving forward.

USER INTERFACE AND USER EXPERIENCE

User interfaces and the user experience remain huge pain points for consumers — and for services looking for ways to reduce customer churn and increase consumer engagement. UI and UX were used interchangeably as vendors talked about the need to make sure users came first… no matter what; consider it another manifestation of the consumers seizing the high ground that used to belong to content.

UI took center stage during IBC, with numerous companies sharing their visions of future trends. Look to see more graphical interfaces, as the text-heavy tiles that originally defined apps are retired and search and discovery move up the ladder.

“TV is reinventing itself over and over,” said Sacha Prueter, head of Android TV at Google, who notes that it’s becoming harder to keep a content grazing consumer engaged as the content universe expands. “Companies will have to learn how to innovate quickly and leverage device types to fit specific viewer expectations and experiences,” he adds.

Along with more immersive graphical experiences, voice also is coming to the forefront.

“(Comcast’s) Xfinity is spending an obscene amount of money to get the consumer to talk to his box,” Michael Hawkey, SVP & GM for TiVo’s discovery business group, said. But making voice truly functional has a long way to go.

“Users shouldn’t have to talk in a keyword friendly order to get what they want because that isn’t natural,” he insists. Instead, developing UIs that understand natural language — and its syntax — will be key.

It’s not hard to see that today’s TV viewing experience has become more fragmented.

Broadcast TV, traditional pay TV with dozens of broadcast and cable network choices, SVOD services, AVOD and freemium services, TVOD, EST and any combination of the above have served to create a massive queue of content.

Hardware, including SmartTVs, tablets, smartphones, Roku boxes, Apple TVs, Amazon Fire TV sticks, Chromecasts and other devices has added to that tangle, as well as adding to the pile of remotes that clutter coffee tables and can create Goldberg-esque content search and discovery rituals.

The next generation of UI will have more in common with today’s nascent heads-up-display (HUD) technology that’s begun to appear in cars — graphical displays on a windshield that show traffic conditions with lane colors, a driver’s speed, road conditions and the route to a destination without being distracting — than they do with current electronic guides. And they’ll be more immersive than guides like those of SVOD services like Netflix offer.

As Trisha Cooke, chief of marketing for Canadian user interface specialist You.i said: “There’s no better business,” as long as you can seamlessly connect consumers with content… without getting in the way.

A ROOM WITH A (DIFFERENT) VIEW

Just six years ago, IBC featured a number of panels on the coming 3D boom; booths featured multiple monitors showing 3D content to visitors wearing an array of 3D glasses and camera manufacturers presented live display that, literally, stopped traffic.

That boom went bust in less than two years as consumers essentially yawned (or gagged) at their experience.

Fast forward a couple of years and UHD/4K sets — some of them massive — attracted similar queues of viewers eager to get a close up peek of the technology, learn about the massive bandwidth required to deliver UHD content, gawk at the (too) clear close ups of and gasp at the prices.

This year, UHD took a backseat to virtual reality at IBC, becoming almost passé as 4K content creation is becoming the norm and more operators start to offer 4K services. While not yet ubiquitous, the industry is convinced that UHD will become the norm in the very near future, likely leveraging HDR technology.

The star of the show — obvious to anyone who walked through the halls — was VR.

Booths with VR headset wearing visitors were packed as demonstrations targeted at gamers, sports fans and the general entertainment industry ran their course to oohs and aahs.

Interestingly, concerns that VR would meet the same fate as 3D — where users just weren’t keen on wearing goofy glasses while watching content that wasn’t necessarily better in 3D — are few.

In the weeks after IBC, several major firms invested in the technology and analyst firms forecast huge sales within the next few years, a time frame that’s crucial to VR’s growth, said Alex Mahon, managing director of The Foundry.

“If we look maybe two hardware cycles on, then VR will be massive,” she said. “So, two hardware cycles — that’s probably three or four years — then we’ll see tens of millions of people with headsets because by then the headsets will be less invasive. They’ll be simpler to hook up to a computer system, more like a pair of glasses and a phone.”

VR and augmented reality, rather than simply making content pop off the screen, actually immerses the viewer in the content, giving them the ability to alter their viewing perspective and, in some cases, to almost interact with the content as if they were actually there.

While gamers likely will be the earliest adopters — that where most of the current content is — there will be other formats that follow quickly, with sports one of the favorites.

Still, doubt remains in some quarters.

The DVB project’s chair, David Wood, is taking a slightly more cautious approach, asking at IBC whether VR would be a fad or an important, new, commercially successful media form? “Will it be possible to minimize motion sickness and what kind of content, and of what duration?” he asked.

END OF PART 2

In tomorrow’s segment, we look at how media revenue models have been disrupted and at how crucial analytics, measurement and discovery are.

JIM O’NEILL is Principal Analyst at Ooyala and Editor of Videomind.

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