These days our lives are so governed by technology that it becomes difficult to carry out any menial activity without resorting to a device of control. From mobile phones to microwave ovens to air-conditioners much of these devices today are equipped to provide solutions other than what they were intended for. But the device that’s making the loudest noise where digital innovation is concerned, especially in the Asia pacific market, is television.
With new advancements in technology and multiple delivery platforms, consumers today are finding increasing choices in ways they can enjoy content, wherever and whenever they want. To trace the strides that television as a medium has made where digital innovation was concerned and how the viewing experience can be altered to make it an unforgettable affair for consumers, The Walt Disney Company organised a day-long Digital Media Conference at Capella Hotel in Singapore on 30th March 2011. The theme this year was ‘Media R-Evolution: Engaging the Connected Consumer’ that chose to focus on what forward-looking media companies are doing to stay engaged with their audiences and address questions fundamental to creating value and launching the next generation entertainment marketplace.
The first panel discussion for the day was ‘Connected TV – What will it take to make it work?’ that chose to trace the multi-faceted role that television as a device could play rather than just be seen as a simple viewing device. Moderated by Rob Gilby, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, Disney Media Distribution (Asia Pacific) the other panelists for the session included Shaun Seow, Deputy CEO, News, Radio, Print & Interactive, MediaCorp Pvt Ltd.; Eric Li, Regional Sales Director – Asia, Microsoft; Ricky Ow, Senior VP & GM of SPE Networks – Asia; Tuomo Korpinen, VP – Business Development, The Walt Disney Studios and Alan Dishington, Major account Director, NDS Asia Pacific.
Seow began by defining the term Connected TV and pushed for its feasibility in the long-term by stating that “Connected TV could change our lives; you could be multi-tasking while watching TV on the internet.” When quizzed by Gilby on what was it that was driving audiences to television, Seow said that it was video that was driving television audiences thereby making it an interactive medium.
According to Dishington, while Connected TV is one aspect the way forward would be to move with companion devices. “Today it’s more about having connected homes and transferable content,” he said.
Sharing his inputs, Eric Li said, “Our specialisation is that we provide tool-kits that are designed for applications on the TV sets. So while our focus is on providing enabling technology our focus is also to enhance the value of content.”
Suggesting his mantra, Ricky Ow said, “We need to ensure that our brands are relevant in the new world connections. Our organization is unique in the sense that we are among the few that makes both the chicken and the egg – technology and content.”
Citing figures, Korpinen said that by 2014, it is estimated that about 70 per cent of the TV sets will be connected. “Also, it is a trend that is fast catching up in the developing markets.” Sharing his digital experiences with the music industry, Korpinen said, “Around the year 1998-99, the way music was consumed on the digital platform was completely different. Also, the legal course that was followed then was different. But the course was altered by the coming in of Napster, and much has changed over the past decade in the way music is consumed on the digital medium today.”
The session became interesting when Rob Gilby shared with the audiences a few questions based on a poll that it had carried out. On the question of who will be the big winners from the roll-out of connected TV it was found that 51 per cent were consumers, content providers stood at 29 per cent, Pay TV at 10 per cent and the rest by electronic companies. Reacting to the findings, Seow said; “It is still early days; we are still in unchartered territory. I think one of the cheapest and the best technology to owning a customer is through OTT (Over the top). OTT TV, the delivery of video via the internet directly to users connected devices, allows access to services anywhere, anytime and on any device. OTT TV has the potential to transform the face of TV industry by creating new business opportunities for existing stakeholders and facilitating many new entrants.”
The next question that was posed by Rob was which was the most popular services accessed to which the poll showed video streaming at the highest at 49 per cent, social media at 29 per cent, internet browsing at 10 per cent and games at 9 per cent. Eric added here stating: “I think Social Media surely has a huge potential going forward. The need is to keep providing different social media experiences on connected TV than on online. Games is another hot category that could be considered by the players.”
To the third question on whether one would extend the entertainment experiences across other devices, 87 per cent of the respondents were in the affirmative while 13 per cent vouched for a nay. “The logical reasoning to this trend would be that as technology improves, one can expect the services to extend to other devices. We are working at ways to make this a seamless experiment where consumers can access content anywhere, anytime.”
According to Ricky Ow, the only barrier for connected TV to take off in a big way is money. “We need to have a right business model to feed the ecosystem. But with the passing of time and upgrade in technology am sure the customer experience will also be enhanced.”
Agreeing with Ricky Ow, Eric Li said that more money had to be injected into the system and advertising was one of the ways of getting funds. But Eric reiterated that it was also essential for technology service providers and content providers to work as a single force.
The power of Mobile
The next session that followed was ‘Mobile devices – Redefining today’s video experience’. Presenting his outlook from a SingTel standpoint and as a native of the land, Edward Ying, Chief, Multimedia Group, SingTel said that Singapore is a small country but has a vast scope for new technology and innovation. He continued his praise by stating that the mobile and broadband technologies in Singapore were over-the-top.
