TVs with network connections are all the rage; they’re not actually that new – I looked at some for RegHardware a while back – but this year’s CES show brought forth lots of new ones, and updates to existing ranges. Google is trying to get in on the act too, with some TVs and set top boxes featuring it’s Google TV system (which has not, it has to be said, been universally well received).
And, doubtless I, and many of my colleagues on various technical blogs, as well as marketing people, will be extolling the virtues of these ‘net connected’ TVs, possibly even referring to them as “Internet TVs.”
In some ways, I think that’s a potential mistake.
The internet? Really?
It’s very easy to get carried away with the technology; I’m sure plenty of people will, and there are plenty of sites where those of us with a detailed technical interest will be poring over the details of new TV sets, wondering if they support SMB as well as UPnP for network media playback, and whether they can be controlled as DLNA renderers by other devices.
But ordinary members of the public aren’t like that. And I think that if you said to many of them “Do you want the internet on your TV?” the answer would probably be “Good grief, no.”
Why’s that? Partly because some consumers have been here before, with other devices. Internet on your mobile phone? Thanks.
Oh. It turned out to be just WAP.
For the average consumer, even a modern touch screen phone can still be a bit disappointing, and that’s if they even try using the net functions – many probably don’t bother, after the first flush of playing with a new toy.
So, outside the core tech-savvy market, I think that there are a lot of people who will be resistant to the idea of something called an “internet TV”; they’ll view things that they do on the net as largely being separate from things they might want to do on the TV with other people in the room.
That’s not to say that connected TVs are pointless, by any means. Just that I think how they’re actually described to ordinary people is crucial, not just in terms of whether or not they buy them (because, like HD Ready, in a few years, most TVs will probably have a network connection on the back), but whether or they actually use those features.
I’ve heard from people, for example, who have friends or family who have been delighted to discover that actually, their TV had iPlayer or LoveFilm built in, and they just needed to connect it up and learn how to access it. But they only learned that when a friend or family member explained it, rather than from the person selling them the set.
A few months ago, Humax talked at the unveiling of their Freeview HD recorder about how to get the message across in shops, especially when some of the first products with all these features are going to priced at a premium. Some of the UK’s high street chains, like Currys and Comet, offer awful and misleading advice, and I’m not convinced they really will be able to explain these products to people.
Keep it simple
Outside our bubble of people really interested in technology, it’s important to remember that there are plenty of people for whom things like Twitter are utterly irrelevant. The thought of using YouTube comes pretty far down the list too. Most TVs probably aren’t bought by net-savvy people in their 20s and 30s.
There are people who want to watch TV; they might have an internet connection for email or Skype, but the idea of “internet on the TV” will leave them cold, if that’s how it’s presented by the pushy salespeople of big high street retailers.
What’s going to make people think this is worthwhile is not the technology. It’s what they can do with it – and that means, in the UK, things like iPlayer, 4OD and ITV Player. It means other concepts they can easily understand, like film rental via LoveFilm, or perhaps access to sports events without having to take out an annual subscription.
Though technical evangelists might like the play up the argument that internet delivery lowers the cost of entry, and can bring lots of niche content, there’s a reason it’s niche. Not many people are interested in it.
This is, essentially, another version of the ‘content is king’ argument. Ordinary people want their familiar TV shows; they want to know that that’s what the Ethernet socket on the back of their TV gets them, and they might be interested in some extras, if you explain in terms they understand.
And, incidentally, I think this is one reason why YouView is likely to do fairly well, by integrating catch-up TV in the EPG, rather than burying it away as a separate function, or talking about the internet.
I really think that talking about “Internet TVs” or even “Connected TVs” isn’t actually going to enthuse huge portions of the buying public. Focussing on app platforms for the TV might appeal to those who have an iPhone – but the vast majority of people don’t; they don’t even have a smartphone.
The technology can be clever as you like, and often is. But unless you talk to people about it in terms that really mean something to them, you’re going to have a hard job persuading them to buy a “connected TV,” let alone actually connecting it up when they get it home.