DVR's Impact, Formats to Grow

But NAB panelists differ on route
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But NAB panelists differ on route

Special to TV Technology

NNeither the panelists at several NAB convention sessions nor exhibitors trying to sell set-top storage devices could agree on whether to call the products "DVRs" or "PVRs" (as in Digital Video Recorders or Personal Video Recorders) or simply "Media Centers."

Nor would the experts concur about DVRs' affect on broadcasting, which so far has greeted TiVo and its disruptive brethren with pained complaints about "ad-skipping" and video-on-demand competition.

Nonetheless, one of the speakers on the ambitiously titled session "2004: Year of the PVR" contrarily predicted that the "tipping point" for DVR implementation will come at "4:36 p.m. eastern daylight time on May 30, 2005-give or take one hour."

Tom Morgan, a principal of the DiMA Group LLC, conceded that his time frame was developed with "tongue planted firmly in cheek."

"The date is not that important," Morgan confessed. "The critical issue is the confluence of factors within a year or so" that will lead to the DVR boom. He offered five reasons to support the DVR blossom date during mid-2005.

"Ten percent of U.S. homes will have a DVR by then," Morgan said, up from about four percent today. "Most will be provided by cable or satellite companies."

Morgan expects "100 percent of digital cable households will have VOD service" by next spring, which will tie into DVR usage. He also expects that Nielsen "will start measuring for viewership via DVRs in its overnights" and that "DirecTV will be fully driven by News Corp.," which has a very aggressive DVR agenda, as Morgan pointed out.

Those four reasons alone will spur advertisers and media companies to accelerate their DVR strategies.

Morgan's fifth factor is more ambiguous. He contends that in the period after the 2004 Olympics and election year ad frenzy, media companies will struggle to find programs and direction. That situation will pave the way for more consumers to experiment with the new DVR equipment that will burst into the marketplace-at more affordable prices-during the coming holiday season, Morgan adds.

DIFFERING APPROACHES

Morgan's DiMA (Digital Media and Advertising) Group has been working with advertisers, networks and equipment makers to develop common formats so that "telescoped" and "banked" commercials stored on DVRs, can be accessed on any of the devices coming to market.

Other panelists during the DVR session agreed that technical consistency is vital, but their presentations underscored the differing directions they are taking.

For example, Simon Parnall, director of advanced technologies for the TV Platforms Division of NDS Ltd., spoke on behalf of the TV Anytime Forum. Parnall described the latest update of the ETSI-1 technical specification, published by the European Telecom-munications Standards Institute. The Phase One specification, developed by the TV Anytime Forum, covers details about how to search, select and "rightfully use" content on personal storage systems, such as DVRs.

TV Anytime Forum, which had a sizeable suite in the Las Vegas Convention Center to showcase its technical standards and formats and recruit allies, is focusing on meta-tagging standards for advertising, Parnall said. The goal is to add features to customized commercials that will make them more valuable to advertisers when customers store and retrieve messages from their DVRs.

"What you don't want to do is start tagging shows and ads with a variety of proprietary solutions, " Morgan said.

Indeed, the concept of "interoperability" permeated the DVR session. Adam Hume a BBC "futurologist" (who also chairs the TV Anytime Forum Working Group on Business Models) and Ted Malone, a TiVo vice president, joined the chorus of panelists extolling the value of interoperable technology amidst the competitive rush into the nascent DVR market.

Although the speakers could not agree on some terms or technologies, they all acknowledged the inevitability of DVRs on viewing patterns.

"Some people in the value chain still have their heads in the sand," Hume said-acknowledging that he means broadcasters who continue to fret and fight about the DVR juggernaut.

DVR development worked its way into an array of other NAB venues, including an invitation-only half-day session on Wednesday, April 21, run by the DiMA Group. The "Interactive Digital Advertising" ("IDiA") seminar sought to help advertising planners prepare for the uptake in DVR usage.

Prof. Duane Varan, director of the Interactive Television Research Institute, based at Murdoch University near Perth, Australia, shared results of DVR and related interactive advertising studies that he has conducted in Europe, Asia and the U.S.

AMPLIFICATION EFFECT

Among his findings was the impact of interactive commercials. A single exposure to an interactive commercial generates the same awareness as three exposures to conventional passive ads, Varan said. But he also cautioned about an "amplification effect" in which viewers have "raised expectations" for their experiences with interactive commercials, according to Varan's research.

Elsewhere on NAB's official program at a session on "On-Demand Com-

puting for Entertainment and Broadcasting," IBM Vice President Steve Canepa characterized the emerging digital landscape as one that empowers the media value chain to "create, manage and distribute" content. Canepa acknowledged that tools such as DVRs shift the power to viewers, and he urged media companies to maintain their role-or find new roles-in the evolving process.

Earlier in the week, at a session on "Profitable Partnerships Broadcast, Cable and Telco," NBC Vice President Glenn Reitmeier voiced similar advice, urging that "broadcasters need to think like start-ups," avoiding an "us-versus-them attitude" and looking for opportunities through new devices such as DVRs.

As the debate about terminology, technology and timing played out in NAB conference sessions, a number of DVR developers showed their latest systems on the show floor or in private suites. NDS Ltd., the News Corp.-owned technology company, hinted quietly at new implementations of its XTV ("eXtended Television") DVR products, possibly for use on DirecTV, which is now a News Corp. operating subsidiary.

Avtrex Inc., a Silicon Valley software firm, demonstrated personalized interfaces and navigation tools for its advanced DVR systems, seeking partnerships with media and technology companies.

Companies such as SeaChange International and Scientific-Atlanta showcased their DVR and VOD integration solutions and Microsoft's booth featured the company's multiple approaches to DVR and VOD storage and access.

The steady onslaught of DVRs was popping up throughout NAB's venues-despite the lack of technical or financial agreements, or possibly because of such disarray.