PCTV: Turning Up The Temperature On Television

The ability to receive television on your PC via a TV tuner card (PCTV) is touted as a hot commodity by InStat Cahners and Jon Peddie Research. Both research companies are predicting the fast growth of PCTV by 2006. This prediction, coupled with the growing population of people who browse the web and watch television at the same time, called a variety of names, such as viewsers, simultaneous media users (SIMM) or telewebbers, is creating interest in the potential of a hybrid PC and television viewer.
Marshall McLuhan, a pop culture essayist of the 1960s, once described television as a cool medium because of its lean-back, passive viewing environment. By comparison, the newspaper was described as a hot medium because readers were holding the paper, leaning forward, browsing for stories, and actually touching advertising as they flipped through the pages.
PCTV, and the growth in telewebbing, has people anticipating something less cool and not exactly hot...perhaps something warm; a lean-forward environment where an individual has the ability to click and interact with layers of programming, or can record and then control the push of programming, making it more of a pull environment, only watching the desired segments.
What is important to keep in mind about PCTV technology is the number of homes with personal computers, which the Consumer Electronics Association pegs at 71%. While the 1990s saw an upswing in PC adoption thanks to the Internet, growth in recent years has slowed. Much of the movement in the PC market is now driven by secondary home computer purchases.
In an early effort to understand more about the PCTV audience, two studies were undertaken; the first a study of early adopters of PCTV technology and the second a study of regular folks and their potential interest in PCTV. Both studies were funded in part by a grant from the National Association of Broadcasters.
Early Adopters Of PCTV
PCTV is not necessarily a revolution of the digital age. During the 1990s, small hardware manufacturers had developed the ability to display television signals on computer monitors, and so a few high-tech folks had started using TV tuner cards before any broadcaster was pushing digital signals. The PC provided the conduit for taking digital control over television, such as storage of programming for later playback (although hard drive space and processing power would not arrive until the mid-1990s), the ability to watch television while doing something else on the PC, and the ability to capture images from television programming. That said, a majority of the 211 early adopters of PCTV studied had adopted PCTV within the last two years (65%). Five PCTV tuner cards emerged as the most popular among this group: Pinnacle, Hauppage, ATI, Avermedia, and MyHD. In all, 32 companies provide TV tuner cards. Combined total sales for them last year were $220 million.
Virtually all of the respondents were male, had on average three computers and three television sets in the house, and each day watched about two hours of television on their PCs and three hours of television on their TV sets.
The vast majority of early adopters (80%) had internal TV tuner cards installed on their desktop computers (97%) versus a laptop. Interestingly, most added the TV tuner card after they had purchased the computer (94%). This suggests that the purchase of the TV tuner card was an afterthought, something that happened to motivate the PC user to return to the store (or go online) and purchase the card. It also suggests that the retail PC market and PC manufacturers are not touting a TV tuner card as an integral feature of the PC during the initial purchase.
A tried and true process of understanding adoption of technology is the study of diffusion. After a consumer becomes aware of a product, five characteristics were found to account for its success or failure: the relative advantage the new technology provides, the complexities associated with using the new technology, how compatible the new technology is with existing home electronics, what others say about the new technology, and the ability to try the new technology without having to make an actual purchase (this explains AOL’s grocery store giveaway).
When asked why they had adopted PCTV, a third indicated it was to have the ability to record programming for later playback (32%). One PCTV user said, “There’s nothing better than watching last night’s TV on my laptop while I’m on an eight-hour flight.”
Others indicated they had purchased PCTV for the ability to receive HDTV programming at an affordable price and the ability to converge home technologies, such as a television, DVD player, and the Internet, into one location.
Most PCTV users hooked their cable television service into the PC (60%) and 33% relied on over-the-air signals. About 1 in 5 PCTV users are watching HDTV programming.
The term “PCTV” might leave the impression that most of the viewership is happening in the home office, but that isn’t the case. Only a third of PCTV users report having the tuner card installed in their home office computer, another frequent location for PCTV activity is “in the bedroom” (24%), followed by the “recreational room” (11%).
PCTV viewing happens mostly in the evening and late-night hours (89%). In other words, it’s primetime activity. Some of the more popular programs include movies, national news, local news, and sports programming.
About a third of the PCTV adopters indicated that once they installed a TV tuner card in their PC, it took the place of a traditional television set.
When describing their favorite experience with the PCTV, most respondents mentioned time-shifting programming and the improved picture quality of the device.
So why isn’t PCTV flying off the shelf? Forty-seven percent of PCTV owners are not recommending the purchase of TV tuner cards to their friends. Citing problems with software and hardware compatibility, as well as poor technical support, PCTV owners said the device requires too much PC savvy for them to be willing to recommend purchase to their friends.
General Consumers On PCTV
While not a part of the original initiative, an intercept study of the general population’s interest in PCTV was conducted. Consumers were intercepted and, if they consented to participate, were demonstrated and allowed to use the PCTV product, DTVPlus. In all, 309 demonstrations and interviews were conducted.
About half of general consumers had heard of PCTV, so there was some awareness; but beyond the ability to watch television on the PC, most general consumers could not offer any other features the service would provide.
Even those that expressed interest in PCTV (37%) cited picture quality, convergence, and convenience as the driving interests, rather than recording programming, which was the primary use among current PCTV users. Without general consumer value placed on PCTV, adoption is likely to remain low.
The disparity between what current PCTV users describe and general consumer awareness leads one to wonder about the absent marketing for this technology. The negative experience PCTV users report with hardware compatibility and lack of technical support also suggests an absence of leadership. Perhaps it is a purposeful absence, a desire to keep television activity in the living room, so to speak, and to bring PC to the living room, rather than TV to the office. The digital television transition has demonstrated the difficulties associated with the computer and television industries joining hands. Either way, PCTV appears to be a market ready for leadership.