Playful ’11

Playful ’11

Last Friday I attended Playful’11 at the Conway Hall, an annual event that’s all about the latest developments and musings on an eclectic mixture of tech, games and play. It covered everything from the development of blockbuster games and the potential of talking buildings, to a number of speakers lamenting how the future promised us moon bases but ended upgiving us Argos. Playful was an enlightening and engaging day full of brilliant speakers and some eye opening insights on a rapidly evolving area. It also had probably the highest concentration of iPhones, tweetdeck and facial hair in the London area (excluding Shoreditch).

So what were some of the key points I took home from the day?

1) In gaming today, a lot of the best new innovations in visuals, narrative and gameplay come from indie developers – where they lead, the bigplayers are sure to follow (and then copy).

2) That this generation of young children have undergone a massive paradigm shift in how they interact with technology – with an assumption that every ‘glowing rectangle’ they see is a touch screen (check out the video at the bottom of the post).

3) That as developers we need to remember that playing is about allowing people to be spontaneous and use their imaginations – and not always about competition, the racking up of scores, xp points or ‘pwning’.

4) That we still aren’t anywhere close to trusting machines on their own to fulfil anything beyond the even the simplest of tasks (as anyone who’s had to use an automated checkout can testify).

5) That the Internet of Things needs to be approached from a totally different angle – there’s no magic, joy or silliness to be had. Just boring efficiency. If anyone can properly address this problem, there are ridiculous amounts of money (and kudos) to be had.

Playful is a great event that had the perfect combination of insight and humour, and I’ll definitely be attending the next one.
Tom is a development producer at The Connected Set, to get in touch email tom “at” theconnectedset “dot” tv

Connected TV sets and boxes: an overview

Over the last 12 months we’ve seen all manner of connected TV platforms enter the market – from market leader Samsung’s Internet@TV service complete with TV apps, to a revamped Yahoo Connected TV with broadcast overlay (see this post).  We’ve had flops from Google TV, rumours of game changing new entrants in a revamped Apple TV, and of course promises of a next generation IPTV Freeview in the form of YouView which has suffered a series of embarrassing delays (see here).

All these services have been built on different technologies, with very little progress in a common standard (HTML5 anyone?), and so the ‘TV app’ market has remained little more an experimental space.  There have been successful app launches, particularly broadcast catch up services like 4oD and ITV Player on PS3, but this market’s hardly taken off, yet.

Connected TV penetration is still on track with manufacturers using their web enabled services to differentiate themselves from the competition, but in the TV set market at least it’s the CE manufacturers pushing it rather than consumers demanding it that’s driving growth.  If you look at actual engagement amongst people who have access to TV apps it’s pretty low, with TV catch up and YouTube an exception despite the interface clunkiness (and for commercial TV broadcast catch up a serious lack of content).

The really exciting convergence so far is on the second screen – playing on your mobile, laptop or tablet while you have broadcast on TV: the lean back TV and the lean forwards second screen, deepening engagement.  We’ve had endless launches in this space – check in services (here’s an old post on that), social services like starling (see here) and tbone, loads of second screen apps created for specific programmes like Million Pound Drop and New Look Style the Nation.  There’s also loads of great startups in this space creating services that work across devices tying together catch up, social and live interaction.

Earlier this year I created an overview of some of the key CE platforms in the connected TV space in the UK.  I’ve decided it’s no longer worth updating this overview – the differentiation between devices, platforms and services is fast becoming irrelevant - convergence is happening, even if getting these different tools to talk to each other is becoming increasingly complex.  But for anyone who wants a read of where things were last time I looked in the consumer electonics TV set and console space here’s an overview of connected TV services:

IPTV players grid image


How Brits are using their iPads

Imano has just published a great infographic on how Brits are using their iPads.  Here’s a quick summary:

As a leisure device:
95% of owners use it in their living room and 89% in bed. Internet browsing and email is the killer application (98% and 94% respectively), but 88% are also using it to consume video, music and radio, and 78% use it for social networking. iPads are primarily for leisure – less than half of respondents use it for work.

