If TVs were dumb, then manufacturers are attempting to make them smart by incorporating a whole host of features to stay relevant in the oft quoted “post-PC” era.
One of the ways the mobile phone became “smart” was through the inclusion of compact and easy to use software commonly referred to as “apps,” and Smart TVs have adopted the same concept with the help of more screen real estate available on the device.
Despite the popular adoption of smartphone apps, the reality is that many people are only just getting used to the concept of using dedicated applications on a mobile phone, which prompts the question of whether it is too soon to expect the average consumer to feel comfortable with them on their television too.
LG Australia marketing general manager, Lambro Skropidis, admits that the concept of apps is new and evolving on all devices, but at the same time the consumer is increasingly expecting this type of software to be available on a broader cross-section of technologies.
“Whilst it will take time for many to discover, updates are already happening with our Smart TVs,” he said.
“Since November 2011, the uptake and registration to our TV app store has doubled in six months and growing strongly.”
Gartner media research VP, Mike McGuire, also concedes that for the overall market, the concept of apps on TVs is “a bit early.”
“For early adopters of tech, it’s probably less of a hurdle because they tend to be somewhat tech savvy and actually want to explore a new tech or, in this case, a new way to integrate the Internet content experience with linear TV,” he said.
However, for the vast majority of consumers who just want to “watch TV,” McGuire says that it will still take a “non-trivial amount of outbound marketing efforts” to educate consumers on the value of a Smart TV with a set of apps.
“There actually have to be compelling and useful apps to pull those consumers into the usage model,” he said.
Just like smartphones, Smart TVs rely on the Internet for delivery of dynamic content, though this is done through a wired broadband connection and not via a mobile phone network.
In fact, some rural areas in Australia, and many other regions around the globe, still lack decent broadband connections, which adds a new layer of complexity to the adoption of Smart TVs by consumers.
Skropidis confirms that an ADSL2 connection is required for decent Smart TV connectivity, and as a result, it is possible that many Australian rural areas cannot take advantage of the service due to this issue.
“However, the gap is closing,” he said.
While McGuire is unable to comment on the Australian market specifically, as he is based in the US and most of his research is focused in that area, he says that the lack of bandwidth “definitely affects” the Smart TV experience.
He clarifies this by saying that the issue is not so much on the downstream, such as streaming content to the Smart TV’s app, but it is on the upstream.
“The real problems manifest themselves typically in user interaction with buttons on an on-screen app, and trick-mode type commands can be slow or time out if the upstream is constrained,” he said.
“Some of those issues can be ameliorated with app design and so on, but bandwidth will always be an issue.”
Beyond the connection speed, McGuire sees the larger problem affecting uptake is that it is taking consumers awhile to see the value proposition.
“With the growth of online video distributors like Netflix or YouTube, as well as compelling content offerings, consumers will start to see the value in blending live-linear with online content sources,” he said.
Removing white noise
With the growth in popularity of smartphones and media tablets, television manufacturers are rightly seeing Smart TV as the next frontier when it comes to mass consumer adoption.
This has meant that within a relatively short time numerous manufacturers have put out their Smart TV offerings on the market.
What a manufacturer like LG has attempted to do is stand out by getting rid of the blank TV screen and incorporating a proper user interface.
The Home Dashboard on LG Smart TV’s, for example, has a card setup for content to be grouped for easy navigation.
“You can customise your home dashboard with the applications you use most,” Skropidis said.
On LG’s top end models, there is a Magic Remote that aims to further simplify usability easy with voice control for search and a wheel for easy scrolling through websites.
“We also regularly refresh and updates our Smart TV content, so this is very attractive to consumers,” Skropidis said.
Some of the Smart TV apps that Skropidis admits to having on his own Smart TV are the “popular ones,” such as Bigpond Movies, ABC iview, SBS, and YouTube.
To assure customers and developers alike that their apps will continue to be supported, even if the TV itself has aged a few years down the line, Skropidis says that LG works with its content partners when a migration from one system version to the next takes place, as this normally requires upgrades.
“In many cases the consumer can enable a software upgrade on their LG Smart TV at any time,” he said.
LG is also involved in the 3D space, having currently launching 3D movie content for its Smart TVs.
“We are excited about the announced partnership we have with Disney with a broad range of movie content newly available,” Skropidis said.
Out with old, in with the new
With all of these functions and content available on Smart TVs, the challenge then remains in how to convince a technophobic relative to do away with their existing analogue TV set and purchase a multi-purpose flat screen instead.
McGuire suggests comparing that experience to the current one of having to spin through the channels endlessly.
“I know it sounds cliché, but the key is to show your granddad that this is not just a ‘different’ TV experience but a better way to consume and explore TV content,” he said.
One suggestion that McGuire has is to show someone the updated electronic program guides (EPG) that clearly demonstrates not just the standard linear line up, such as television program X at Y time on channel Z, but also a set of integrated content recommendations based on their preferences and viewing history.
When put in the position of convincing an older family member of the benefits of Smart TV, Skropidis says he would “dial up their love” of ABC or SBS content.
“I would sell the fact that you can watch it any time, when you want to, and if you miss something you can access it to view via the catch-up services,” he said.
“This would include their ability to access special interest content such as that available on Ovation.”