The Connected TV Usability Index – coming soon…

The Connected TV blog seems a good place to announce a new venture which farncombe, which hosts this site, is currently working on. This new endeavour involves benchmarking the usability of connected TV devices.

Those of us with access to a connected TV experience – whether on a smart TV, games console, laptop, tablet or set-top box – will all have our favourite bugbears about the connected user experience: the number of clicks it takes to call up a particular piece of on-demand content, over-complex remotes that don’t match what’s on the EPG, screens that are difficult to navigate, etc. etc.

But is it possible to create a standardised set of objective, quantifiable tests with which to assess and compare the user-friendliness of all these different screens?

Well, farncombe thinks it is. Using the knowledge and experience of its engineers at the Farncombe Test Lab in Vauxhall, London (which is already carrying out technical testing on some of our clients’ hybrid receivers), as well as the EPG design knowhow of its user experience practice, WeAreAka, farncombe has worked out a standardised battery of tests that assesses the most common ‘user journeys’ on connected TV devices, the types of feature that improve usability, and the kind of bad UX design practices best avoided.

Over the coming months farncombe will be refining its thinking, testing an initial batch of connected TV devices, and publishing some of the early results as a new industry monitor provisionally dubbed ‘The Connected TV Usability Index’.

The intention is to create a benchmark for viewers and industry alike, by regularly reporting which connected TV devices are ‘best in class’ for a particular usability category – and thereby helping consumers make a more informed choice as they migrate towards this complex emerging market. The first manufacturers are already signed up.

Farncombe believes that manufacturers and operators alike will find the index a valuable tool to help them understand how to enhance the TV viewing user experience.

If you are a connected TV device manufacturer and you believe your user experience is best-in-class, then there is still time for you to be involved at no cost. Please click here to contact us.

If you want to share with us your suggestions about those features you believe should be on our shortlist – and even those which are the most irritating – then we welcome your comments.

Watch this space for more details!

Only 37% will buy connected TVs for broadband – YouGov

A survey by UK pollster YouGov suggests that well under half of UK consumers (37%) planning to buy a Connected TV will buy it because it is broadband-enabled. Instead, the most common reason for intending to buy one is simply having a more up-to-date TV – a factor cited by 50% of potential purchasers.

YouGov found that the most important feature of Connected TVs amongst people who already owned one was the picture quality (cited by 96% of owners) followed by the size of the screen (93%) then sound quality (89%).

Furthermore, only half (53%) of Connected TV owners correctly identified a Connected TV as a TV that connects to the Internet without the need for another device; while one in four (25%) Connected TV owners have never used it to connect to the internet.

YouGov commented that the profile for adoption of Connected TV sets in technology terms was “very similar” to that of iPad owners: “These are the kind of people who are willing to make a big ticket purchase without quite realising what they’ve bought.”

Other data shows that amongst owners of Connected TVs, over one third (36%) have a Sony, followed by Samsung (33%) then Panasonic (16%). However, almost two-thirds (62%) of people planning to purchase one in the next 12 months are considering Samsung, followed by Sony (48%) and Panasonic (40%).

Meanwhile, over one quarter (26%) say they plan to buy an Apple TV, even though the manufacturer has not yet launched one.

The research is likely to be a major talking-point at the Connected TV Summit later this week, at which farncombe will be speaking as well as chairing.

Report: 2.65m US pay-TV subs ‘cut the cord’ in 2008-2011

Some new evidence from the US claiming that ‘cord-cutting’ may be a real phenomenon after all.

Today’s Morning Bridge cites research from Convergence Consulting Group saying that “2.65M Americans between 2008-2011 canceled their pay-TV subscriptions in favor of those offered from internet streaming services.” Convergence predicts that by the end of this year, “as many as 3.58M consumers will cut their cord.”

The Bridge adds that in a separate report, Leichtman Research has found that the top 14 US MVPD operators added 175K fewer subs in 2011 than in 2010.

Claims about the impact of cord-cutting have frequently been disputed because it is difficult to gauge what proportion of customers are churning out of pay-TV simply because they’re cutting back on their entertainment expenditure during the recession, or for other reasons unrelated to the availability of OTT services such as Hulu and Netflix.