A great transaction platform:
78% of owners use their iPad for online shopping. What’s very impressive is that half of owners (48%) say their iPad is the internet connected device they spend the most money on – more than mobile (11%), laptop (16%), fixed computer (19%) and cable/internet TV (4%).  If broadcasters/content owners want a transactional relationship with their viewers in the future then chances are this will not be via red button but via a second screen, particularly a tablet.  However investment in second screen commerce will be limited until iPad/tablet penetration picks up (which will probably come as prices drop). In terms of apps most iPad owners have paid-for 20-49 apps.

A shared device
31% of iPad users say they’re the only user.  50% of users share it with a spouse/partner, and 29% let their children use their iPad. While we talk about mobile as personal device, we need to design apps for iPad that can switch between a state of being personal and communal.

A strong connection with gaming consoles
I thought it was particularly striking that 51% of iPad users also own a Wii, 34% own a PS3 and 30% an XBOX – a far higher proportion of console owners that the broader population. We’ve already seen iPad used as a remote control with Comcast Xfinity amongst others, how long will it be until the iPad becomes the games console controller? Also, 79% of British owners use the iPad itself as a gaming device.

For watching video
The most popular source of video on iPad is YouTube (87%), closely followed by catch-up TV (74%).  The catch up TV stat is pretty impressive when you consider that it’s really only iPlayer that offer a full inventory of catch up material, with Channel 4’s 4oD service offering limited content and Sky Player costing £8 per month (although that’s changing shortly when Sky launch Sky Go)… this is going to be a major growth area.

iPad owners are real advocates
94% of British iPad users love their iPad – 70% say it’s ‘excellent’, and 24% say “it’s the best thing in my life”… oh dear!

Uk iPad Usafe infographic
Screen shot from Imano: click here for the full infographic


Registration: our best friend and worst enemy

I have a confession to make: I don’t have a different password for every single online account in my name. Sure there’s a few particularly sensitive or transactional accounts which might be an exception but for most there’s a good chance it will be one of a couple of variants.

As a digital evangelist I should probably know better, but as more and more of what we do online is powered by a personal relationship with hundreds and thousands of different companies can we really be expected to remember the same number of unique and uncrackable password combinations?

Well for the 77 million plus Playstation Network users out there (of which I’m one) we’re faced with this this very question.  It’s a real wake up call that if a company the size of Sony isn’t encrypting our data properly then can we place faith in SMEs… is it safe to share my details with the likes of ITV, or the Guardian, or foursquare?

So what does all of this mean for the convergence of TV and the web? All the major broadcasters recognize the need to move past a reliance on BARB data and to develop a direct and data rich relationship with consumers, but the catastrophic failure at Sony is a further dent to consumer confidence in sharing their information.

Without registration it will be harder to offer consumer products that deliver a personalized service, from surfacing content that’s relevant based on explicit user preferences, to using account histories and user behaviours to power recommendation and improve user experience (eg. one-click purchase).  And let’s not forget this data is also important customer insight and of value to advertisers who may support our services.  As consumers lose trust the consequence may be to strengthen the attractiveness of universal login services through third parties like facebook further eroding our direct relationship with consumers and introducing a middleman (and middlemen eventually need paying).

There’s also a very practical issue for the kind of convergence we want to deliver.  Because of the PS3 hack I not only have to change my twitter login on, but on all the accounts that sync with it: my mobile, tweetdeck, peep, tweetme, facebook, and the list goes on.  What does this mean if we want people to be able to buy through Amazon on their remote? And what about the next generation of EPGs that will be powered by the social curve and our online behavior elsewhere on the web?  We’re talking about not only a lot of places for data to leak but many more places to update when things go wrong.  Again this plays into the hands of the big players like Facebook, who would surely love every movement we make on the web passing through their walled garden, but then the debate moves from one of data protection to privacy…

