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I did a short presentation at the Australian Communications Media Authority ICE conference last week. It was at the end of a plethora of panel presentations about regulation, media literacy, digital privacy and converged business models. There was also a range of keynotes that were pretty generic, about attitude to change eg: Steve Vamos (Microsoft Aus Head) or very specific about spectrum from Richard Peasey (UK Vodaphone Public Policy Group). The big focus which reminded me of conferences around the world from 4 years ago, was about analogue switch-off. The communications minister Helen Coonan, saying the goal is 2012, when everyone will be basking in the glory of digital television and to enable this a conformance testing centre and a plan to develop a plan. Umm, you need more than that! I have a general sense that ACMA is not a listening or a group that leads but one that reacts to industry demands only. There needs to be far more consumer awareness in its extensive research vs endless commentary on what is happening in a reactionary way. It is not hard to see where media consumption and creation is headed and that ACMA should have far more initiatives in bringing together broadcasters, consumer device manufacters, consumer bodies and distribution companies for the good of the people. There is no Freeview (which I was part of the BBC dev team on the interactive elements) in Australia developing value add services as a public offering (25-30 extra digital channels) but rather a body (FreeTV Australia) keeping the commercial free-to-air status quo in place, offering no real value add, beyond better looking commercials, government sponsored ‘sport for all’ and a couple of struggling digital only channels. The report “Australians lag behind on DTV” from C21 media bear this out.

“The 29% DTV viewer number is up 13% from mid-2005 but low when compared to somewhere like the UK, where up to 70% of households have digital TV. To remedy the situation the Australian government is now launching a campaign to let the population know that they are required to buy a digital receiver or a television with a built-in digital tuner if they wish to keep watching television after 2010/12, when the analogue signal will be switched off. At present, the sale of analogue television receivers are out-selling digital equipment.”

Trying to flog something with little obvious benefit is not going to cut the mustard for anyone. In Australia and most parts of the world that don’t yet have it in significant numbers, digital TV is really only a tiny part of the media mix for many digitally savvy individuals. Not generation I,X,Y or Z but individuals. DigiTV itself is far less attractive than it would have been before a thing called broadband came along to these people. But everyone knows that. What analogue switch off is about, is making money from spectrum sales and not about audience need. Of course one could reduce the efficiency of broadband, make sure the incumbant telco is allowed to cap and not invest in fast networks to encourage Digital TV as a ‘nice-to-have’. There was some research at the conference that IMHO demonstrated apathy and resignation for DTV rather than a passion for something that that will deliver new experiences or creative life tool. As such getting the last 30-40% of audience through the digital TV door is going to be achievable but expensive and probably stretch to 2015 at the earliest. This has also been the experience in many other countries where digital TV has just meant ‘better image quality’ – Germany springs to mind around 2001, with their amazing quality analogue satellite PAL TV. Anyway, all that is in the past, to my talk.

– two things are certain:

  • The environment (technical, physical) will change
  • Human need (and behavioural modes) will not…
  • We want to be told (or discover) STORIES
  • We want to share OUR stories
  • We need to be part of a community, have IDENTITY
  • We want to DISCOVER new ‘stuff’ for our community
  • We want to PLAY and ESCAPE
  • Oh and we want money and sex…

I and my fellow panelists were tasked with a bit of future gazing fluff at the end I suspect. What the digitally rich Aussie home will look like now and in the near future. So I had planned to talk about home servers, virtual private family networks, smart homes, interactive services, screen distribution, how portable devices will integrate, online games, the various content pipes and how they will integrate and so on. I did a bit of this of course but given the lack of reference to audiences and the massive cultural shift we are seeing now in their digital media habits from the rest of the conference, I took a slightly different route. I felt that consumers had been left off the equation, so I telescoped back and looked not at ‘Home Entertainment of the Future’ per se, but more on ‘what people actually want and need – now and in the future’.

Behaviour Modes – reducing complexity

  1. Selecting, choosing – personalisation, personal archive, content from everywhere, epgs, pdr as filter
  2. Passive, (shared experience) – quality experience, move between screens (portable carriers), forward, recommend
  3. Multi-tasking – ambient media, linked services, simple wireless networking, gateway transparency
  4. Communicating – interoperable networks, multi-modal, attaching content, audience networks
  5. Playing, interacting, (shared experience) – immersion, shared experience, sheduled events, true interaction
  6. Creating then sharing – really, really simple tools, no barriers, publishing ease

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In the image above I talked about the importance of thinking about this as a bottom-up approach. Looking at the audience ‘family’ (we are all part of the same family – ok enough hippy-dippy talk!) – what kinds of experiences and services will we always want. Consumer manufacturer companies like Apple have demonstrated laser-like awareness of this. ‘Portable music that easily links to your music library’. Simple. The iPod will probably be seen as the trojan horse over the next few years as Apple introduce the iPhone (adding communications) and iTV (adding the home server) into the mix. Microsoft have a march with the Home Media Center but are way behind with Zune, the iPod alternative. Apples approach though came from looking at a need that wasn’t being met – by Sony, Creative and other consumer electronics companies who spent so much time locking down content to devices that they missed the tidal wave of audiences wanting a more open system. Back to the diagram. ‘The Format, The Experience’ is what this is all about. The non-exhaustive list of activities and services should be at the centre of any regulatory and consumer electronics thinking. Not the stuff higher up – gadgets, distribution and media types. All of those services can be delivered to any of the three types of screens in the next layer ‘Home Screens’ – portable (mobile, iPod Video, games, PDA), personal (PC desktop, laptop) and shared (plasma, lcd, projector). Notice I didn’t use the word TV. Doesn’t need to be used in this context. The media type, electronics and distribution channels, from an audience perspective, need to be transparent. They want stuff when they want stuff. Regulate that!

This is not about government, media monopolies, commercial free-to-air advertising, making money, latest gadgets, it is quite simply about mass human, media consumption behaviour in an always-on, access to everything, creating, sharing world. The cat is out of the bag, time to sit up and rewrite the book, old models are fading fast. One has to start at the social level and regulate with that in mind, otherwise the audience will go under the radar (hence Australia is the largest downloader of pirate TV content). Regulation is currently about keeping industry happy, maintaining a status quo and not understanding the audience. If consumers are not happy they will find alternatives to the forced, scarce, formulaic mass media (and that sadly includes digital TV). The only saving grace of TV (in the live video distribution meaning of the term – not the form) is the shared experience. So sport, news, live reality TV and large audience interactive TV (which is not on Australia’s must do list) will be around for a long time, most everything else will find its distribution path via other means.

Pic: The audience seeping out under the complexity of over-bureaucratic regulation in a world of democratised distribution.

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A PDF of the talk is in the presentations tab at the top of this blog. It starts with a brisk overview of some of the audience centric LAMP projects focused on participation, creativity, niche markets, personalization and great story. Then looks at tech and consumers. A key point, that was also echoed in the media literacy panel (and a presentation I did in Australia in 04) the relentless path to unlimited broadband for everyone, and in a world of too much content the need for open standards that enables effective personalization for all.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006