Update: Leichtman Research has pointed out to Connected TV that it was Convergence Consulting Group and not themselves which was responsible both for the 3.58M cord-cutter prediction, and the conclusion that OTT was the culprit. This was not made clear in the Morning Bridge article, and the above post has been amended accordingly.

Sky to launch pay-as-you-go OTT service in the summer

UK pay-TV operator Sky is to launch a new OTT service called Now TV this summer, which is set to compete in the UK with existing Internet movie platforms such as Netflix, Lovefilm and Ultraviolet (of which Sky is a member).

The new brand will be distinct from Sky’s, although it will be positioned as ‘powered by Sky’. The operator’s CEO, Jeremy Darroch, said in a speech to the Media Guardian Changing Media Summit 2012 that it would be available on a wide range of devices and offer instant access to “a range of high-quality Sky content, with no install and no contract.”

Movies will be the first content to be made available, expanding to offer sport and entertainment in due course. Customers will be able to pay monthly for unlimited access to Sky Movies or rent a single movie on a simple, pay-as-you-go basis.

The range of connected devices covered will include “PCs, Macs, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, games consoles and connected TVs.”

Although Darroch only narrowed down the launch-window for Now TV to “later this year” in his speech, the site where customers can register their interest specifies a summer launch.

Danish T2-Lite trial goes for all-mobile channel offer

Details have emerged about some of the technology choices adopted for the Copenhagen ‘T2-Lite’ trial, for which Danish operator Open Channel was awarded a licence in August last year.

The trial, which launched on January 1st this year and could run for up to three years, uses UHF channel 39 in Copenhagen, and claims coverage of more than 700,000 households.

In contrast to the BBC R&D trial last year, which squeezed a T2-Lite channel designed for mobile reception into the gaps between a fully-fledged HD service transmitted in standard DVB-T2 mode (now dubbed ‘T2-base’), the Copenhagen trial consists entirely of T2-Lite TV and radio channels carried on up to 16 Physical Layer Pipes (PLPs). As their name suggests, each of these can be regarded as a separate data-pipe with its own bit-rate and robustness characteristics, a notable feature of the second-generation DVB DTT standard.

Open Channel’s calculations show that configured in this manner, a T2-Lite multiplex can match the data-rate offered by a DVB-T one (see table below), yet still offer good mobile reception (unlike DVB-T as generally configured).

Stationary reception DVB-T 20 – 22 Mbit/s DVB-T2 37 – 40 Mbit/s
Mobile reception DVB-H 10 – 13 Mbit/s DVB-T2 Lite 20 – 25 Mbit/s

Source: Open Channel

The difference between the T2-base multiplex data-rate (40.2 Mbit/s in the UK) and that of a T2-Lite mux (20-25 Mbit/s) is explained by the fact that the PLPs within it are configured to be much more robust for mobile reception purposes, so run at lower bit-rates (the DVB-T2 spec sets a maximum of 4MBit/s for PLPs when T2-Lite is used).

But that in turn means that they can easily be captured by fixed aerials, too: in other words, the same channel offer is receivable on either living-room displays fed from a fixed rooftop antenna or handheld devices equipped with a T2-Lite tuner (the DVB predicted last September that soon, all [DVB-] T2 chipsets will support T2 Lite).

These channels will, of course, not be HD quality, but that has to be set against the fact that no separate (expensive) mobile TV network needs to be constructed.

One of the interesting assertions made by Open Channel is that DVB-T2 Lite is not only suitable for mobile TV. It is, the company says, “also highly suitable as the future standard of digital radio in place of DAB & DAB+ [...]. With the DVB-T2 / T2 Lite profile you get 2.7 to 3.7Mbit/s capacity (~ 40 / ~ 55 HE AACv2 radio stations) compared to the DAB / DAB+ 1.1 Mbit/s capacity (~ 6 mpeg1 layer II / ~ 16 HE AACv2 radio stations) with the same propagation model.”