Right now many consumers are sharing their information in a pretty unguarded way, in good faith, only to discover that the privacy they thought they had isn’t so, from facebook thinking it’s ok to pass their mobile numbers to third parties, or masses of sensitive information being passed to app producers via the unregulated Android marketplace (including many apps with the sole purpose of harvesting data). To remind consumers that all of this activity is permitted by the ‘terms and conditions’ on these services is no defense, these companies really are cutting off their nose to spite their face.  Add these privacy violations to the PS3 data leak as the latest in a long list of recent security compromises (, Internet Explorer…), and a press who love to stoke up fear amongst the public, and we have a serious problem…where consumers will simply refuse to share, or worse the government will intervene in a big way.  Both scenarios are terrible news for competition and innovation, but most depressingly it’s terrible news for the free web and SMEs.  From Sony and facebook to startups present and future: we need to get our house in order, take consumers concerns seriously, or risk losing the most valuable thing we have: a relationship with the customer.

Convergence: What a difference a year makes

Another great session at South by Southwest this year was by Dan Shust at Resource Interactive, looking at some of the big trends for 2011.  Here’s a quick summary:

Social: The integration of Facebook across platforms via Facebook Connect continues at a relentless pace.  Another major innovation has been the ‘like’ button which only appeared 11 months ago but has already been pressed over a billion times.

Location: SXSW 2010 was all about the battle between Foursquare and Gowalla, but since then Facebook, Google and even Twitter have switched on location features.  There’s an issue though and that is check-in fatigue.  In 2011 expect to see the rise of passive check-in services – things like ShopKick which uses high-frequency sound emitters (mosquito style) in stores like BestBuy and SportsAuthority to check you in.

Audio: which brings us neatly onto the increasing role of audio prompting action in your mobile device.  Just as ShopKick uses sound to determine location, a new generation of Shazaam style services are emerging – like IntoNow and Yahoo Broadcaster Interactivity in the TV space.  If 2010 was the year of the QR code to launch services, 2011 is the year of the audio wave.

Entertainment Everywhere: 2010 was the year of talking about entertainment services across platforms – take Sky Player on XBox, or the ubiquity of iPlayer.  2011 is all about Netflix who are everywhere except Android now.

TV: We’ve seen how the conversation around TV has in many ways started to eclipse TV itself – or at the very least become a major part of the viewing experience.  Up to now much of this experience is via a second screen.  Now the rise of connected TV will increasingly see second screen TV experiences complimented by on-TV interactive experiences that blur the lines between television, web and gaming.

Commerce: This year will see the continuing atomisation of commerce into distributed shopping platforms – Facebook, YouTube, etc.

Life as a Game: Gamification was the big buzzword from SXSW 2011.  Last year saw the rise of services like Foursquare and the continued growth of Nike+, but 2011 will see the application of game principles to even more aspects of everyday life.  These game experiences will be richer than ever before – take EpicMix as a great example of where real world gaming is headed – mixing social, points, status and competition in a really neat way.

Augmented Reality – this time last year XBox Kinect was being whispered about under the code name ‘Project Natal’, and now it’s the hottest console gaming accessory in the market.  As processors improve there will be more and more products in this space – take a look at the video for language translation app Word Lens at the bottom of the post.

iPad – and finally the iPad has been out less than a year but we’re already on version 2 with Android and Blackberry already competing for market share.  So maybe it’s not going to be the saviour of the newspaper industry as some overly-optomistic advocates predicted but we’re still in the early adopter phase of growth and expect more and more innovation and competition in this space.

Overview of UK connected television platforms

I prepared this overview of connected television platforms in the UK for a client presentation and thought it would be useful to share.  Feel free to pass on to others who may benefit from this.  Drop me a line if you’re interested in getting your content or products onto one of these platforms, or if you’d like to me to send you a PDF softcopy:

An overview of UK internet connected TV platforms

I spent a good chunk of this week pulling together information on all the devices and platforms that currently connect our TVs to the internet, plus what’s coming out in next 12 months. There’s no single site that has a good overview of the UK market, so I’ve attempted to rectify that and you can see an overview of the platforms here.   I plan to keep it updated too.

