Over The Top Television: Power to the People

MPP Global Posted by MPP Global on Monday, 11 March 2013

In 1992, Bruce Springsteen released his album, Human Touch. The big hit on the album was a track titled, 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On). There are a few of us here old enough to recall, not just Bruce Springsteen, the song and buying albums but also the days when the idea of 57 television channels was intoxicating. Who cared if there was “nothing on”, there were 57 different channels of nothing – how intoxicating!  Who were we anyway, to presume that entertainment should be unique to our interests? We should just be grateful that the service providers allowed us to pay for what they thought we should watch.

Over-the-top television is the vanguard of change. Empowering the viewer, essentially allowing them to program their own viewing content – on their schedule – wherever they are.  OTT refers to content you can view via the Internet – YouTube, iTunes or Netflix for example. By using a broadband connection, viewers are able to bypass or “go over the top” of providers of linear broadcast television. No longer are you only able to watch your favourite frothy soap at 7pm on a Tuesday, you can watch it whenever you want and wherever you want.

This year’s TV Connect event  has over 260 speakers focusing on the future of television in the digital age and over-the-top-television is a major talking point. Opening the conference as a day one keynote presentation entitled, “OTT & The New Pay Environment”, over-the-top-television is one the recurring themes of the conference, with subjects ranging from, “Driving Forward with the Digital Home Hub” to “Monetising the Social TV Revolution”.

What began as a computer-based phenomenon has morphed into complete paradigm shift in how we relate with the television. The introduction of set-top boxes like Roku, Boxee and Apple TV allow your TV to operate as an extension of your computer.  A set-top box, Boxee, for example, allows the viewer to access web based content: Netflix, MUBI or Grooveshark, perhaps, by simply clicking an icon. The beauty of this shift is that it makes entertainment and information dynamic. It adapts to you, not you to it. Suddenly you are customising the brain of your television, marrying it with all your other smart devices and treating it more as another screen and less as a static, old world and limited entertainment dinosaur.

More and more people are cutting off their pricey satellites bundles and cable packages bloated with programming they will never watch for internet-based providers like Hulu or Netflix. For a monthly fee, a viewer can have access to current and archived television and movies. Want to watch the entire first season of 24 again? Go for it, Hulu will let you! By 2020, research by The Diffusion Group suggests that viewership for internet-based broadband video will far outstrip standard broadcast television. At the recent Cable Congress that just completed on Friday in London, industry thinkers addressed just this. Ewan Mackay, the Managing Director of Cable Industry for Accenture (Europe, Africa and Latin America) presented on, “Brave New Business Models” where he addressed, “…as content moves unstoppably to digital and inexorably over-the-top, profound challenges are being presented to the traditional business models of cable operators and the established industry ecosystem.”

Traditional broadcasters can benefit from the global reach for audience OTT offers. Sales on YouTube and iTunes can amount to up to 50% of a program’s production budget. For shows like Canada’s, Little Mosque on the Prairie, available on Hulu in the U.S., over-the-top television allows them to access an international marketplace with significantly greater ease than in the past.

Over-the-top-television has monetised the revolution and the days of linear broadcast television controlling content are be behind us. Granted, linear networks will always be the backbone but the muscles will be over-the-top-television, allowing entertainment and information to reach more people, in more locations with greater ease. The viewer will control when, where, how and, most importantly, what to watch.

So, Mr. Springsteen, it isn’t 1992 anymore.  If you can’t find something to watch, you’ve got to empower yourself and explore over-the-top-television.

MPP Global will be at the TV Connect event at Olympia, London on March 19-21.