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The Business Effects of Rising Tablet VOD Viewing

Online television viewing on tablets is set to overtake computer-based watching. What are the product development consequences?

Last week the BBC sent out a general email about its Christmas viewing figures and included was a line that said "Boxing Day saw tablet viewing overtake computer viewing for the first time in BBC iPlayer history".

Does this foreshadow the end of computer-VOD watching dominance? The evidence suggests that it probably does. For example, there were 941,000 downloads of the BBC iPlayer app on mobile devices over the festive period and that tells us that lots of people received tablets for Christmas. No surprise there since budget, own-brand, tablet devices (based on the Android OS) are now available from Tesco, Aldi and Argos amongst others.

On top of that, the research firm, IDC, predicted back in September that more tablets will ship than desktops and laptops in the final quarter of 2013 and annually by 2015.

From a business perspective, the rise of the tablet - and of mobile devices generally - has knock-on effects for how online television services are imagined, developed, marketed and engaged with.

What are those consequences? I've jotted down a couple of thoughts:

#1. First the Science Bit

I've been studying the last thirteen months of BBC iPlayer stats and examining how computer, smartphone and tablet usage has performed in that period. Take a look at the graph below and you can see a marked increase in tablet viewing through 2013. From July in particular, watching via tablets has been on an upward trajectory while computers have trended downwards.

BBCi Player _Device Requests

Computers mounted a recovery from August to October but the raw numbers suggest that since November 2012, tablet viewing has increased by 8.6% month on month whilst computer viewing has decreased 1.44%. Incidentally, smartphone viewing has risen by 3.16% MoM. Extrapolate these figures over 2014 and we can project that tablets will have overtaken computers as the prime mode for using the BBC iPlayer by as early as the end of February 2014.

Two notes: I did ask ITV, 4oD and Sky Go for similar numbers so that I could compare / contrast but neither ITV or Channel 4 report that data publicly and Sky didn't get back to me in time for publication (that's my fault by the way - I only requested this information yesterday).

Second: here's the spreadsheet I used to make the calculations. You're welcome to download it, play with it and give me a nudge if you spot any logic errors.

#2.  Tablets vs. Websites

For now, websites are still more function-rich than equivalent tablet products. The excellent 4oD, for example, from Channel 4, includes personalisation features, a back catalogue of content and an AVOD model which means that users can watch shows for free. RTE Player, from Ireland, scores a similar 24 out of 25 on the web platform in our VUI Library benchmarking tests.

But what happens when websites - accessible mostly via a computer - are no longer the majority means of accessing VOD content? If tablets have primacy, does that mean that VOD services on those devices need to evolve?

The short answer is, of course, yes. Consider that, right now:

  • Only 51% of the 150+ VOD services we've surveyed on tablets have any kind of sign-in element (social sign-on is at 23%) which is necessary to enable personalisation.
  • Content recommendation is present in only 36% of tablet VOD services.
  • Even something as fundamental as a search facility only appears in 66% of services (predictive search is at 36%).

See more data from the VUI Library here.

I Pad _VUILibrary _Benchmarking

The two major challenges are a) how to shrink the same feature-set (the ones that users demand, have come to take for granted) into the smaller screen real-estate of a tablet and b)…

#3. How not to lose 30% of your revenue to the App Stores

You're a good person. You want to make your customers happy by giving them a fully-functional, fully-transactional native app on their device. Problem is that Apple will take a 30% cut every time someone buys anything from you. This is the reason that services like Blinkbox force you to go back to the website to pay for content (you then watch the movie / TV show on your tablet from a 'My Library' section).

So how to get round this? One way is to build and market a brilliant web app instead of a native app. The Financial Times moved to this model in 2011 and explicitly said one of the reasons for this was because "developing multiple 'native' apps for various products is logistically and financially unmanageable. By having one core codebase, we can roll the FT app onto multiple platforms at once."

This is something you may have already been thinking about anyway - maybe to address the Android fragmentation problem.

Any thoughts? What are the other effects of tablets becoming the main way of watching online television? Leave comments below or tweet me @vodprofessional

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