The Connected Living Room

Posted on: Thursday 07 July 2011 5:44pm

John Kent blogs from the sofa of the future

Introduced by Marc Goodchild Produced by Liam Ford

With Paul Johnson (Agora Media), Hamish McPharlin (Decipher), Jamie Rea (CBBC), Richard Castelline (Agora Media)

A couple of years ago everyone was talking about “social media”, last year it was “Transmedia” and this year it seems, the techie buzz is around the “connected living room”. But what does that mean? And what does it mean for children? This session was a whistle-stop romp through the world of new consumer technologies.

The concept of the connected living room is a useful illustration of how behaviour and technologies are changing:

Modern TV’s for instance can be connected to the internet: not so you can surf on the web, but so you can watch internet video like You Tube or iPlayer on a big screen. They also have the potential to run specific apps so you could play games, or subscribe to providers of premium content such as Lovefilm.

Viewers are also changing the way they consume TV– not just time-shifting, but choosing to watch TV on devices that suit them: computers, smartphones and tablets

Plus there’s another behaviour starting to emerge: apparently 60% of adults report that they “2 screen” – watching TV while surfing the web – around 2-3 times per week. A quick show of hands illustrated that many people in the session tweet while they watch (often about the show the show that’s on). But potentially there’s more to come: apps are already available that allow your smartphone to control a TV, and apps that synchronise an interactive experience with a broadcast show have been tried on a few occasions.

So, back to the main point of the session: what do connected devices mean for children?

Inevitably, it’s complicated, and it’s going to be a challenge for producers, as the relationship between their content and brands, the audience, and the chain that takes content to user is in itself becoming more complicated.

In terms of behaviour, there are no detailed figures about how children use multiple devices. But, we were told, the Kaiser Family Foundation in the US reckon that 8-18 year olds are exposed to around 10 hrs 45mins of media a day. If that figure is true, and children are sleeping, then one can only surmise that they too are multi tasking in the way they consume their media..

Paul Johnson made the point that it’s likely to be a while before connected TV’s make a huge difference to viewing behaviour. Of the million web-capable TV sets in UK, only around 40% are reckoned to be connected to the web – screen size and quality are a bigger drive to buying a new TV. And there are no common standards between manufacturers, so it’s hard for producers or broadcasters to exploit the potential of the platform.

However, there are around 160 million consoles like the Xbox, Playstation and Wii in homes around the world – and they all give users the opportunity to connect to the internet and watch TV. And perhaps more interestingly for us, many of those consoles aren’t in living rooms – and there’e evidence that it’s children who are driving the uptake of watching TV via a console.

More content delivered on demand through more devices leads inexorably to more choice for users. But that in turn leads to its own challenges. Take Peppa Pig, for example. Once you could only watch it on Five (through an aerial) and Nick Jr (if you had a dish). Now its available through BT Vision, Virgin Media, via consoles and on Apple TV – all via the net. How do you ensure your brands don’t get lost?

When it comes to what works on connected TV, Hamish McPharlin highlighted research that Decipher undertook – observing behaviour in the home. Some apps and approaches will work better than others. Video services like You Tube and iPlayer make sense. But children in particular seem to prefer “social view” – ie watch while on facebook – with a more private device like a phone or a laptop: they don’t want their parents to see what they’re saying to their friends!

By the end of the session, the consensus seemed to be that “2 screen” interactions offered the most for potential for content aimed at children. Jamie Rae mentioned TMI – a popular format which allowed children to participate and affect the items and outcomes within the show. Richard Castelline also mentioned Play to TV – an app that use the soundtrack of a programme to sync up with show (imagine something that works like Shazam to trigger an interactive event).

But this kinds of interaction with a TV show – whether “traditional” like TMI, or via an app, will only work if the events are properly stitched into the fabric of a programme, and don’t compromise the quality of the show. And events need to be clearly “tagged” with the information needed to make them work across devices and platforms.

Richard Castelline’s final comment: “Metadata is the new oil!” Maybe that should be a session for CMC 2012?