The plenary session on the last day, Friday, March 24, of FICCI Frames 2006 focused on the future of television, advertising and mobile entertainment. Some important topics of discussion included technologies that are affecting the TV industry, reviews of personal video recorders (PVRs) and their impact on commercials, and the steps needed to be taken by the mobile industry to deliver compelling entertainment content on mobile devices.
According to Robert L McCann, Chairman, Nielsen Media Research, TV had emerged as the strongest medium, and would continue to dominate other mediums like print, radio and the Internet. The key reason for TV’s dominance over other mediums was seen as rapidly developing technologies such as PVRs (based on timeshifting) that were revolutionising the way people watched TV. A PVR device is similar to a VCR, but records television data in digital format as opposed to the VCR’s analog format.
VCRs utilised analog tapes to record and play programmes broadcast over television, whereas PVRs encoded video data in MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 formats and stored the data in a hard drive. PVRs have all of the same functionality of VCRs (recording, playback, fast forwarding, rewinding, pausing) plus the ability to instantly jump to any part of the programme without having to rewind or fast-forward the data stream. One of the critical and most immediate repercussions of PVR, according to McCann, was that viewers completely avoided watching commercials - a $130 billion market.
While TV all over the world was mostly based on linear schedule, viewers were increasingly moving towards Time Shifted TV, Personalised TV and On Demand TV, he explained. Other popular channels of watching TV were Cell TV, Mobile TV and Removable Media TV. These experiences of TV watching were growing because consumers wanted to watch TV when they felt like doing so, without the pressures of sitting in front of their TV sets at the particular time of airing of a show.
Another revolution in TV viewing was said to be the Slingbox (based on placeshifting), that enabled viewers to watch TV programmes from wherever they were, by turning virtually any Internet-connected PC into their personal TV. This enabled anyone to have access to their own TV irrespective of them being in another room or in another country.
The impact of PVRs was that they made time shifting viewing easy, they permitted instant replay of live television, they permitted commercial zapping and they picked viewer preferences over a period of time.
Though PVRs are not currently used in India, they are quite popular in Japan (15 per cent), the US (12 per cent), and the UK (5 per cent). Broadcasters, producers and advertisers who wanted to meet the challenges that these technologies presented, should focus on programme sponsorship, improved content and product placements in TV programmes, reasoned McCann.
McCann’s review of these technologies showed that while TV would continue to be the strongest medium, it would alter due to emerging technologies. He said, “Those who will embrace this change will win and those who avoid it will suffer.”
In another interesting session, Sandip Das, MD, Hutchison Essar, spoke on the fascinating possibilities of mobile entertainment. Mobility, an ocean of seamless connectivity and limitless communication, would have almost 250 million mobile subscribers in India by 2010, said Das. He picked up a quote from 'The Economist' to drive home his point: “It is not Internet, but mobile technology that will change the economic scenario of a country.”
He added, “Mobile devices are portable and unobtrusive but they are not a substitute to movie theatres. Mobile users have short attention spans, which is why phone entertainment is about making dead time alive and about instant gratification.”
Phone manufacturers needed to focus on making user-friendly phones while mobile content creators should focus on creating special, small-format content for mobile devices, and not compress large formats to smaller ones, contended Das. A mobile phone, being the most personal device, made personalised mobile content very critical, he reasoned, and said, “The more mass a product is, the more personalised it should be. The key to entertainment is knowing your customers’ preferences.”
Though content manufacturing would outpace everything else, data friendly mobile phones were the first step to ensure engaging mobile entertainment, according to the Hutch executive. Das added, “In the future, mobile communications will be wrapped around consumers.”
After illustrating user-created content with the example of Blogs, which were a big hit with users creating their own content to voice their opinions, Das noted that Digital Video Broadcast Handheld (DVBH) that allowed live TV on a mobile phone was not popular yet. However, phones like the Nokia N series were considered the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of phones, as these phones had opened several possibilities for media convergence, elaborated Das.
The takeout was that successful mobile entertainment is a bridge between the market of early mobile adopters who are technology savvy; and the mass market constituents who want to use mobile phones and mobile entertainment but are not interested in technology. The digital divide is being bridged, while respecting the distance between the two sides. The emerging markets were critical, acknowledged the speakers. C K Prahalad would be in agreement. As he put it, “Emerging markets will be wireless centric and not PC centric.” We’re getting there.