Posts Tagged ‘TV’

Digital disruption: A personal journey to cutting the cable

May 17, 2015 1 comment

We cut the cable recently. After consuming cable TV since the 1990s suddenly the scrolling acres of EPG content are no more – and guess what? We’re saving money and lives are slightly better for it.


The issue had been bubbling away for some time. Over the past three years out of the 90+ channels Vodafone provided us via the T-Box, I had progressively found my viewing being whittled down to a core of Sky Sports rugby; the occasional movie; news and oddly, the terrestrial TV fodder based around news time.

What had changed over that period? The first crack in our relationship with cable TV was the purchase of Apple TV. I bought the little black box without really having any idea of how we would use it – but encouraged by the enthusiastic comments by a  work colleague.

Our broadband plan of the time wasn’t huge so there was a disincentive to streaming lots of movies but we had fun sharing You Tube clips from our other devices on the big screen. At the time United Video were still receiving Friday and Saturday night visits from us to choose a movie we’d all like. This was a long-standing behaviour that had begun decades earlier with video stores in the towns and cities I lived in in NZ or the UK. Using DVD stores also involved racking up a fair amount in overdue fines when the discs weren’t returned on time. But this was a familiar and well-worn end-of-week ritual for us all.

The second crack in the cable relationship was two poor decisions by our providers. One was Sky TV’s decision not to secure at any cost the rights to screen English Premier League football on Sky Sports in New Zealand, allowing Coliseum Sports to step into the gap adn offer the matches streaming over the internet. Recently Spark entered a joint venture with Coliseum to create Lightbox Sport.

The third issue was the obvious lack of investment by our provider in updating the usability of the dated EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) or any move to provide viewing on demand, rather than via a set schedule or by recording. An issue that was exacerbated when the recording option so often failed by CUTTING OFF THE LAST FIVE MINUTES of the programme (my screaming caps indicate the scars have still not healed).

As a content provider, not delivering the finale of a gripping drama or thriller is pretty much the highest order of epic failure. It was happening too often and from conversations with friends and colleagues – it was happening to everyone, not just us.

However, while Vodafone and Sky were losing us on the content side – Apple TV and Premier League Pass were demanding more data and it was right now that our relationship with Vodafone actually peaked as we doubled our data plan – but the critical point for Vodafone was that it wasn’t solely their content driving our consumption any more.

Fast forward a year from that time and our use of the “DVD store” was practically zero. Tellingly the DVD store was now diversifying about one-third of its floorspace into selling confectionary alongside DVD rentals. It didn’t solve the underlying problem however.


The agonies of choosing a movie we all like had now moved from the DVD store shelves to the Apple TV movie selector.

The next step change was that our two youngest children were now near teenagers and also accessing and consuming video content – mostly videos about their favourite game at the time, Mindcraft or Pokemon. After a period of constantly exceeding our monthly broadband limit I realised we were at a crossroads. I could attempt to continue with a campaign of curbing video access that had limited success or… Or I could look at the behaviour of my millennial offspring and truly understand what David Bowie meant when he said that one day music would be like running water or electricity. I chose to be swept along in this deluge and cranked up our broadband package to an unlimited usage.

Enter Netflix. Not the emasculated NZ version, which has one-eighth of the content of the US version, but the teeming ocean of more than 1100 content titles of movies, TV series and documentaries all without adverts and all available in HD for $NZ15 a month. Unlimited. On demand. Available on any screen in our house any time we want it. No fixed term contract. BAM!

Our relationship with Vodafone and Sky was over before we knew it. One month into Netflix (plus Lightbox for Vikings) we realised we hadn’t watched cable that much at all. Certainly not enough to justify the $90-odd per month we were playing. The only hook cable had in us (well me) was sport outside of the EPL. For me that means the Crusaders and the All Blacks. But, in the interests of experimentation, I reckoned I could survive until the World Cup in September.

In retrospect we pulled the plug 7 days too soon. We gave back the T Box two days before Cricket World Cup semi final. Our contract still had some time to run and luckily I found I still had access to Sky Go – enabling my sporty son and I to watch the most thrilling game of cricket we’ve ever seen – in between Sky Go’s technical problems that required the equivalent of  a reboot every 20-30 minutes. After I tweeted my displeasure I found my access to SkyGo had gone completely (no doubt coincidence – I don’t think my tweets carry that much punch) and went out and purchased a Freeview box for $89 to watch the final via Prime, and also to add in access to “old style” TV just in case the need arises.

