Thursday, 8 October 2009

The future of UK television

TV in the UK is about to undergo a major shake-up and I'm surprised not to be hearing more about it in the marketing world. There are a few things happening that, taken together, point to a revolution at least as big as the one we've seen from Sky+ and Freeview+ (also known as PVRs before the Freeview branding people got hold of them.)

The UK had to retune its Freeview boxes last week, to free up bandwidth for HD broadcasts and to make Channel 5 universally available. Predictably, this week there are complaints about how the retune has gone wrong, but the glitches will be ironed out and then we'll all have TV signals that can do HD.

World Cup 2010 in HD? Yes please...

For that to happen, you're going to need a new set-top box. Again, predictably, the current ones can't decode the HD signal. Anybody remember when you could buy something electronic and it wasn't obsolete 18 months later? Ah, the good old days.

I've got a Humax PVR at home and barring the odd crash it's great, so it was interesting to see what new boxes they're going to be launching over the next few months. Of course HD - that's why you need the new box, but the techies are also getting excited by DLNA.

DLNA is what the Playstation 3 has got (when it works) and lets you access video, pictures and music on your PC and then stream them wirelessly somewhere else. Like onto the big telly in the living room. If you've got a PC and wireless in your house already, then you only have to be a tiny bit geeky to get it to work.

Give it a year and people who weren't techie enough to try getting their ripped off episodes of Lost from the PC to their living room, have suddenly got a very easy way to do it. It's also an 'always on' box, unlike the Playstation, so will be easy to do with the same remote you use for changing channels, making for a geniune choice between a repeat of Lost on Channel 4 or a new episode just downloaded from the US.

Hot on the heels of HD is going to be Project Canvas. Streamed content straight from the internet - the iPlayer on your set top box. If it works, alongside the iPlayer, you could well have Youtube, Vimeo, 4OD and more, browsable and watchable from your TV just like broadcast programmes. Though would it be too much to ask that we won't have to get another new box? Please? It's only coming in late 2010, so that's a reasonable request.

The debate around whether pre-rolls work and how to finance internet video is suddenly going to go mainstream. The choice of content available through your main television set will multiply exponentially and we'll have to wait and see what the combination of time-shifted HD viewing, much more attractive viewing of pirated content and much greater choice does to the audiences of our major broadcasters.

We regularly get promised the home of the future and it doesn't happen, mostly because the technology is cutting edge and doesn't work properly, but all the building blocks for a TV revolution are in place now. Wireless, broadband, big flat screen TVs, a PC in most homes... we just need the box in the living room to link it all together. And it's coming next year.

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