OTT Tipping Point Part 1
Will the Internet Giants Ever Take the Rights to English Premiership Football?

Is the Apple TV Application Important?


Back in December 2017, Apple relatively quietly rolled out its TV App across Apple TV, iPhone and iPad. This was mainly happened as part of an iOS update on iPhones and iPads where the TV App replaced Apple’s existing Video application. I suspect this update went unnoticed by most users, but I believe it was an significant step forward for the UK TV industry.

What is significant about It? Why is it worth writing about? Well, it does much of what TV operators have been trying to achieve for years and, maybe more importantly, it also does something the UK broadcasters should be doing without Apple.

Apple-tv-app-iconWhat is the Apple TV App? If you haven’t checked it out already, the app icon is a rather uninspiring blueish TV screen on a black background with the equally uninspiring title “TV”. It is an application that aggregates together most of the long-form video available across your apps on your Apple devices, into a unified content discovery service. You might expect it to be jammed packed full of promotions for new releases from iTunes, and while it does have these, it strongly promotes free content from the likes of BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and My5. Its search service not only covers these UK catch-up TV services along with iTunes, but also the key subscription services, including Netflix and Amazon Prime. Once you found something that you want to watch, the application will seamlessly deep-link you in to the appropriate content provider’s application.

IMG_8519This is nothing new, there are third-party application out there, such as Utelly, that have been doing this for a while. One key difference is that many of the content provider applications (e.g. BBC iPlayer) communicate with the Apple TV App about the status of what you are watching. If I find the BBC’s McMafia through the Apple TV App and then binge watch five and half episodes in iPlayer. When I go back to the Apple TV App it will tell me I’m halfway through episode 6. Even if I access McMafia directly through iPlayer, the Apple TV App will know where I’ve got to and once the link is created this will apply to everything I start watching in iPlayer whether I found it through the Apple TV App or not. I therefore have one place where I can see all the shows I’m watching. This doesn’t work for all applications yet, Neflix doesn’t appear to be sharing all its data, but I’m sure this will come. It means I have one place to go to find all my active shows.

This supports a behavior which has long been common to PVR/DVR users. That is, having checked out linear TV, PVR users will typically look at their library of recorded shows, which are from all their available channels, to decide what to watch on a particular evening. However, with the increasing use of subscription VOD services, with their compelling and exclusive series, this PVR library is no long the one stop shop it use to be. As an aside, it is worth noting that subscription VOD services are eating into PVR viewing far more that linear TV viewing.

While Apple TV App is linked up with iPlayer, ITV Hub and Demand 5 the other of the UK quartet of main catch-up TV players, All 4, in missing. I’m not aware of whether this is a technical issue with deep linking or a commercial issue, but I would expect All 4 to join the party soon. This is particularly strange as Channel 4 has been at the forefront of most VOD developments. For completeness, it should be noted that UKTV Play is also missing.

I believe people look for the path of least resistance to be entertained.

To me, it is clear that the major UK TV broadcasters are under threat from subscription VOD services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. While this may not be visible when looking at the viewing figures for the general population, it certainly is when looking at the growing number of homes that use Netflix. This is largely due to the investment that these services have made in original and exclusive content, The Crown is a must watch show in our home, but I believe it is also due to the simplicity of the user experience they offer. I believe people look for the path of least resistance to be entertained. Launching a Netflix app, with the next episode of all your current shows lined up ready to binge watch, is pretty low resistance. The trouble with the major TV broadcasters is they are too busy competing with each other, with their siloed walled garden players, to offer an easy to use service to consume or even discover all their content that matches Netflix’s simplicity.  YouView, followed by Freesat and Freeview Play, do allow search and recommendation service across the UK broadcasters VOD/catch-up services, but they do not have the level of integration that the Apple TV App now offers. Apple is also has a single-sign-on mechanism going on underneath the linking with the TV player applications, which is support to make life simple and streamlined for viewers, however for the UK application I’m still needing to juggle multiple accounts.

Do I think the Apple TV App will have an impact? I don’t think it will impact the viewing habits of end-consumers, even Apple TV users. To start with, viewers want to watch TV on the largest screen available to them, that is a TV and Apple TV’s market share is too small compared to Smart TVs, the NOW TV boxes and the sticks from Google and Amazon. Also, the Apple TV App is not quite front and center of the Apple TV user interface, so even if you have an Apple TV and use it regularly, chances are you won’t start using the TV App.

However, the App could impact the UK TV industry, giving it a model that enables the UK broadcasters to work together and with the TV operators to better compete against the march of the subscription VOD services. We will have to wait and see if they build on this or ignore the guidance provided by Apple.


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