Now a couple of months into internet TV there has been more of a change than just access to a universe of amazing content. We have become very discriminating viewers. Instead of opting for the easy family viewing option of reality TV documentaries (cops; sharks; city dwellers on desert islands…) we watch science documentaries like Cosmos; even venturing into Ted talks on robotics with the boys. There are no adverts to divert our attention so we focus solidly on a good documentary. Sometimes we split off into individual screens for watching, gaming, reading, interacting and we also gather together to watch a shared movie or TV. But our screen time is now active rather than passive. And there’s been one other big change.

For the first time in a long time I have come home to a silent house where people are reading, drawing or playing. Our TV consumption has moved from the hypnotic cycle of programmes and ads to watching specific movies, TV shows and documentaries. Admittedly with compelling series like House of Cards or The Fall my wife and I will binge on two or three episodes at a time. But it is a very different viewing experience from the passive viewing of broadcast TV. A straw poll of family members was unanimous – we feel in control.

For the broadcasters this is a real challenge. Apart from product placement we are immune from TV advertising. In fact we just can’t take the barrage of yelling and flashing images when we take a peak back into broadcast TV via the Freeview box. And “TV events” now come to me only via social media, filtered – just like how I get my news.

Yes I am in the early adopter/early majority camp but this is the first light airs of massive disruption – because there’s a growing movement away from the broadcast nature of TV. And how are the large NZ media companies dealing with this right now? In what has been likened to emulating King Canute they are lawyering up and making fighting noises to maintain the status quo.

But as NBR writer Chris Keall writes: “Global mode services let you skirt old-school exclusive distribution monopolies, not bust copyright. You still pay your money, and content makers still get their slice.

As he reflects, the old model is now fundamentally broken. Which will make for interesting viewing from the consumers’ perspective.


10 things that won’t be around in 10 years

January 20, 2012 5 comments

On the day that Kodak’s century-long business crumbles into nothing; Apple makes the text book irrelevant and the US government shuts down one of the world’s largest filesharing sites I’m prompted to muse about 10 things that won’t be around in 10 years

  1. Cheque books: Almost gone now. In NZ 95% of transactions (according to Payments NZ) are electronic.  UK stepped back from abolishing them by 2018 due to a backlash from older users. It’s an older-aged and therefore declining customer use base by the year.
  2. Wallets/Credit Cards/Cash machines: With the domination of electronic payments by card soon to migrate from the plastic in your wallet to your smartphone what’s left to carry in your leather wallet? Your payment, transit, reward, and identification cards will all be digitalized within the next 10 years. And with contactless micro-payments at all terminals (MasterCard are mandating all merchant terminals to comply with contactless payment technology by 2013) and the ability to make person-to-person payments using the same mobile contactless technology, who would you pay in cash?
  3. Postal bank statements: Particular bug-bear of mine. Totally useless pieces of paper that go towards 13% of landfill content being paper. With online banking now being fully mobilised we just don’t need them now, let alone in 10 years time. They’re as relevant as encyclopedias or Kokak film. Period.
  4. The computer mouse: This 1970s invention will follow the demise of the desktop computer as touch, gesture and voice control finally enable human beings to interact with personal and business electronic devices without developing repetitive strain injury. Our grandchildren will look at us in our dotage with our crippled, useless hands and talk about late 20th/early 21st century offices  in the same way we refer to 19th Century factories.
  5. DVD rental stores; music stores and mass market bookshops: Amazing to think that only a few years  ago these were like the hygiene factors of every decent main street or shopping mall.  The music store never recovered from iTunes giving the music industry a new business model; DVD rental stores are only around because the TV industry’s wake-up call legacy from Steve Jobs hasn’t occurred yet. It will this year. And the big chains like Borders; Dimmocks; Waterstones (sans apostrophe) only survived until online shopping became mass-market. Niche bookshops and graphic novels will survive by offering a tactile, olfactory, social experience around specific reading subjects that digital won’t be able to recreate. The other interesting play will be whether governments try to institute local territory good and services taxation on global online operations.  However, as it’s US corporations that dominate the online commerce market – it’s unlikely any other government would attempt this.
  6. Digital cameras (outside of mobile phones). Gone the way of photographic film, probably in 5 years.
  7. Broadcast TV: Whether iTV from Apple revolutionizes the TV manufacturing and content industries this year or next in 10 years time the idea of waiting to view a programme will be incredible.
  8. Hardware to access online services that costs more than $100. Expensive desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone technology will be replaced by cheap-to-replace; recyclable touch screens and digital membranes of various sizes, shapes and capacities in the same way we think of light bulbs today. Hard drives will be a thing of the past as personal and business computing and digital entertainment will move to the cloud.
  9. Non-ubiquitous internet access: The growth of free wi fi will spread access like water or electricity. Combine this with LTE and, for New Zealand, a much bigger cable via Pacific Fibre to the rest of the world plus that almost all home electronic devices will be linked to the web we will all be part of the matrix. The issue of online identity and personal privacy protection will be the great debate of the 2020s. In a scenario almost the reverse of 10 years ago, unless you’re wealthy enough, you won’t be able to avoid being connected to the web.
  10. Illegal online filesharing: If your business model is based on restricting access to digital content then it’s unlikely you’ll be flourishing in 10 years. I’m definitely not saying this is necessarily a good thing – creative IP should always be rewarded and therefore recognised in some way – what I am saying is that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle in regards to digital rights management. Investigating alternative compensation systems will dominate the next 10 years for content industries. The events of today only underline the challenge of retaining a closed and complicated model for managing digital rights. If the short and volatile history of the internet has proved anything, it’s that closed and complicated models are always trounced by simple and open.

