Lessons from the first wave of TV interactivity - pt 1


There is a new generation of web powered interactive capability rolling out on set-top-boxes and Smart TVs in the UK.

There is a new generation of web powered interactive capability rolling out on set-top-boxes and Smart TVs in the UK.

There is a new generation of web powered interactive capability rolling out on set-top-boxes and Smart TVs in the UK. We are now seeing the first wave of interactive TV innovation that builds on it, as developers experiment with the new tools around TV programmes and channels.  However, there is a significant body of experience and insight that was developed in the first wave of red button innovation that occurred in the middle of the Noughties.  Now is a good time to reflect on the lessons and experiences of this previous wave of innovation and apply it to current activity.

Changing interactive context 

The first thing to reflect on however, is the different technical context that is in place now for TV interactivity. In this, the first of a three part blog, we explore the two significant differences between the current context for interactivity and the first red button wave of innovation. These are the availability of second screen apps, and the web connectivity now built into most set-top-boxes and screens.

The implications of the first of these - second screen apps - is reasonably obvious. The first wave of red button innovation on TV occurred before the launch of the iPhone or iPad. As such the aspiration for what on-screen interactivity could deliver was much broader – and included many things that should never have been attempted on a TV. At the time, it was hoped that viewers could be enticed to use the interactive screens to enter competitions, respond to advertising, request samples or even buy things - all of which required complex data entry. This misunderstood the role of the TV in family or group viewing. The general TV audience just did not want the person holding the remote control to press red and start entering data. It was a solo activity that could be painful to watch and interrupted the general flow of TV viewing.

From a technical point of view, an interactive panel on TV is also a poor interface in which to enter data. They were slow to pick up and process text that had been entered; the remote control offered a limited keyboard; and the number of on-screen support functions that we expect from a data interface (e.g. helpful pop-ups and roll-overs etc.) were just not available to the designers at the time. Having second screen apps has negated the need to include that kind of text and data interactivity in TV concepts freeing up TV to get back to delivering content.

The second change in context – the availability of set-top-box connectivity – is crucial to addressing another previous flaw in the interactive offering. Research on the previous red button innovations showed that what viewers really wanted from interactivity was more video. TV is a passive entertainment medium – interactivity should be about delivering choice, control and variety around that core video content.

In the first wave of interactivity that level of video richness was impossible to deliver with a 28k dial-up modem so all extra video had to be broadcast. Where the interactive function was merely a channel change (like the BBC’s Wimbledon interactivity) it was possible to use extra broadcast channels to deliver the video. However, this was very expensive. Most interactive TV concepts used a broadcast video carousel that gave consumers no control when extra videos started or stopped. It was not uncommon, particularly in advertising interactivity, to have a viewer start watching an advert half-way through and have to wait for it to loop round to see the beginning.

Having set-top-boxes with broadband connectivity and browser software means that in the new interactive world, video (both streamed and on-demand) can be at the core of the interactive TV experience. This means we can reflect on what happened previously and make sensible judgements about what should be tried again, within the new tech landscape, and what was a bad idea irrespective of the tech.

Can we categorise what was previously attempted?

If we look back at the full extent of the interactive innovation from the first decade of the 21st century we can see that the interactive concepts broke down into six broad categories - Text Menus, Enhanced Programming, Video Dashboards, Sub EPGs, Interactive Advertising and Interactive Services. In my next blog we will begin to explore each of these categories and consider the lessons learned and the opportunities on offer in this new era of web powered interactive capability.

Click here to read "Lessons from the first wave of TV interactivity - pt 2 "Text Menus, Enhanced Programming and Video Dashboards"