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Beyond the Box: Thinking Through Next-Gen TV

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Television is often overlooked when we think of innovation, particularly in light of the rise of PCs, smartphones and the ubiquity of the internet. Yet TV has never been static. It's evolved from black-and-white to colour, from video recorders to set top boxes, to the recent digital handover. Now video on demand services powered by fast broadband connections are rapidly expanding and likely to step up a gear with the launch of US video on demand giant, Netflix, on these shores.

All this is changing our relationship with the box, and revolutionising the businesses of television and of advertising. Looking ahead over the next few years what are key developments and concepts that will shake things up?

By the end of 2011, Apple will have claimed over 30% of the connected TV market. It is estimated by the same time, 20% of TVs in homes will support an Internet connection as television manufacturers have been pushing connected Blu-Ray and Smart TV's for quite some time now. TV is well and truly becoming digital, but this is only the first stage.

It is much assumed that the future TV will resemble a giant iPhone; sport an operating system and customisable apps, Internet connected, voice or motion controlled, touch screen and glasses-less 3D - read holographic - and more than likely the ability to video conference. Certainly it will be the centre of a social interface as much as the Smartphone is today, allowing the ability to share and rate content with friends. It will also continue to increase in size until it is nothing short of digital wallpaper.

Believe it or not, we're already seeing thought-controlled TVs in China. Wafer-thin speakers covering the screen are all but reality. TVs will not only know what content you like and suggest similar or related shows (and have them downloaded and stored already for you), but will also have the ability to personalise profiles for each household member. This capability will be very soon a reality - more than likely accessed through your Smartphone, which will become the new remote control.

Techniques such as "addressable advertising", where the system recognises a user and targets relevant ad content is already familiar online. You can expect this to hit your living room soon. Eventually even product placement will become interactive - where the label on the drinks can changes depending on who's watching the TV. Certainly, if not on the main screen, that level of customised marketing will appear on connected devices like smartphones.

But beyond the changing TV set, there are some wider implications. The shift in technology will change the business models that support the TV services we consume. Here's my top five predictions on what is likely to change:

1. Dual screening

Interacting with content on the screen next to you - it could be your laptop or smartphone - whilst simultaneously viewing linear video content on a large public screen will gain prominence. In the age of on demand TV and SkyPlus boxes that let us zip from the ads, this is exciting advertisers as a new way to reach audiences. Advertisers will be looking to develop dual story line content that can run on smartphones or PCs at the same time as the big screen entertainment. The idea is to allow a deeper brand experience for those who choose to interact.

2. Planet of the TV apps

With a shifting consumer base moving from content on demand to content on the move, media owners will look to adopt and monetise apps over browser content - and ultimately TV channels. Expect not only magazines and newspapers to make the shift to the app model, but watch a number of TV broadcasters equally follow suit, as TV channels become just another app.

3. Brands as broadcasters

With some brands now having more Facebook likes and followers than some media owners, their need to keep these customers engaged will hit overdrive. Where once the content we consumed on TV was created or commissioned by the TV channels, we can increasingly expect to see brands employing skills from content-producers and making their own shows.

4. A revolution in advertising businesses

Naturally, with the TV and online worlds converging, advertising agencies are starting to ask how they can start to combine how they create, display, buy and manage advertising in a more seamless way. Traditionally online and TV advertising have been different beasts altogether and handle by different business units but technology is forcing these media divisions to erode. TV people are already starting to learn the lingo of online and vice versa. That business revolution will really start to impact the ads that we as consumers see as campaigns start to flow from the device in our living room to the one in our pocket.

5. Audio watermarking

My top tip for 2012 is to expect audio watermarking to make not only a debut but to become the biggest rising star. Knowing who is in the lounge through connecting TV and mobiles together via high-frequency audio signals will not only challenge traditional ratings mechanisms but also pave the way for new breed of targeted advertising across now connected media channels. Naturally questions over privacy will make headlines, though consumer opt-in dual screening and social sharing may bring a natural balance here. Interesting times ahead.

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