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Viewers Moving Beyond EPG, Says Virgin: Streaming Media Europe

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While the electronic program guide (EPG) is a familiar interface, viewers are becoming more comfortable accessing living room content in other ways, such as through apps. That was one of the findings revealed by Ian Mecklenburgh, director of consumer platforms and devices for Virgin Media, during the first day keynote address for Streaming Media Europe 2011.

Virgin announced its next generation cable box, created with TiVo, on December 1, 2010. Since then, it's been studying how viewers interact with the device. It found that one-quarter of all channel views don't originate with the EPG, showing that people are becoming comfortable with an expanded interface and new methods of discovering content.

Viewers are looking for content beyond what's commonly surfaced, as five of the ten most searched shows with the Virgin TiVo device aren't in the BARB (Broadcasters' Audience Research Board) top 10. Virgin finds that 79 percent of all Virgin TiVo households have used its apps.

Taking advantage of the app platform to create new entry methods, Virgin has built special event apps, such as one this summer for the final Harry Potter movie, Mecklenburgh told the audience. The Potter app combined video-on-demand, news, and live coverage from red carpet events.

In designing the TiVo interface, Virgin chose to make the experience as simple and un-computer-like as possible, Mecklenburgh said. After a long day, the last thing viewers want is a complex TV interface on the couch, he added.

"What telly's good at is being TV," Mecklenburgh said; viewers don't want their TV to act like a computer. That's why there are no individual user profiles on the TiVo box and no log-ins. 

Mecklenburgh emphasized that the Virgin Tivo isn't a rebranded U.S. TiVo, but was designed from the ground up for Virgin's services and customers. The EPG not only offers listings for two weeks ahead, but for one week back, as well. Viewers are able to "unmiss" programs by selecting them and playing them on-demand.

The Virgin TiVo iPad app is able to communicate with the TiVo box and provide additional information about programs. A text-to-speech feature lets the visually impaired also benefit from the box's abilities. Mecklenburgh said that by building apps, Virgin was able to create and release new features in months, rather than years. Subscribers will soon get box-to-box sharing, he added.

One audience member questioned the openness of Virgin's approach, and asked if there would be a place for Netflix in the Virgin TiVo interface.

"It's not an open free-for-all," said Mecklenburgh, describing it instead as a managed environment. "We'll put doors in the garden," he added.

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Keynote: Streaming to the Connected Home
Ian Mecklenburgh, Director, Consumer Platforms and Devices, Virgin Media
Ian has over 20 years’ experience in the communications, IT and media sectors, specialising in defining, developing and delivering internet, IPTV, interactive TV and broadband services for global blue chip organisations and start-ups.

Prior to joining Virgin Media he spent four years as a consultant for organisations including the Digital TV Group, working to develop the industry association’s connected TV strategy. He worked on the launch of Freesat and IP Vision’s Fetch TV and also advised Capita plc on the UK’s Digital Switchover Help Scheme.

Ian has held senior digital media and technology positions at Home Choice (now TalkTalk), the BBC where he worked on the early development of what became Freeview, and at Cable and Wireless plc.

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