Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Freeview, TiVo, Browning and Telecom fit together

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24026191@N02/3353222455/

I've been following the TiVo and Freeview developments with interest.

I always thought that there was a good market for a decent PVR (akin to MySky) for Freeview in NZ.

There are interesting parallels in the UK where BT launched MicrosoftTV (known as MediaRoom) with the UK Freeview service under the banner BTVision.

It's been clear here that there is not enough capital for Freeview to do this on its own in NZ. Just take a look at the MyFreeviewHD link on the site.

It's basically a simple page that says you can buy a Freeview approved PVR that can record 2 channels with a basic 8 page programme guide. It's clear that there is no appetite to release this product.And they have just followed the same branding as MySky HDi without the 'i'. You have to look hard to find one on the site. When you do, you'll find is $1150. Ouch.

What is also clear is that Freeview is reaching a maturity point as a business. The infrastructure is in place and I would be surprised if more than 50% of installed decoders are stand-alone. My pick is that a fair chunk of them are embedded in TV's like Sony Bravia. So not much left to do for a start-up - all the work is being done by the Consumer Electronics companies.

Enter TiVo - I think this will shake up the local marker due to its pure simplicity. The reason TiVo is successful in the US is because it is smart about recording programmes in an Amazon kind of way. MySky is totally driven by the customer - so the ability to 'discover' new programming is down to what other people tell you. TiVo's strength is that it predicts what you might want to watch based on what you have recorded already.

It's a different proposition to MySky.

It's also a different proposition to Freeview - TiVo is about control.

So that is why it's attractive to Mr Browning who announced his resignation today. It's not a defection as opposed to a well managed move given Steve's previous background at TVNZ.

It will be a different business to Freeview - which is about digital quality - and will require more input. Input in terms of cash and product management.

Which brings in Telecom.

Hybrid TV have stated they are looking for a third investor. Telecom has always had an aspiration to get into Internet based TV. There have been multiple attempts - FirstMedia, trials with Sky, investigations with Freeview. But it's never really worked out what its role is - content delivery, content aggregator or owner. This meant it made some pretty poor decisions by trying to play in areas where it had limited skills i.e. trying to own swathes of content.

This is a gift wrapped opportunity to get into TV in NZ in a relatively cheap way without having to deal with content rights. Development risk is low, technology and brand are proven, there are no major content deals to be done (movies are easy for anyone to get). It's the right way to do it.

I would pick them to add this to their refreshed home broadband proposition - home VoIP, broadband and TiVo - which they could bring to market later this year. Only speculation on my part but its what I would do!

As long as Seven, TVNZ and Telecom - should it be them - stay in governance mode as opposed to management mode then Steve will have good support to hit his 120k customers in year 1.


Bernard Hickey said...

Nice piece Miki. Good to know some of the background on the technology and the people.
How much of an impediment do you think disabling the ad skipping will be?
Also - How much traction has TiVo got with all the 'predictive' intelligent programming suggestions in the US. I hear,(but haven't checked) that TiVo penetration has maxed out.

Miki Szikszai said...


I am not too worried about the lack of 'instant' ad skip. While its a bit of a pain, its pretty easy to just fast forward the ads as on MySky.

TiVo in the US is at about 3.3 million. I would agree this is niche in that market. I do wonder if that is a lot to do with the fact it is marketed independent of the broadcasters. For TiVo to take off in NZ it will need TVNZ and (Telecom) to help them distribute.

Truth Seeker said...

TiVo and MySky are both competing with Bittorrent.

There is a huge mass of already many-times-broadcast free to air programs out there being shared by fans much as they used to share VHS tapes of their favourite shows.

One can often (usually) get almost any mildly popular program on the Net within hours of them being shown for the first time somewhere else.

In HD and ad-free.

This must impact on any business plan that would compete with it.

Miki Szikszai said...

They compete to a point.

TiVo and MySky are a non-interrupted experience. You sit down and choose what you want to watch with minimal training.

No doubt BT reduces the size of the available market but as iTunes shows, there is still a viable market for paid download (as proposed in the TiVo model) although if poorly executed there isn't (ref TVNZ OnDemand).

As soon as BitTorrent gets to the point where
a. You don't have to be a geek
b. It isn't illegal

then its game over for anything else.

I can see a. happening over time, b. is another issue altogether

NZ_Rob said...

@Bernard - I agree with Miki re: ad-skipping, but I'd also point out that the '30-second skip' on TiVo was still able to be enabled through a sequence of remote control button presses, even after being 'disabled' by TiVo after the networks complained. I've got a WHOLE soapbox of how future advertising models will shape themselves to modify the users desire to skip ads, but won't hijack Mikis post for that :)
The predictive recording is an interesting feature yet not foolproof (a search for 'Gay Nazi TiVo' will find you an article discussing how a few programming choices can throw off the algorithm for what TiVo thinks you want to watch.
@Truth Seeker - Yes, but. It's (usually) not legal to grab these programs, and it does take a fair degree of technical expertise. Once programs are available through an intuitive UI at a price point that people will accept - then the distributed download model for episodes will take off. Renationalisation is the issue here and that will take longer for the networks/studios to accept and change their business models to allow for global release (rather than expecting fans to avoid the internet and the inherent spoilers (Battlestar finale anyone?) that encourage the 'true fan' to seek other methods of accessing the content they love). Oh - iTunes and the BBCs iPlayer are both addressing the episode distribution and content control model as best as we can expect for the near future.

Myself, I've signed up as a TiVo interested person and will be very keen to compare it to my current PVR experience in terms of UI and ease of use. Integration with my current environment will be a big factor for me however... Thanks for the post Miki, you've sparked off my thinking on this subject yet again :)

Miki Szikszai said...

@NZ_Rob - what? no soapbox? there's plenty of room here for that.

I also agree with your thoughts on integration with current environment. I have to say though that the TiVo being proposed for NZ at least looks like it will be a lot more friendly for integrating into the home network and sharing content around.

It raises a point though - while we know that disabling fast forwarding of ads in theory allows the TVcos to hang onto revenue, they seem a bit blase by allowing content recorded on the TiVo to be format shifted to other players. Maybe a subtle shift in posture is occuring here with regards to DRM.

Lastly - if you aren't looking at TiVo for Telecom then who is? :)

Juha said...

I'm disappointed you forgot Telecom's VoD over DSL attempt. Wasn't Sandra Geange in charge of that?

As an aside, Bittorrent by itself is legal and used as distribution method by various organisations, including Warner Brothers, Fox, Sega, Paramount, Comedy Central et al. It's quite an efficient way to distribute films and programmes, and dare I say it, cheaper than building a digital TV network.