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TV Sets a High Bar for Streaming Media to Match

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"Media companies are looking at the shift to digital, but there needs a reality check from the streaming media vendors on the other side of the fence," warned Ben Schofield, director of digital at Red Bee Media. "While online video is clearly growing, the macro picture is that the bulk of the population in the U.S. and U.K. are watching linear TV and there are considerable challenges ahead for streaming media services to match the quality of experience people currently have in the living room."

Keynoting the final day of Streaming Media Europe, Schofield quoted Neilsen and BARB figures indicating that the average person spends 300 minutes a day watching linear TV, with 17 minutes via a PVR and just 3 minutes watching web video.

"On the one hand, the broadcast industry looks at the web and sees the barbarians at the gates waiting to break through and take their treasure away," he said. "On the other hand, TV sets a very high bar. It is one click and done, channel switching always works, there is hardly ever a drop out in transmission, and the image quality is very high. It has also historically been very profitable for most of the companies involved."

Red Bee Media, he explained, is a traditional broadcast services company helping clients transition to digital media.

"If streaming media business is to expand it has to overcome a number of issues," Schofield said, noting that these included traffic concentration, content rights constraints, the cost of localized versioning and distribution, and, perhaps most crucially, getting people to pay for content online rather than accept it for free.

"The spectre hovering over the video industry is that which afflicted the music business," he said. "There's a generation growing up which has no concept of paying for content online and if you move too quickly to new business models, as the music industry did, you risk throwing away the value of the content."

He also talked of the paradox of choice: in a world with too much media to choose from, the challenge for providers like Red Bee, "is to reduce that choice for consumers, removing or relegating information about things they don't want but providing information about content that they do see value in.

"Currently it is very hard for content owners to sell media via the grid style EPG. Lessons need learning from retail or banking in order to deliver customers the perfect choice."

Part of the answer lies in platforms like YouView, he suggested, which combine the strength of catch-up TV players for viewing without a subscription, plus a drive to that content straight from the TV.

"Hybrid services like this provide the ability to navigate back and forth in the EPG and extend to other content," he said. "It also puts control back in content owners hands."

The other part of the answer is far greater use of metadata which he said is currently and woefully underused, with information being left unprocessed or left on viewer's set-top boxes.

"The dynamics of getting video everywhere today, onto multi-channels and onto multi-devices, can be eased by rich metadata management," he said. "Red Bee tracks 1,400 channel in 23 different languages daily, and that requires a lot of effort in metadata to ensure the EPG helps people to the right information. Close proximity to media and metadata, which Red Bee has, is a crucial and can be used to generate new applications and new front-ends that can drive greater consumption and, in turn, greater revenues."

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