I could get Siri-ous about corporate Siri

January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s fascinating watching the build up to CES being dominated by anticipation of what Apple (who famously aren’t at the show) may or may not do next.

Voice recognition was predicted to be a particular focus at the show – and CES hasn’t disappointed with voice controlled TVs, Intel unveiling Ultrabooks featuring voice in nine languages and possibly with real-time translation ability. You talk to your Ultrabook in Chinese and it responds in English.

Apple's Siri

The hype around voice recognition is driven from Apple’s Siri – the ‘intelligent personal assistant available on the iPhone 4s that helps you get things done just by asking’. While still in beta – and suffering a few teething issues – Siri has taken voice recognition from the ghetto of misunderstood commands and nonsensical responses to being a service people actually want to use on their phone.

Siri’s popularity is such that it seemed to catch Apple’s server farms slightly flat-footed at launch as demand for Siri to answer questions such as “What’s the meaning of life?”; “Where’s my nearest ATM” and “Close the pod doors” outstripped capacity, resulting in connection issues.

More telling was Google’s response from Eric Schmidt that the service was a threat to Google’s search business. A politic comment maybe, but you couldn’t ask for a better compliment from a competitor. Rumours of Siri being a key feature on Apple’s iTV has also quite obviously put the heat on current TV manufacturers – as evidenced from CES.

Siri may be hooked up to massive internet knowledge libraries but she is also unashamedly hungry to learn. Once out of the box she will pore through information from your contacts, music library, calendars, and reminders to better understand what you say. Siri also helps you by learning about the key people in your life. The first time you ask Siri to call your sister, it will ask you who your sister is. That information is stored in Contacts along with other relationship information like “mom,” “husband,” and “grandma.”

Siri on meaning of life

Siri shows she has a sense of humour - or at least her developer did

As has been noted by some users this eagerness to learn and improve can lead to embarrassing situations.  Mozilla Labs lead designer Kevin Fox found out the hard way that what happens in Siri doesn’t necessarily stay in Siri.

Siri is currently a personal assistant for non-business users. And being in beta is, as evidenced above, still in a rather childlike state in many regards. But she is powered by Wolfram Alpha –  a knowledge engine on steroids whose ultimate purpose is to unify the sum of all human knowledge.

Once Apple work through it’s teething problems Siri’s success as a personal application is assured. But imagine the potential as a business tool. What company wouldn’t have a spare virtual seat at the boardroom table for the quiet member who can provide the answers on absolutely everything under the sun –  from company reports; interest rate predictions; to the smallest detail on the company ledger?

How much would a company pay for a compliant director whose brain encompasses the sum of all human knowledge, who can be available 24/7 – and who also manages your entire internal knowledge base? An ultimate knowledge resource that for CEO or CSR is only a question away?

I find Siri rather fetching in her personal capacity, but she could be seriously hot once she hits corporate mode!