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Smartphones and Tablets Poised to Revolutionize Traditional TV Viewing

by David Tice , 28.11.2012

You can’t have missed the mobile revolution. According to GfK data, smartphone ownership almost doubled in the past year -- up to 50% of all homes – and tablets have gone from nothing in 2010 to about 20% of homes in 2012.

You’ve also read the headlines, from GfK and others, about how these devices have become important platforms for video viewing.

But I think a potentially greater effect of these mobile devices will be on the consumption of regular television. Through the apps offered by TV service providers and others, smartphones and tablets are quickly bringing the pay TV user experience into the 21st century.

Pay TV services have been hamstrung by aging set-top box (STB) technology. With STBs of varying ages and from different manufacturers used even within the same household, content providers have been forced to  program for the “least-capable” box.

Ever try using your STB’s search function? If it’s like mine, you probably felt as if you were taking a giant leap into the past -- maybe the early 1990s. Compared to what people use every day on the Internet, or what they have access to through competitive over-the-top services like Netflix or Hulu, pay TV subscribers are living in a search wasteland.

Through mobile devices and apps, pay TV services are able to leapfrog their outmoded boxes and offer their customers a state-of-the-art interface – with modern search, detailed content summaries, and social features.  The remote control functions offered on smartphones and tablets are also a breath of fresh air, allowing you to change channels, schedule a recording, or start a VOD program with one click on the same search screen.

It’s a whole new experience --one that enhances not only viewing, but also the satisfaction of the pay TV subscriber. (Remember, a lot of the success of iTunes has been credited to its intuitive interface.)

Unfortunately, relatively few of the people who could enjoy these features are doing so. In a recent study, we found that only 12% of either smartphone or tablet users use their TV service’s app.

In the “Future of Media,” I see an opportunity for pay TV services to step up and educate their subscribers about these apps.  By “outsourcing” their interfaces from the STB to mobile devices, pay-TV companies can continually upgrade their interfaces and increase satisfaction among subscribers. Viewers will then make use of these new apps to approach traditional TV in a new way – sorting through their 500 channels efficiently and watching more of what they want to see, when they want to see it. In turn, this should mean greater attentiveness, and (advertisers will hope) greater engagement with marketing messages.

And, speaking of brave new worlds – can you imagine tossing all of your remotes in the trash and replacing them with just your smartphone? Talk about a revolution!

David Tice is Senior Vice President in Media at GfK and the director of The Home Technology Monitor™. He can be reached at david.tice@gfk.com.

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