Thursday, March 24, 2005

Link-and-Pause – Media Multitasking in the Age of DVRs

Drag-and-drop made the use of PCs simple and powerful enough for the masses. Link-and-pause can do the same for media multitasking (simultaneous TV and Web use).

Growing masses of people now surf the Web while watching TV. This is building on the wide availability of wireless notebooks, and the readiness of heavy media users (especially younger ones) to multitask.

Yet many still question whether couch potatoes really want to multitask. That is reminiscent of an earlier question of whether ordinary consumers would want to use a PC – one that rightly raised much skepticism until the introduction of graphical user interfaces (like the Mac and Windows) radically simplified PC use.

Link-and-pause refers to the ability to initiate a Web interaction related to a TV program (or movie or other video or music) – and, as that is done, to pause the program. This can work like a traffic cop to selectively control multitasking. In this way intervals of interactvity can alternate with intervals of linear viewing, without either one interfering with the other. For example, you might link from a movie to the cast and credits to see who an actor is, and what else you saw him in. Link-and-pause can pause the movie while you do that. This enables the user to control when both media should be active concurrently – and when coactive multitasking should take the simpler path of alternating threads of unitasking activity.

The TV industry does not yet appreciate the simplicity and control that link-and-pause offers. Their concern has been that the TV program will continue on while the viewer interacts with other content, so the viewer misses the remainder of the program – that users will have a less satisfying experience, and that TV producers will lose their audience, along with the audience for their commercial sponsors.

What they forget is that with DVRs, users need not let the TV program run on while they pursue a tangential interactive task. With link-and-pause, this task switch can be automated, so that links are presented to assist in taking such tangents, and the actuation of such links can cause the TV to pause (or not, as the user desires). This enables a new kind of media usage we might call hypertasking.

A more extensive discussion of link-and-pause – and the complementary use of flexible bookmarking to control multitasking activity on the Web side – as well as the broader concepts of "coactive media" – is at the Coactive TV (CoTV) Web site.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A New "Blue Ocean Strategy" for TiVo: CoTiVo

To win big TiVo must be more than just a premium feature offered by Comcast and other distributors. TiVo needs a new way to stand out. Being better than Brand X (like Apple) gives them a niche, but to really be a power they must be more than just a better box, or another feature offered by Comcast and other distributors. CoTiVo is a new way to extend Tivo's Tahiti strategy beyond their proprietary set-top/media center boxes, into profitable waters in which the cable and satellite guys will be out of their depth.

TiVo began with a classic "blue ocean strategy" that created a new market space based on a new user value proposition ("TV your way") in which competition was largeley irrelevant. But the competition is now out in force. TiVo needs to change the game again, to find a new blue ocean.

They have a half step to this in their Tahiti strategy, which they say provides "an easy way to find and control content from any broadcast or broadband source." "TiVo's product and service platform will offer consumers broader choice in programming and the convenience to take their favorite shows with them to enjoy anywhere they choose." This could be a brilliant start toward what Joe Uva (President of ad giant OMD, and a TiVo board member) calls "the media concierge."

What is missing is removing this concierge from dependence on the TiVo/set-top box, and making it platform agnostic -- a distributed, Web-centered service, that can serve all users, with any kind of set-top boxes (STBs), and for all of their media. This ties in with the kind of cross-device TV+PC/Web services that I have described as coactive TV -- thus "CoTiVo."

Such a CoTiVo service could reach a mass market far beyond any realistic hope for TiVo boxes, or for TiVo software on other people's STBs -- and could move TiVo into a central and highly profitable role as the media concierge service for all of our boxes. (It could also enhance the market for TiVo boxes or TiVo STB software as a preferred device for all users of CoTiVo services.) By moving beyond the set-top box into a Web-based, cross-platform media concierge business, TiVo could sail away from the battle of the boxes (and a distributor-dominated margin squeeze) into a large blue ocean of services that cable and satellite companies are poorly equipped to compete in or put pressure on.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Media Concierge Services – A New Choke Point in the Media Business

Media concierge services could be good news for users, and bad news for current TV distribution services.

Media concierge services are a new class of tools to help viewers find and manage media content from any broadcast, broadband or local source. This comprehensive user-centered view will become critical as media options expand – and can enable highly profitable ownership of the consumer's media selection processes (if done in a way that serves users and avoids "evil").

Joe Uva, President of ad giant OMD, recently introduced the term "media concierge." He describes it as "an on-the-premises concierge that oversees media entering and leaving my home ... recommending and selecting media for consumption; scheduling appointments and devices for consumption ... locate and record information of value to me while allowing me to avoid information or content which I have no interest in ... assist me in making transactions with third parties ... act as a janitor or custodian for my files ... allow my behavior and habits to be measured by others while protecting my privacy."

I suggest that centering these services on a PC/Web platform allows them to be powerful and comprehensive – not only to span TV, VOD, IP, DVD, music, home entertainment libraries, and theatrical viewing, but to support any user viewing and content delivery platform, including standard TV, DVRs, other advanced CE/AV devices, and any Internet media – and to do this with powerful selection, navigation and personalization user interface features that are beyond the reach of a TV-based user interface. As these services are used, the user interface may migrate from the PC to the TV, music system, or other devices (drawing on the kind of cross-device services described in my work on coactive TV), but the heavy lifting can draw on the full power, openness, and economy of Web services.

This new locus of power could be very good news for users, and the companies that serve them (much like Web search), and bad news for current TV distribution services that seek to maintain their own media access choke points and walled gardens.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Do couch potatoes really want to interact with their TVs?

That is the question Phillip Swann asks in his "Unconventional Analysis of TV Technology." But is that the important question? I suggest being a bit more unconventional. Users do not want to interact with their TVs. But sometimes they want to interact with content that relates to what is on their TVs (and sometimes they want to do that interaction using their TVs).

The important question is: Do they want to interact while watching their TVs?

It is increasingly clear that they do. "The number of minutes adults spend simultaneously surfing the Web and watching TV has increased a dramatic 72 percent, from an average of 174 minutes per week in 2001 to 300 minutes per week in 2004, according to the latest 'Media in Mind' survey by Universal McCann." (1/28/05 Clickz article).

What few in the industry are willing to accept is that a TV is a pretty lame device to interact with. But the numbers show users are very happy to interact with their PCs while watching TV.

Most of that interaction is unrelated to what they are watching on TV, but a significant portion is related, even though they have to create that relationship the hard way. I suggest far more interaction would be TV-related if that were made easier.

So the real question is when will services make it easy to interact while watching TV. CoTV, "coactive TV" is a simple application of technology to facilitate that. More and more people are beating around that bush.

The TV industry does not want to think about that. But the Web industry is just one or two steps away.

All that is needed is for one Web service to decide to support that pent up demand. I have been talking to key people at several major Web portals. They are not quite there yet, but they are getting closer...