The enduring power of the House Special

We attended an interesting session of the Westminster Media Forum yesterday, which looked at the evolving shape of video on demand and IPTV. We heard talks from organisations including Virgin Media, YouView, Thinkbox, Red Bee, Mediacom, Blinkbox and Oliver & Ohlbaum and although there was a good deal of debate, there was also rather a lot of consensus about where the TV market is heading. That’s to say much more non-linear delivery of programmes through the TV screen, much more integration of linear and non-linear content in the user interface, the need to communicate clear and simple benefits to consumers, but also the continuing importance of linear channels and the difficulty of monetizing a VOD service and delivering targeted advertising.

Listening to the talks, it was rather satisfying to remember that we’ve contributed to a number of the key areas of development, from the concept that has now become YouView through to the regulation of VOD content.

But it was even more satisfying to dig out our 2008 House Special study, VOD: State of Play, and note that pretty much everything we predicted is now happening, and that the vast majority of our conclusions (many of which were felt to be heretical at the time) now feel like accepted consumer truths.  

Here are 5 things we suggested would happen:

1. The future of VOD is via the TV screen. That’s not to say that watching TV programmes on laptops is dead – but the general consensus is now that the TV screen will soon grab the lion’s share of VOD viewing time.

2. VOD content needs to be integrated with linear content in the EPG as viewers just want great stuff to watch, regardless of how it is delivered. Yesterday we heard YouView, Virgin Media and IP Vision explain how this is becoming reality.

3. There will be increased aggregation of VOD providers under one virtual roof – and this will be good for consumers who don’t want to search multiple destinations for the right programme. And sure enough, Virgin Media now offers the iPlayer, content from ITV Player and 4OD, while the likes of HBO and Warner have set out their virtual stalls in the same marketplace. YouView, meanwhile, has adopted a ‘provider-neutral’ platform for content providers large and small to offer their wares direct to the consumer.

4. When faced with growing choice, consumers will value navigational tools that help them find the right content. That’s certainly the philosophy behind Virgin Media’s forthcoming TiVo service. And we believe this will signal the start of a new era of VOD exploration, way beyond current catch-up-based behaviour.

5. The linear schedule will continue to be the starting point for the vast majority of audiences. And this now seems to be widely accepted, with most estimates putting non-linear viewing at around 20% of total TV viewing in the next few years.

This all made us rather happy. And in the same week, our latest House Special, Brandheld, picked up the IPA / Simon Broadbent award at the MRG conference. (More of which shortly.)

All in all, a good week for our House Specials.

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