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Why Ceefax and Teletext rule

Chris Averill takes a look at why 'more advanced' interactive TV services haven't been a bigger hit with viewers.

Interactive TV has been around for a very long time. You could argue that Ceefax in the 80s, then Teletext in the 90s, heralded a world of interactive TV (iTV) to the mass UK market.

Skyís Open platform was seen by most as the real dawn of iTV, giving viewers the ability to play games and shop for pizza through their TV.

Hot on Skyís heels was digital text with the likes of the BBC broadcasting fast, interactive services with the ability to swap camera angles for sporting events and choose the commentary for a football game.

Add red button advertising to this and you have a varied and very interactive offering in your front room.

So why is it not a bigger hit? Ceefax and Teletext still rule the market. For those without EPGs itís a great way of checking whatís on TV.

Teletext sells 10% of all holidays in the UK and most of this is through the 256 colour text screens that have been around since the 80s.

Sit back and relax
Microsoft bought WebTV in the 90s because thatís what it thought people wanted. But despite heavy promotion, WebTV failed.

This came as no surprise to many people, including my team - who toyed with it as a platform for organisations looking to target the mass market of TV viewers.

The main reasons for the failure of web on your TV were:

1. Low-res TV screens donít render text well.
2. No one seemed to know how to get websites to work on TV.
3. Most people want to sit back and relax when watching TV.
4. TV is a very responsive medium and WebTV was not. It was dependent on loading pages via a 33.6k modem.

Back to Teletextís success. Sitting watching pages of holiday offers scroll still seems preferable to having to interact with a set top box and web-like screens.

Watch what you want when you want where you want Ö
IPTV is seen as the dawn of a new era and the saviour for failing channels and content owners. But it is really only a method of broadcasting video to a device, be it your TV, PC or mobile.

However, what it does is offer access to more content, in a format that can be received on any device that can connect to the web.

Public interest is far higher in IPTV than web pages on your TV or even multi-screen sports or more dynamic text pages. Any marketer will know that customers want choice. The more the better it seems if you use mobile phone tariffs as a benchmark.

Society has changed a lot over the last 20 years too, although most programmes are still broadcast at the same time; EastEnders, Emmerdale and Coronation Street all around 7pm.

However, how many people still leave work at 5.30 every day and are home by teatime? Weíve changed but the broadcasters have not.

From our latest research, both in the lab and at customersí houses, we know people want. We focused on usability, content and need.

The results centre around 5 key areas: 

1. Value for money
2. Choice
3. Control
4. Simplicity (UI)
5. Convergence (one device)

Letís look at these in more detail...

  • Value
    BT, Virgin and Tiscali are all giving their base TV services away for free and they are all based on IPTV platforms.
  • Choice
    More channels through Freeview and large film libraries offer customers infinitely more to watch without having to pop down to the video store.
  • Control
    PVR has without doubt had the biggest effect on viewer behaviour. Sky reports that 1 in 5 customers have it and a great deal of them are increasingly dependent on their Sky+ to organise their viewing.
  • Simplicity
    If itís not broken donít fix it. TV has worked since it was launched in the1930s. Turn it on, turn over and turn it off -  simple, easy, intuitive and reliable. New TV services force you to have to learn a lot to make things work and if the reward is not at least equal to the effort then it will fail. Add poor interfaces and youíll alienate customers by the dozen.
  • Convergence
    We rarely have users say they want a converged product in their homes. However, we always hear them complain about too many boxes, wires and subscriptions. There has been a massive drive to help connect your PC to your TV, but all have failed to gain a mass following as most are too complex. This is, however, what people have been crying out for - simplicity, control and choice.

iWant more
Apple is entering the home convergence market with its Apple TV. So, is this a competitor to Windows Media Centre? Like so many other solutions, it, will be let down by the fact that Apple has not really asked people what they want.

The fact that you canít buy videos or organise playlists from your TV seems very short sighted.

Then, left of field, comes Slingbox, the most disruptive product to hit the home TV for a long time. It gives you TV anywhere in the world on your PC or phone, is simplicity itself to install and is cheap.

The Slingbox new media connector opens up a reverse path so you can watch your PC content on your TV. Combine the two and you have a product people want.

Who are the market leaders?
Currently, no one company offers a very compelling service. Microsoftís products and services are too complex or too late to market. Sky is currently working hard on convergence and has a TV, mobile and PC offering, but in reality they feel disconnected.

BT already has a large following with its HomeHub, and whilst this is not a converged device, customers think it is so half the battle has been won.
If they can connect the home together then they could find themselves suddenly leading the race.

However, the likes of Tivo and Sling are just as likely as Apple, MS, BT or Sky to lead the market and in many ways small, agile firms are more likely to succeed.

They are more focused on a single mission, understand what people want, are faster to market and therefore more responsive to changing customer needs and unexpected market factors and trends.

Big companies can not afford to focus on one service or product so are often very late to market, but they do have big wallets and in this heady M&A world weíre likely to see innovators being snapped up for big sums.

Very soon, someone somewhere will give us what we want, letís hope they donít cannibalise creativity and usability in the process.

Chris Averill is the MD of CADinteractive.

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