Companions Will Totally Disrupt Broadcast TV, for Good or Bad

The companion screen, especially in the form of the tablet, is going to create a major disruption to the television market by providing a compelling space where consumers can interact around content in an environment that is no longer controlled by the broadcaster.

That is the view of Anthony Rose, the Co-Founder and CTO of tBone TV, who is the former Chief Technology Officer at BBC iPlayer and YouView. But Rose believes there is also a great opportunity for broadcasters to harness these devices for social TV and counter the rise of on-demand viewing by enabling people to engage around live content.

As an example of how the companion screen can change the TV landscape, Rose forecasts the rise of automated systems that know the content we are watching now on the main TV so content on the companion can be synchronized.

“If the system knows the advert that is playing on TV, the advertiser can buy companion adverts for the companion viewing device. There could be a Nike advert on TV but on the companion you get a clickable Nike advert that will provide click-through statistics, analytics and targeting. It will be interesting to see whether broadcasters themselves get into the business of selling interactive adverts on the second screens or whether the advertising bureau will do that, or whether someone else becomes the new Google in this space and sells the new kind of advertising screen.”

Broadcasters could also lose control over how their content is treated on the companion devices. While they have been working to ensure the integrity of their programming on connected TVs, fighting against app-based overlays that they do not control, Rose does not believe they can maintain control of what apps providers do on the companion screen.

“If I am an app maker and the broadcaster does not let me do something on TV, that is not a problem because it is an open world out there,” he declares, referring to the second screen.

“We are going to see the dynamics change massively in this space and it will be very disruptive,” he continues. “The question is how quickly this new space emerges and I think it is going to be incredibly rapid because unlike with set-top boxes, where you have long lead-times for development, you can write something today for a companion device and have it live tomorrow, limited only by your imagination and audience take-up.”

tBone TV is still in stealth mode but from what Rose has revealed, the company is looking to provide software that can run in televisions and connect the TV experience across different screens and TV platforms.

“We want to create a new platform around what people are watching right now and create a huge and vibrant range of experiences around that,” he says. “Broadly speaking there is a new platform service and everything talks to the platform and that lets you create experiences that work in the home and out of home.”

It looks like social TV is one of the key applications that will make use of this platform. This could make viewers aware of what their friends are watching and help them communicate with them, regardless of which TV service or device they are using. Rose believes that in a world of infinite content it will be our friends who push us towards content, leading eventually to the demise of the Electronic Programme Guide, which he thinks is a terrible way of finding content, albeit the method we are familiar with. A simple example of social discovery would be a message to say that your friend is watching programme X, so you can join them on the same channel, while meanwhile their avatar appears and a chat window opens.

This is another potential source of disruption for broadcasters, especially those with good EPG placement, but Rose thinks they need to embrace the opportunities on the second screen and use them to find new and perhaps even bigger audiences.

“Broadcasters are both content providers and aggregators and today the aggregation play is the channel, though it could also be a portal,” he notes. “Though some are embracing it and some resisting it, broadcasters greatly fear VOD because it breaks the way they package content. But there is a new future where they can take their audience share - and the beauty of live is that lots of people are watching at the same time - and turn that into a seamless, automated two-way interactive experience.

“Broadcasters are uniquely placed to embrace the second screen experience because the audience is there. They still own the HD drama and the great visuals but they need to give away some metadata and build audience in a new way. Smart broadcasters, who embrace this, will find massive new audiences, probably skewed to the young initially.

“Instead of sitting in front of the TV like couch potatoes, we will have a range of activities around live TV that the broadcasters participate in. And this is not about using keyboards. People like to ‘veg’ [vegetate] in front of the TV but this is veg 2.0. It is a new way of discovering and watching content but it is no more difficult than the current way. Instead of flipping through the EPG you could easily flip through friends. It will be even easier to find something fun to watch.”

By John Moulding, Videonet