Familiarising the gathering about his company, Vamshi Reddy, CEO of Apalya Technologies said that his company was formed to take advantage of the growing demand for media and entertainment related downloads in the mobile space. After aggregating premium entertainment content from many different content providers, Apalya then optimises the content to be suitable for small screen or mobile viewing. According to Reddy, the focus was on delivering content that was short format and had easy streaming advantages.
Johan Kremer, Head of Alliances, Southeast Asia, RIM found the forum to be a perfect platform to familiarise the gathering on the launch of their upcoming new device – Playbook. Apart from the mundane Blackberry services in tow, the new device would allow for greater gaming and music experience, allow multiple device connectivity and enhance interactions with fellow BB users. The company was hoping to capture a significant base of the tablet market and cause a dent into the market shares of the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab.
When asked on what was it that was driving the network to keep coming up newer innovations and breakthrough programming, James Miner, SVP – Digital Media, ESPN STAR Sports attributed the success to ‘passion’. “New innovations and platforms are our hallmark. Our stupendous growth has been made possible through our partners who have contributed in placing us up where we belong. Our aim is to keep providing newer viewing experiences to viewers which will help amplify the broadcast experience.”
Moderator Nicholas Wodtke, VP, Business Development & Digital Media, Disney Media Distribution sought to make the interaction interesting when he started posing questions to the audience. On the question whether anyone had ever watched a video on phone that was half-an-hour or longer, a surprising 77 per cent of the respondents said ‘No’ with the remaining 23 per cent saying yes. While the trend was a bit disturbing it obviously was an opportunity for content providers and telecom operators to be considering in the future.
On the question of primetime on mobile, Vamshi Reddy presented an interesting finding that was spotted in India where mobile downloads/access was observed. “In India, our primetime begins at 6 pm in the evening and continues till 10 pm or so in the night depending on the traffic situation. This was the time when the users were most occupied with content on their mobile phones.” Continuing on the India experience, James Miner said that an interesting trend that was observed was that mobile streaming was peak during lunch breaks or short breaks in offices. He went on to share his excitement of the ratings that the World Cup 2011 matches had to offer with India-playing matches delivering an above-par ratings.
On the question of tablets being a companion device to a TV, 69 per cent of the respondents said that it was a big benefit and presented a chance to support TV viewing while 26 per cent polled that it was a distraction from the main event. The panelists agreed that it was important that technology blend itself seamlessly and come across as a beautiful experience that consumers could get engaged with.
Dollars for digital
The post-lunch session on ‘Digital dollars, show me the money’ was an interesting affair and involved the presence of panelists including Brian Stengel, MD – Head of the Digital Media & Programming Groups, Waller Capital Partners, Evelyn Wang, COO, Tudou.com, Lee Smith, CEO – Platforms, Omnicom, Ahmad Izham Omar, COO, Television Networks, Media Prima and John Koshner, SVP & GM, ESPN Digital Media.
The session began with Evelyn Wang updating the gathering on the background of her company and the kind of imagery it had in her native land – China. “The name Tudou means potato in Chinese and since couch potato has its origins to television addiction, we extended that meaning to the internet platform as most users are online addicts today.” On the kind of growth witnessed by the company, Wang said that when the company took off it barely had any growth numbers to report but that has changed with the company reporting a growth of nearly 300 per cent today.
But the biggest problem still facing the online market in China is advertising growth, said Wang. “Though we have about 520 million internet users in China, the highest so far, the ad budget spends are barely 12.5 per cent. This number needs to go up proportionately. But I do expect the space to witness definite growth as more number of users are switching on to online from television given the numerous restrictions that are imposed on the medium of television in China.”
Putting forth his observations as a planner Smith said, “There is a need to shift away from media measures to people measures. While we all keep on talking about Return on Investment, we need to assure ourselves on what is going to be the Return on Innovation and on Information. Companies thus need to figure out what their key business KPIs need to be.”
According to Omar, “The way ahead is adapt or die.” While Malaysians are known to be digital freaks, it was surprising that only 1 per cent of the ad budgets were directed towards digital. He stated that “The way forward is to use our mass market influence on advertisers and come up with ways that will make user experience on online a seamless affair.”
Citing the investment side of the story, Stengel said that the top 3-4 online companies had enough money on them to steer the growth of the industry and that there were enough investors who were sitting ready to fund digital ventures. “The venture community is focused on emerging business models. So money is not a problem. In five years’ time, it is going to be about the growth of media and digital will play a huge part in facilitating the sector. One can expect to see a huge shift from content and entertainment to e-commerce in the years to come.”
Earlier in the day, the team at Disney Media Distribution led by Ben Pyne, President, Global Distribution, Disney Media Networks; Rob Gilby, SVP & MD, DMD – Asia Pacific; Karin Timpone, SVP, Product Strategy & Marketing, Digital Media, Disney/ABC Television Group and John Kosner, SVP & GM, ESPN Digital Media addressed a select gathering of Press from around the world and briefed them on the strides that television as an industry had made and the role that Disney Media Distribution played in fostering the growth of technology in the space.