Connected TV - the death of the channel

Connected TV - the death of the channel

Our remit at Imperica is to cover a range of disciplines. The burgeoning world of "Connected TV" is one of them. Connected TV, delivering the benefits of Internet connectivity with web-like features to a TV screen, is starting to become understood by advertisers and broadcasters, and desired by audiences.

When I met Ian Valentine, Founder and Technical Director of Miniweb, it was in a meeting room at the company's offices, just off the Great West Road. Warm, friendly and highly conversational, Ian proceeded to ask about Imperica, before I asked him about Miniweb.

Formerly part of Sky's technical leadership, Valentine set Miniweb up in 2007. The Miniweb platform is very much in the spirit of connected TV, in that it provides an interface which allows viewers to discover content at programme level, rather than channel level, through content discovery - UI techniques broadly similar to web search. The Miniweb platform alslo allows for a degree of interaction which could appear on the screen in real time. It amplifies the shared experience.

Because the platform allows for this, the first challenge is to consider whether the current, generally-held definition of connected TV, such as MSN Messenger on a TV screen, is correct – and does the term justice. The concept of form following function doesn't naturally lend itself to such services on TV, in Ian's view: "The problem is that people take the paradigms of other connected devices that they use, and think that those functions are going to automatically appear on the TV. Users choose the best device for every function.” The development of connected TV is therefore the development of what we are able to make better, and to continue to align (or re-align) the matching of form with function.

A further definition which requires re-analysis is the concept of “lean back / lean forward”. This is one which has been used for a number of years within both the digital media and broadcasting industries to mean the convergence of both. As Ian explains: "The whole lean back/lean forward concept has been around for a long time - since the beginning of digital. The thing about digital is that it did two things: it produced more content through multiplexing, and to control that content you had to interact, because of the volume of channels. The second was the ability to roll out functionality that you engaged with: the concept of lean-forward. Picking up the remote, and leaning forward.”

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Are we holding the next generation back?

If you've heard of the term “educational technology”, then you probably have a pretty good idea of what it means. A whole industry has been created around it, particularly from the early 1990s, where vendors such as Apple and RM focused on such a market. At the time, such a market – of students using computers both in classrooms and in the home – was in its infancy.

Professor Matthew Allen considers the term to be bogus. Allen is the first Professor of Internet Studies at Australia's Curtin University, with an approach is transforming both the views of students under his wing – covering many different angles of media – and that of the University.

There's no question that Allen is a sharp, passionate operator, with a deep understanding of the pedagogical impact of media, particularly digital media. His views are sharp, observant, and derived from years of personal insight. To first explain what educational technology is, you have to go back over several decades of media evolution – before and including the birth of the Internet itself.

“TV is a pedagogic tool to education the nation. Universities and schools saw it as educational technology. Now, of course, it's not called that. But, more people know more from TV than they would ever have done from university. So, how is something not called educational technology, so educational?

“The Internet was usefully called educational technology for some years, but now, in developed and developing nations, infrastructure is advanced. Therefore, teachers need to stop constraining the term.”

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Alt/1977: Alex Varanese

Alt/1977: Alex Varanese

Reinventing the past is a series which runs through the summer and autumn on Imperica. We will talk with people and groups using creative technology to develop fictional versions and iterations of notable, generally-accepted events in the past.

For the first in this series, we talk with designer Alex Varanese. Based in the Bay Area of California, Alex's clients have included Nike, CBS, and agencies including Publicis and Sapient Nitro. 

His project, Alt/1977, re-imagines four common products as if they were invented in 1977, developing fictitious print advertising campaigns for them. 

Tell me more about the project, and what led you to develop it.

Years ago, while working as a web developer, I passed a restaurant with a particularly 80's-looking sign and was struck by how out of place it looked. That concept of anachronistic design made me wonder what the web, for instance, might look like if we had the technology of today in the 60's or 70's; color LCD monitors running at 1920x1200, broadband internet connections, HTML-based browsers and all that, but combined with those drab, yellow-tinted color schemes, flower power patterns and new-age hippie sensibilities. There was something so wrong about that idea, almost to the point of revulsion, that I never quite got it out of my head.

