Category Archives: iDTV

Mobile metrics: Carriers are witholding

An interesting example of the flawed mobile business model surfaced this week. According to Matthew Feldman, president and CEO of Versaly Entertainment “Anyone in the mobile industry will say reporting is probably one of the weakest segments of the mobile industry”. Jack Hallahan, VP of advertising and brand partnerships at MobiTV Inc., which has almost 4 million subscribers said the company also has the problem. “MobiTV knows what device type is watching at any time, but it still doesn’t know who that user is”, he said. The problem is that whilst they know the device the content is being viewed on they don’t have any detailed demographic information. “We don’t have a data point of exactly what’s happening on the last mile,” Hallahan added.

The information is held by the carriers but they are not sharing it. Not only are they not sharing data they are also taking a large share of the revenues for providing the pipe for distribution of digital media like video – typically 35%. The combination of these two factors is reducing investment and stifling innovation. Until the business model changes mobile will suffer. Interestingly, in the US data revenues fell for the first time ever in the second half of 2007. Will it take an economic collapse of the scale seen in the music business caused by innovative consumers to force the change or will carriers wake up and smell the Begonias?

Mobile experience: voicemail charges

Like many I suppose, I am trying to get my head around how the operators charge their customers. In many ways they seem to have no idea about how to deliver a consistent brand experience (or even a consistent user experience) and at every point where there is an opportunity to disappoint they take it with willing hands. This post deals with the way voice mail charges are dealt with and in particular when roaming round Europe.

Link to how much? image

The main issue here is that users (customers really but being treated like users) have no idea about the charges they incur until they have incurred them. Sometimes they are not necessarily unfair, it is simply the lack of knowledge in the hands of the customer that creates such a lousy user experience. Also there is significant inconsistency between the network operators so if you move from one to another the acquired wisdom does not transfer.

Lets take the first example of someone making a trip abroad, taking the mobile with them but not making any calls. On their return home they receive a bill for £9.50 for “usage outside the EU”. Further investigation reveals that the bill has a number of identical call pairs. One of these is to the phone owners number and the other to Voicemail. This was a T-mobile example and it turned out that if anyone called the mobile while it wasn’t in the country incurs two charges. One for letting the caller leave the voicemail and the other to let the owner know they have a voicemail.

These charges are perfectly legitimate but to the average user they may well seem to be crazy. They will no doubt incur a call centre service charge when the phone owner calls in to complain and also leave a nasty taste in the mouth, which in these days of switching is probably the last thing the operators want.

Some costs can be incurred by poor usability or device design. For example some devices make it very easy to press the browser button without knowing it (whilst in a pocket for example). I had a Sony Ericsson that did just this and came with the side button configured to launch the browser app. I quickly changed it but other, less savvy users would perhaps be unable to do so easily and would become frustrated.

Another example with O2. They say that you will also be charged for callers leaving you voicemails – even if the  phone is switched off. They recommend that you turn off the voicemail service entirely before going abroad to avoid any unexpected charges. They said that as soon as the phone was picked up roaming in France the voicemailbox was moved to France and therefore you had to pay callers who were calling from the UK and leaving messages. Helpfully the O2 website suggests that you set up a “divert all” command for all voicemail calls and this will do the trick.

Some countries are better regulated. For example in Italy it is a legal requirement that a user is notified when they are about to be charged. This is a great idea in principle as it would appear to improve the user experience by providing an additional confirmation step before a user went online even if a button was pressed by mistake. However research showed it is very off putting for users and made them more nervous.

There is a technical explanation for all this but it is way to complicated fr me and involves Home Location Register (HLR) and Visitor Location Register (VLR). You can read more about this at http://www.mobilein.com/. I found this white paper on their site that explains mobile networking quite clearly.

All our research shows (ours being my company Foviance) that users have not a clue about the way they are charged for mobile internet and for most it is a barrier to entry. The all you can eat packages that include data charges are changing this (and will need to for iDTV also if the red button is to be pressed more than it is) but far too slowly as operators try and maximise revenues rather than focus on building loyalty through delivering a better user experience.

BBC TV License fee: BBC Internet License fee

BBC Logo

I contacted the TV Licensing authority recently to try and establish beyond doubt what the licence fee covered and whether it was future proof. It convinced me once and for all that the BBC will have to at some point operate without a licence fee and that no doubt means advertising revenue. Here is the reply I received to my enquiry:

Dear Sir

Thank you for contacting us.

