What’s New in TV from CES?

Nigel Walley, the Managing Director of Decipher shares his insights from the recent International CES event, held Jan 7-10 2013.

When looking at the coverage of CES, it’s easy to get swept up in the gadgetry – Internet-connected fridges, bendable phones, etc.  But, beyond the hype, the TV industry had two serious questions for the tech world:  “does anything on display have the potential to disrupt the TV distribution landscape” and “do the initiatives on offer bring the potential for more revenues or more costs”?

From ITV ’s point of view, the most interesting innovations came from the US pay-TV companies whose new types of boxes demonstrated by US pay-TV platforms Comcast, Verizon and Dish Networks (the US equivalent of Virgin, BT Vision and Sky) which had all made the leap to being true “home-media servers”.

All three boxes offered a central set-top box supporting a distributed network of mini-boxes and Smart device apps. What was interesting was that all the US boxes put PVR capability, not VOD, at the centre of their innovation. In these systems, the central box can supply a full TV service to six other screens in the house, whether full TVs or tablets, using the domestic wireless broadband.

The Dish box recorded every prime-time show from the four major networks every day and collated them in a branded part of the PVR it called “PrimeTimeAnytime”. Admittedly, its being sued for it, but the aspiration is interesting – using the PVR to deliver a VOD outcome. Whilst we have yet to see a comparable box in the UK, the implication is that the set-top box world is aggressively competing to “own” the TV viewer on every screen in their lives.  If we see similar initiatives in the UK, it could mean ITV would need to “play” these systems.

A worrying sign was the lack of coherent Smart TV advertising strategy from the industry.  This is still too fragmented to make a difference and, in the case of Samsung (who are meant to be leading this area) it felt like it had gone backwards. The ad unit they include in their interface has been dramatically de-powered, now only appearing on 1 out of the 5 panels that make up their new UX. There was nothing here to excite the advertising industry but from ITV’s perspective it means that there isn’t another strong competitor for TV VOD money.

Bigger and Better

Most of the manufacturers were focusing on the size of the screens they can produce, with 85” – 100” the new bragging zone.  For most UK consumers, who are constrained by the size of the alcove next to their fireplace, this is irrelevant. They were all celebrating the OLED breakthroughs, which is a tech development that gets lost on the consumer but there were two features that need mentioning - 3D and 4K.  Contrary to many reports, 3D is not dead – it seems to gets better and cheaper every year.

So standard in fact that the sunglasses manufacturers now feel confident enough to have filled CES with beautiful, branded 3D glasses that work on any passive 3D TV, in the cinema or in the pub.

4K, or UltraHD, is problematic. Every TV manufacturer was demonstrating 4K TVs (so called because they have 4000 pixels per screen compared to HD’s 1080), so the consumer screens are here. However, the UK doesn’t have any boxes that can play 4K or any broadcaster currently planning to shoot in it.

So the big message for ITV from CES is that TV is getting bigger and better and that can only be good news for people with big, important content. With all the huge new screens, improved resolution and functionality, people will increasingly be drawn back to a big main set TV experience that ITV can dominate. I look forward to watching 3D X factor on my 100” 4K screen sometime soon!