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Internet companions

Internet companions

Companionship is part of what makes us human. It drives our need to be with and around people; to converse; to share, and to debate.

The digitisation of companionship is a phenomenon that has obviously been increasing in its absorption into everyday life. Two words sum this up for many people: social media. And, with social media, comes the concept of lifestreaming: the sharing of the important and the trivial, the good and bad, onto digital media. It's the status update, the sharing of photos, and the liking of links. It's an increasingly important part of who we are. With the digitisation of companionship comes the possibility of developing technological answers to socio-technological questions: principally, how companionship could be replicated artificially. The concept of automata understanding humans is, of course, wider than companionship itself: it covers Machine Translation, conversational systems, and other areas which have surfaced into everyday life as translation services, chatbots, and so on. Professor Yorick Wilks is an academic within three organisations, a winner of many computer and linguistic awards, and founder of the Institute of Language, Speech and Hearing at the University of Sheffield. His recent work has included the development of two companions, with relevance to two stages in a person's life. The first is the Senior Companion, which provides companionship for elderly people. It can provide comfort through a shared reminiscence of the past, and plays a role that Professor Wilks calls the “furry handbag”: something warm, cosy and dependable. Such companions validate photographs through the Internet, and allows for the labelling of people to provide conversational cross-references: in other words, a more elaborate form of photo-tagging. Dialogue tags the photo with discourse.

 

 

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In conversation with... Scott Gould and Andrew Pickering

In conversation with... Scott Gould and Andrew Pickering

It was a Talking Heads album cover that contained the rhetorical question “Where do good ideas come from?”

Technology, and the increasing socialisation of communications technology, supposedly allows us to create, develop, refine and deliver ideas in ways and speeds that have never been the case before. From niche startups to scientific breakthroughs, the power of the idea is becoming increasingly met by the power of silicon.

For this “In conversation with...”, Imperica visited the beautiful surroundings of Reed Hall, part of the University of Exeter. Talking about ideas and the socio-technological flow of them, are Scott Gould, and Professor Andrew Pickering.

How can the systems and processes that we now have, from a social and technology perspective, help to foster and generate ideas? Is it easier than ever, to take an idea and make it happen?

SG: It's easier to get access to ideas today, that's certainly true. A great example is TED; you watch a talk, and get inspired. It doesn't really matter which one you watch - they're so inspiring that you want to actualise their idea in your life.

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In conversation with... Molly Flatt and Richard Gray

In conversation with... Molly Flatt and Richard Gray

As communications technology becomes increasingly social, it is important for brands to understand the potential of how they can also become more social, and the potential of reframing their perception within society. This “In conversation with...” is about brand anthropomorphism: the current and future potential of human characteristics of brands. In conversation, in a sunny Soho garden, are Molly Flatt and Richard Gray.

How can brands start to adopt more human characteristics? RG: I think that brands have been doing this since the year dot, and do a whole host of things to feel – to become – more human, to their audiences. These range from having icons for their brands, like Marlboro Man and the Churchill Dog, to communicating in a much more human way, such as the Gold Blend couple.

Brands are all about association, so you create an environment which feels more human, and by that, there is an association with the brand. The main point is to create these actual icons that have very human characteristics, or trying to give personality and human attributes to your products.

The classic one recently is Apple, with its advertising of Mac and PC, as human “products”. So, I think that it's very much the territory of brands to create that human association, because we have stronger connections with people and their psychological characteristics, than we do with functional characteristics. While those are important, you have to go beyond that, and create a longer lasting sense of loyalty.

This is very much the heart of what brands do – they create that association. I think that the interesting thing is where brands are creating a more conversational dialogue, as part of demonstrating their human side. MF: We never really confirm what we mean by human, and by “human” we use it as a euphemism to mean lovely, personable, warm... which is all great, but if you're talking about human characteristics, then those aren't necessarily human characteristics.

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