A television licence is required if you use television receiving equipment to record and/or receive television programme services. Television receiving equipment could be a television, video recorder, DVD recorder/player, PCTV (computer with facility to receive television programmes), or a television card for a computer. If your lap top computer is capable of receiving live broadcasts, whether on-line, or through an aerial or satellite dish, then it is classed as television receiving equipment. This means a licence is needed to receive BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five, digital television, other terrestrial services, satellite television and cable television.

If you receive programme services (as defined above), live via the Internet, BBC Online for example (Newsnight is one such broadcast), then a television licence is required. If you are using the Internet to browse archived programme services websites, then a television licence is not required.

If your equipment is not used to receive or record television programmes, please let me know your address. I will then make sure our records are changed to show you do not need a television licence.

I hope this information is helpful.

Yours faithfully

name not included to protect the innocent
Customer Services

How a DVD player can be considered television “receiving equipment” is beyond me but that is beside the point really.

The implications of this are that the license fee is actually an internet license fee. Does that also mean it is a mobile license fee? If I subscribe to Sky mobile TV I am potentially in breach of the licensing law because I will be receiving live, streamed video to my phone. I don’t need to own a TV, have a Sky subscription or meet any other criteria to sign up for this. If I travel abroad what happens then?

It seems to me there will have to be a major shake up of the BBC license fee if it is to keep up with the multi-channel world we are increasingly living in.

The future of TV

Last weeks NMA carried two items that have given me pause. They are both related to TV and there was considerable heat under the collars of the commentators.

The front cover of the NMA (27 March) carried the headline “Broadcasters seek legal advice on video linking“. The main thrust of the story was that the BBC and ITV are seeking legal advice about whether sites such as tvguide.co.uk have the right to deep link to video content on their sites. Industry expert Nigel Walley suggests “they are picking big fights by competing with Sky, BT Vision and Kangaroo”.

Surely by now we are familiar with market changing entrants in this new media landscape. Didn’t Dell and Amazon take on existing, bigger players and win by doing something better? At the core of what each of these did was they focussed on the customer experience that was missing from the other channels to market. Dell sold direct – dissintermediation – but also a better experience for the consumer. Amazon created a better experience all round and continue to innovate around the customer experience. This is exactly what TVguide is doing although they have a problem – content, and this may mean they fail. I hope not, as the consumer will be the loser.

TVGuide is providing a single place where a user can access all TV channel listings, and also the facilities provided by the content providers – a single EPG. If you click in a BBC programme you are linked through to BBC iplayer to watch it and the same is true for ITV. Their dream is that everyone will one day watch TV online and they are making a play for this market. Their problem of course is that this isn’t going to happen for some time and while they wait they face the challenge that the majority of video content providers also own their own distribution channels which makes them reluctant to let an alternative distribute their content for them. Worse still, is that all, except the BBC rely on ad revenue and this is an area of significant focus. Even worse, is that the BBC’s project Kangaroo is trying to bring together the various providers into a single VOD (Video ON Demand) service. This once again confuses content and distribution.

If BBC and ITV thought of themselves as content providers I suggest that they would have no issue with TVguide. For them as content providers the more channels and the easier they are to use the better. Ironically, the BBC do not provide a TV guide that goes beyond BBC programming. I use the BBC website a great deal, as do millions of other people but for the simple job of finding out what is on tonight, it can’t help me on its own. I can’t understand why they don’t support TVGuide – surely this would be a beneficial strategy? After all aren’t they just an affiliate?

The second story that caught my attention was from Nigel Walley’s column. I promise I don’t have it in for him it is pure coincidence. Nigel talks about the new breed of engineers and students once again falling in to the trap of thinking that just because something is interactive it will be interacted with. He explains how TV is “TV is a video medium. It’s a wonderful medium that plays into a neutral mood state. TV uses video to seduce, entrance, enrage and amuse the viewer without the need for the audience to lift any part of their body apart from their thumb.” I agree with what he says but I can’t help but feel he is talking about today and his view of the immediate future.

Mobile changed the way telephone calls were made and received for ever. They came around a few years ago relatively speaking and have market domination already. Before they arrived and even for a short time afterwards no one could predict how they would change peoples behaviour. I think digital TV is at that stage now. We all broadly have a view that TV will become video on demand but I don’t think enough attention is being paid to how people behaviours are going to change. 3

Video will be accessed in fundamentally different ways by the next generation of users. They may never sit down and put their feet up in front of the TV and may just see video as another information source or entertainment channel to fit in with their lives. People “born multi-channel” may watch the majority of their video on the move through a mobile device. It is in my view the user behaviour that will change as it becomes flexible and meets the needs of their busy lives. I is as Nigel says, “like Ground Hog Day” but the repetition is in willingness to see the future from what has happened in the past.