Steve Jobs TV Dream; Hulu Goes Over-The-Top With Nintendo

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October 24, 2011 – 12:03 am

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Steve Jobs TV Dream?

Of all the wondrous Apple products that the late Steve Jobs shepherded to massive consumer success, streaming media tool Apple TV has been among the disappointments. But among the many tidbits coming out from Walter Isaacson's authorized biography of the Apple co-founder suggests that the company may be working on a fully integrated television set, the Washington Post reported.

"He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant," Isaacson writes in the clearly and minimally titled Steve Jobs, which is due out this week. Jobs is quoted as saying, "I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.

It's natural that Jobs would prefer an all-in-one TV set that would do away with having several remotes for DVD players and cable channels. There is little reason to doubt that eventually, Apple will get it done and will sell a ton of connected TVs. It's tempting to ask what has stopped Apple from doing it already, instead of just marketing yet another separate device that also requires its own separate (though incredibly sleek and minimal looking) remote.

Remember, Apple didn't invent the MP3 player with its iPod. The company just perfected it and released the music player just as mainstream was ready to make the switch from CDs to music downloads. Apple TV was always meant as a placeholder, a way for the Cupertino tech firm to get a toehold in the connected TV arena, without having to commit before the market is ready.

Consider the case of Google TV and the challenging path it has taken. Most of the big broadcast networks have been resistant to Google TV, having felt that the search giant's deal offering would not compensate them enough for access to their programming. The networks tend to be the most resistant to giving up the ship the way that record labels have when it came to iTunes, so an Apple connected TV would not have much value right now. But as programmers get more used to time-shifted viewing (see Nielsen story below), striking deals equitable to all sides will happen. Despite the loss of its visionary, it's still a safe bet that the current Apple leaders will know the right time to strike and do for TV viewing what they've done for music.

Hulu + Nintendo = Access

The failure or success of over-the-top services like Google TV or Apple TV comes down to access to premium programming. Consumers are not interested in a shiny box that doesn't have substance. A deal between Hulu Plus, the broadcast network video joint venture's subscription service, and Nintendo will put a wide range of hit series episodes and clips on the Japanese gamer's 3DS handheld and Wii console this fall. Read the release.

The deal is important for both. Hulu has lagged behind rivals like Netflix, which is pinning most of its streaming video growth on access to TV hits, in terms of availability on most portable devices. And for Nintendo, more content will keep it competitive with Xbox, which just signed deals with 40 television programming providers – including Comcast, Verizon, and HBO in the United States.

The announcement also gave Nintendo a chance to better market itself, writes Venturebeat's Sean Ludwig. For example, Nintendo's 3DS users can be alerted of a major system update would happen at the end of November that will enable 3D video capture. Users will be able to record up to 10 minutes of 3D video and can also create 3D stop-motion animation videos.

Canoe's New Paddle

When Comcast gathered its major MSO rivals together about four years ago to create a seamless national sales system for TV ads targeted to cable viewers through the set-top box with Canoe Ventures, the thought was that targeted TV was only a short time away. It didn't quite work out that way, as the necessary technologies proved incompatible at the local level. Plus, the equally imbalanced set of interests among Canoe's backers led it to scale back efforts to concentrate on more doable projects, lead generation.

Things looked even worse for the initiative this summer when its first CEO, media buying statesman David Verklin stepped down. But now, Canoe is hoping to give targeted TV ads another try with availability of the implementation of ExpandTV implementation guidelines.

Canoe describes ExpandTV as a "simple, seamless, two-way interactivity bound to compelling television advertising and/or programming." In essence, it's meant to serve as "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for interactive TV ads. Read the release. The actual guidelines are available here.

Granted, it doesn't sound like much. But on top of other recent initiatives, such as the roll out of a national dynamic ad insertion system for Video On Demand, Canoe can claim the largest interactive TV platform with more than 20 million households across multiple MSOs as its most significant accomplishment. The issuance of new guidelines is always considered a quotidian thing, something that trade organizations do when they find their members stuck in disagreement. But now that it has the guidelines out, the advertisers had better line up quickly.

So far, another trade organ, the marketer rep Association of National Advertisers, is behind Canoe's effort. Again, it's just a start. But maybe this is the one that will count the most.

Cord-Tightening Meets Time-Shifting

Forget all the talk of cable subscribers cutting their cords. With early three-fourths (72 percent) of U.S. TV homes paying for both a cable-plus TV subscription (cable, satellite or Telco) and broadband internet access, the cord is only tightening thanks to the demand for broadband access, according to Nielsen's Cross-Platform report. In fact, households with both cable-plus and broadband saw year-over-year growth of nearly 7 percent.

The report does not that nearly half of all American households watch online video regularly (about 48 percent). But for all the excitement over online video, the TV set is still the main event for most consumers' eyeballs. Interactivity has surely helped, rather than hurt, TV viewing—quite the opposite of the cannibalization that other "old media" newspapers have seen from digital.

Over the past two years, time-shifted TV viewing rose 31 percent with "near-constant growth." says Nielsen. Americans spent more than four times per week watching VOD content on a TV as they do online video. Americans 25-64 spend the most time watching time-shifted content but Americans 65+ and kids 2-11 are catching up, with double-digit growth in time spent over last year. More details about Nielsen's data and methodology are on the company's official blog.

The most interesting in the report is how viewing habits vary from region to region:

  • The south spends the most time watching TV, with New Orleans taking the top spot.
  • Baltimore has the highest video game console penetration.
  • Dallas has the highest DVR penetration.
  • Consumers in the East South Central region (Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama) spend the most time watching video on the Internet.
  • Miamians are most likely to have a mobile phone in their pockets.
  • Bostonians have the highest internet-enabled computer penetration.

Still, just because viewers are watching more TV, that doesn't mean that they're any more open to advertising. As Strategy Analytics' Digital Home Observatory report indicates, people who use personal devices such as tablets and smartphones at the same time as watching TV are ignoring television commercials almost completely. Read the release.

But there is some hope for marketers. The study found that TV ad breaks have an impact on casual games played on personal devices. Survey participants noted that they preferred games which didn't take long to complete, or which were not time-dependent, so that they could fit their games activity into the ad breaks. "Understanding when and how ‘focus shifts' between the TV and personal devices occur is key to delivering a superior multi-screen user experience, as well as providing an opportunity to retain the attention of viewers on advertising," says Caroline Park, Senior Analyst and the report's author.

But Wait. There's More!

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October 24, 2011 – 12:03 am

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