I don’t have a PVR, that’s a Personal Video Recorder to you at the back. What I do have is a nice VHS recorder, that hasn’t really been plugged in properly since I moved house, and only seems to be able to play videos. Though interestingly I think we’ve only used it to show video that me or friends have made, huh, user-generated content even in the analogue world, anyway…
PVR’s are interesting to me because they’re changing user behaviour. People who’ve got them become different consumers and they become evangelists. Instantly. Here in the UK it’s Sky+ that’s been the key. Sky own direct-to-home satellite broadcasting here and with over 7million subscribers they’ve been sitting pretty. Generating growth recently though has been difficult as just about anyone who wants films or sport has it and now Freeview has hoovered up the last remaining soft potential converts. Sky’s decided to push the ARPU (average revenue per user) for its existing mob, and Sky+ is key to that. Sky+ users pay an extra tenner a month, or they get it free if they subscribe to the premium content package. That’s clever in itself, as it’s getting you hooked on the crack cocaine of movies, sport and PVR for Ł50/month direct debited over to Mr Murdoch’s coffer.
And it’s working. 45% of users sampled saying that they “could not live without Sky+” and 99% saying that they have no intention of leaving Sky. The reason people love it is that it gives them control and moves them away form having to watch television as dictated by someone else. There’s so much more non-broadcast consumption nowadays, whether that’s magazines or the internet, people are getting used to picking and choosing. Radio in someways is already there, Tom Coates talks about it when he says “People use radio to time-keep, to feel connected to the outside world around them, to feel like they have company” listeners use it as a utility, and many stations are tied into giving these listeners an emotional fix rather than merely delivering up a pre-produced programme.
Radio users have themselves already adapted to time-shifting, listeners to Radio 1 who can’t be arsed to stay up for the Essential Selection listen when it suits them, resulting in the Essential Selection’s online audience being much higher than their broadcast one. Anyway I digress…
TV PVRs are changing how people consume television as they’re opting out of the schedules and tagging programmes on their EPG for recording and later viewing. In the same way that people subscribe to a favourite website’s RSS feeds viewers are using series-link to get their box to capture the whole series. At the same time viewers are skipping ads to get their content, though bizarrely Tivo are trying to put them back in.
Though it’s not just the ads consumers are skipping, it’s the promos too and this is drastically changing viewers behaviour as they’re unaware of many new shows and generally stick with their familiar programming (lets call that the Friends and Simpsons factor). This poses an interesting quandary for stations used to building sampling for new shows through cross-promotion as their viewers may have already disaggregated all their content. Stations will have to start to using other methods to alert viewers to their programming and make themselves stand out on an EPG with over 400 channels. Expect programmes with names that stick out (“When Christmas Dinner Goes Wrong” instead of Eastenders maybe?) or more shows built around established, familiar brands.
The other types of programming that does well in the PVR-world are live shows that embed much of their attraction in existing in the live world – X-Factor, Big Brother, Sporting events, news – these will pull people out of their pre-recorded idyll and back into the traditional broadcast world. These are the shows that advertisers are going to demand, as it will be the only way to reach a traditional mass audience. We’ll also begin to see more lifestyle, background programming, that will ape radio’s strengths and try to replicate its revenue models. Strands like T4 or This Morning will also become important as a way to provide something that contextualises different types of content and again provides reasons to attract viewers back to live television.
Software will also have a place to play in disaggregated television, EPG’s that take on recommendations from viewers like you, or viewers that know you will also become an important way to get consumers to interact with new television content. The question is will companies used to ‘broadcasting’, like Sky, be confident enough to develop technology that further devolves control to the consumers? Or will we start to see new Super-EPGs that aggregate content from TV platforms alongside new technologies like Bittorrent and serve it up with some special-sauce social-networking too?