The end of geography for TV

I managed a day at the Anga Cable show in Germany last week. That was interesting, especially as it highlighted both the clear trend for HbbTV, the Franco/German OTT system for TV, and it also showed how the technology change of the internet coming to TV is causing real problems for the existing TV business and its structure. That’s not new, but it was very much in the air. Cable service suppliers are wondering how they can make sure they don’t become simply infrastructure suppliers. Broadcasters with strong brands, such as RTL, are wondering how they can live in and exploit the internet TV revolution without losing out to content aggregators such as Google or Apple.

Often with a show, what is interesting is what or who is not there as well as what is there. Major brands and TV brands were very conspicuous by their absence at Anga. It was a surprise to me that companies such as Samsung, which has an STB business, were not there and I didn’t spot any contacts from the TV set side of the business on the show floor (although I didn’t make a survey). Given that the changes that are coming in TV could really be a huge opportunity for TV brands (the widespread adoption of CI+ which can allow cable and other pay TV access without STBs and HbbTV), it’s slightly surprising to see so little activity. However, given the huge divide between IBC and IFA that I’ve remarked on before, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. (For new readers, I have attended both IFA, where the set makers gather, and IBC, where the broadcast industry meets, and find very little overlap in delegates, exhibitors and even in the press room. One PR company told me recently that I was the only editor who they knew that goes to both shows).

I’ve talked for several years about OTT internet-based TV as being ‘the end of geography for TV’. It’s probably going to take a long time for this to really happen, not least because of the issues of content licensing (and an example is the different rate of adoption of eReaders because of the complexity of publishing rights contracts, which mean, for example, that I regularly cannot buy books I want to read on my Kindle because I have a UK-based credit card, even though they are available to my American friends).

The TV business is struggling at the moment to win ‘added value’ – just look at the deals that are currently available in mass market channels. It does concern me that the relatively small amount of attention that many TV brands seem to be applying to the area of understanding broadcasting and media will mean that a significant opportunity to exploit the new technology to make profits is going to be simply lost, at least to them.

It does occur to me that a not dissimilar thing happened in audio. Apple took over the music business with iTunes and the service that it offered to consumers overwhelmed the issues of technology. I guess, at this stage, it could be said that Apple has done the same kind of thing for the tablet market, so is dominating ‘apps’. It could be argued that Amazon has done the same for eBooks. Who’s going to do it for TV? That’s an open question, but if the set makers don’t start to realise that the days of profitably making stand-alone gadgets have gone, they will lose out.

Apple and Amazon have shown that consumer products these days need complete eco-systems of content to be really successful. If set makers don’t start to better understand broadcasting, they will hand the opportunity to someone else.