From SmartTV to LinkedTV: a vision of television in the next five years

How will television look in 2017? This question is relevant to the Consultation Meeting of the European Commission’s research unit on Networked Media, which is planning which topics should be relevant in a call for projects to be published next year. Such projects will likely end around 2017 – five years from now.

LinkedTV is presenting at the meeting its view of future television, a future where “television” will be any audiovisual experience delivered from any source to any device, and where the device will be connected to the Internet and the content sources will be multiple, yet seamlessly integrated into a single experience for the consumer.

Today already TV sets are increasingly sold with Internet connectivity and an application platform – the so called “Smart TVs”. Yet consumers do not yet appear to be purchasing TVs for their connectivity, and TV applications are focused on OTT (over the top) video streaming or accessing Web data separate from the TV experience. Samsung reports that from 5 million app downloads for its SmartTV platform, 23% of the apps were educational and 20% were informational. Just that the educating and informing wouldn’t be integrated with the TV programming.

As a result, second screens are trending to be the preferred manner to access the Web alongside TV. A Yahoo funded survey in the US found 86% of respondents accessing mobile Internet while watching TV. Related to the TV programming being watched, apps like IntoNow or Shazam use the audio of the TV to identify the program and provide associated content for supported brands. Other prototypes foresee live content overlay of the video in the second screen, whereas the viewing on the TV screen is not disturbed.

Hence todays connected TV devices are capable of combining access to content from TV and from the Web, but todays connected TV apps do not combine effectively the TV and Web experience. Social TV is an indicator of the potential in this area, providing Facebook or Twitter based discussion alongside the shared viewing of a TV program. Providing for a wider, richer interweaving of TV and Web content into a single experience was anticipated as a key challenge for future networked media by the LinkedTV project which began this last October.

LinkedTV recognises this is part of a wider challenge to define the form and function of future television, so let us share a few ideas from our perspective on the research challenges and opportunities in the next years of televisions evolution:

(1) The opening up of the data in Web sites and eased access to that data for developers via well defined APIs changed the face of Web applications. It brought new possibilities to mashup data from different sources and provide new forms of information, education and entertainment. The data owners often found the value of allowing the free re-use of that data in new contexts was greater than protecting it in an inaccessible silo. The TV world is still largely in that pre-API stage of the Web, protecting access to the current program and its metadata. TV APIs could make possible new services around Web and TV data and content, and those services exposed via published interfaces can encapsulate reusable functionality, leading to the eased development of more innovative TV applications.

(2) Such services-enabled TV applications can drive the emergence of a new, integrated TV experience. TV will be much more than single content in a single stream to a single device. The TV experience can involve consistent access to interrelated content seamlessly taken from different sources and played out across different devices yet telling a shared story. It can be content mashups on shared screens, or complementary content on different screens. Content may be non-linear in character, with intuitive interaction to control the playout e.g. using future voice and gesture controls. Yet within this divergent ecosystem for TV content, a hidden sharing of context and story information between applications and services will maintain the convergent narrative of the TV experience.

The LinkedTV vision for television sees a TV experience significantly different to what consumers experience today. How data, services and content will co-exist and interact will be key to the new business models and media value chain in this new context. Traditional models and value chains which are already undergoing disruption will forcibly need to evolve for a world where content is ubiquitously accessed and seamlessly interwoven into new experiences. Especially the established national broadcasters and media companies in Europe need to be able to adapt quickly to safeguard their assets‘ value. The hosts of the data and services which drive the new TV experience and the developers of the applications which bring it to the consumer are new players in an emerging TV ecosystem, where there is still opportunity for European innovation to lead to market leadership and seed new companies.

Technological capability for the shift to this new TV ecosystem can been built up in the next years. However consumer acceptance may play catch up. Future TV challenges what we all know of TV from the past 80 years – as the medium of „passive“ watching. EU wide we expect TV sets are still more common than computers, and especially for certain sectors of European society the TV is still the primary source of content. Future TV could be used to bring social benefits to the EU population, maybe especially e.g. senior citizens, the ill or disabled, where accessing services via TV may be more intuitive than PC/mobile. Consumer awareness and acceptance of new means to interact with content via TV needs to be strongly promoted in innovative TV projects. LinkedTV will do its part, and looks forward to being joined in the next project call with other collaborators sharing this vision of building future television.

See the presentation:

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