A few interesting observations:
1. YouView up to 8.3million units by 2015: I dug up the BBC Trust report from 2009 assessing the market penetration of YouView (or Canvas as it was then) which predicts take-up levels at around 4 million units by 2015 (but a low to high range of 1.2 to 8.3 million units). It’s my belief that 4 million is quite conservative considering the broadcast/broadband powerhouse of companies that are financing the platform, plus the imperative to have multicasting in time for the London Olympics.
2. The advanced state of the console market – combining XBox, Playstation and Wii and that’s 15 million devices in the UK already capable of connecting to the net, delivering V.O.D. and offering limited web functionality. They all moved beyond straight online gaming services to entertainment services in 2006… the consoles are a serious player to win in the battle of the devices!
3. Supply driven growth: the set manufacturers are pretty determined to make internet connected sets the new thing everyone has to upgrade to. They’re also trying to get in on offering services themselves – going from ‘sales’ to ‘service’. Samsung are spending $70million promoting their TV apps store, Walmart and Best Buy have said they’ll only sell internet connected TVs by 2012 (Forrester). Expect a flurry of connected TV debuts at CES next January. Whether we want them or not, we’re getting them!
4. Virgin TiVo offering is actually quite exciting: that’s if they stick to what they’ve said and open the platform to external developers to create apps. In terms of internet connectivity they’ve always been light years ahead of Sky and a new generation of third party services will help them stay ahead. Sky’s offering in this market is poor and they’re going to have to address that urgently- when people can access the content they want through V.O.D. why pay for a bundle of content you don’t want?
5. Yahoo and Google pining their hope on Apps: Just yesterday Yahoo announced it will start a TV app store open to third party developers (there’s already 5 million Yahoo Connected TVs out there), and Google says it will open to third party app developers early next year. Great apps might save these platforms (because the networks are pretty determined to kill them), I just hope developers can think beyond just putting the internet on telly – I mean that’s just a modern Teletext surely?
6. Apple TV is doomed (in my opinion). No hard drive, no third party apps, no web access – I just don’t see the point of it.

Hope the platform overview is useful. I have lots more information and research. If we can help your organisation to think about how to engage with internet connected TV get in touch.

Why connected services need a built in camera

It’s a few weeks since the Sony GoogleTV and the new AppleTV came to the market, and just this week Boxee released its new box.  One thing that is playing on my mind though – where’s the inbuilt camera?

Putting a camera in these devices wouldn’t just be great for consumers (big screen Skyping for example), but it could produce whole new revenue stream for advertisers.  It seems the only manufacturers that have caught onto this are the consoles – in particular Microsoft.

The XBox Kinect is so sophisticated that the inbuilt camera can distinguish between individuals as well as being able to count the number of people in group playing situations.  Dennis Durkin, CFO of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business (which houses Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE), outlined the ultra-customized ad targeting scenario to attendees at the BMO Capital Markets Digital Entertainment Conference:

“Kinect brings a really interesting opportunity. Obviously with Kinect, it has facial recognition, so we can cater what content we present based on who you are.”

All very minority report – but actually quite useful.  When you boot up your XBox it could present you with content, services and advertising specific to you and your previous interaction with the device.  When you search the XBox marketplace it could make intelligent suggestions based on your past activities, but say your kids or your partner walks into view it could refresh and offer a new set of content suitable for group consumption.

XBox 360 is already has good scale, sitting in 44million homes around the world.  The possiblity of hyper targetted advertising is surely going to very attractive to advertisers (and give Google TV’s play at the TV ad market a run for its money).  While in the UK most of the talk is about YouView v Google v Sky – don’t underestimate Microsoft as they reposition XBox360 from being a games console to an entertainment hub.

Posted by Jason 2010.11.13 XBox No Comments





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