Thursday, 23 September 2010

Three paragraphs on smartphones and personal monitoring

I found this Intel press release on the use of smartphones for personal monitoring interesting as it tallies with some work we've been doing recently on application stores. The concept is that handsets can do far more than simply tell you where you are and what's around you, they can also take measurements from your body and determine your health, mood and general wellbeing.

This is nothing new, of course. I understand that Apple has a number of patents that relate to extended sensing of device users. What the article misses (and perhaps Intel have too) is that handsets are already well capable of making these measurements today. A few weeks ago the istethoscope application was the top selling app on iTunes - demonstrating the growing understanding of how to exploit smartphones for health and wellbeing. Heartbeat monitoring is a basic diagnosis tool, but has many uses in personal monitoring - level of exertion being the most obvious example.

Smartphones have taken off big time in the last two years and their penetration is extending further into the customer base as 'semi-smart' devices come into the mid-range, typically running Android. Smartphones entering the mainstream is important as I suspect that many people interested in personal monitoring are older and not necessarily early technology adopters. Tackling the effects of an aging population and the obesity epidemic seem to be key foci for the EU in the coming decades and personal monitoring may offer a way of providing early warning of issues and rudimentary triage that will reduce the cost of providing primary healthcare.

It's also clear that we're only starting to exploit the capabilities of smartphones. Their integrated accelerometers, cameras, microphones, GPS and even pedometers, combined with high speed processing and open development environments make them excellent mobile sensor platforms. Add temperature sensors, or ultra-low power remote sensors to them and the capability - and potential marketability - of devices will expand still further. All it'll take is a bit of vision - something I'm working on with a current client.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Impressions from IBC 2 - Sony and DECE

With apologies for the time lag (work has been particularly crazy recently), here's the second summary of my conversations from IBC. This time the interviewee was Spencer Stephens, SVP of Technical Services for Sony Pictures Entertainment and the topic was Google TV and DECE.

Stephens believes that there are two key game changers for IP - connected TVs and the move from physical to digital content 'lockers'.

With regard to the first, Google TV is a game changer. Stephens wasn't a fan of Apple TV as it's just an add-on to the TV, unlike Google, which is a hybrid of TV and the Internet and enjoys some of the benefits of both. It integrates EPG, DVR, purchased content and so on. Personally, my concern with Google TV is that it disintermediates broadcasters by focusing on content brands. Consumers are more likely to search for 'Top Gear' than for 'BBC 2'. Branded channels are a way round this, but I feel that they immediately restrict the value of Google search - I can find stuff using the EPG search equally easily. The only upside I can see is if Google TV can search across multiple devices attached to a home network. If so, that would be a genuinely cool feature for the mass market.

On the move towards digital content lockers, Stephens predicts that in 2012, 20% of the content sold globally will be delivered digitally (12% of revenues), up from 1% in 2008. At the moment, the limitation on e-sell through is the walled garden silos that limit consumption to a single platform. This is the rationale for Ultraviolet, supported by the DECE consortium. In DECE's opinion, there are 6 roles in the content ecosystem that will enable the transformation to a single digital content locker:
  1. Content Provider
  2. Retailer
  3. Locker Access Service Provider (which streams the content)
  4. Digital Service Provider (provides order fulfilment for the retailer)
  5. Client (device) implementer (I guess that means Sony and Cisco, looking at the partner list)
  6. DECE co-ordinator (which manages access to the locker)
In this ecosystem, I can access my content on any device, at anytime and from anywhere. Me, I'm a cynic. This is one of several DRM schemas out there - Disney's Keychest being the other notable example. The trouble is that they've just created a larger silo, locking everyone into another stiffling closed ecosystem where a consortium generates innovation. And again, there's a prisoners' dilemma, because unless everyone goes into the consortium, the best place to be is outside as having different technology could easily swing the game in your favour. Chances of Apple ever being involved? Zero. Likewise Google, I should think.

As for the six part ecosystem, it's yet another attempted carve up from the companies that have hitherto failed to capture value out of the digital content ecosytem. Good luck with that.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Impressions from IBC 1 - Seesaw

I've spent the last few days at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam, so my next couple of posts will cover some of the more interesting takeaways from interviews and stand visits I carried out at the event. First up, my notes from a talk by Matt Rennie, Commercial Director of Seesaw, the UK online video site that came out of the wreckage of Project Kangaroo.

First up, some numbers:
  • Since its launch in February, Seesaw has averaged about 3M unique visitors a week, from a current UK online video market of 10M-11M visitors
  • It currently has 3,500 hours of ad-funded and 1,500 hours of paid-for content available for streaming
  • Seesaw appears to be addititive to other online portals. 78% of their users are unique vs. 4OD and 96% are unique vs. Demand5

Next, some key factors that have made Seesaw a success:

  • It is based on robust and scaleable technology - a result of large investment by the Kangaroo partners and latterly by new owner, Arqiva
  • The user experience is fantastic, both due to a 'beautiful' UI that gets people into content in 2 clicks and because all the content categorisation is done by human beings, not algorithms. I find this an interesting point - Seesaw is being run like a TV channel on the Internet, not like a traditional aggregator
  • Above all, Seesaw is broadcaster friendly. This is absolutely key in my view. The key things that are vital for a broadcaster are control of their brand and control over their ad sales. Seesaw lets them do both, through skinned broadcaster 'channels' and direct control over sales (they also have an independent sales house to sell for indies)

Finally, key foci for Seesaw going forward:

  • Get onto more devices - Canvas, Apple/ Android and connected TVs were all mentioned
  • Leverage the technology and above all, the business model into other markets
  • Drive forward the UK business by bringing more PSBs (I presume this means ITV...) onto the service

All in all, I thought this was an interesting session, not least for confirming some of the key competitive factors that influence the success of online video services. The reality is that it is content supply that is king in this market and without the support of producers, these services cannot succeed. For all the talk of technology, the rules of the old TV world very much apply online.