The Future of TV Tech: Recommendations
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The Future of TV Tech: Applications

Freeview Play

Pretty much since the launch of the Apple App store back in 2008, there has been a consensus that the future of TV interface was app stores. App Stores provide a model for personalization, innovation and protection of content owner’s brand identity. But does the app store model and applications in general really work for TV? Is there an alternative?

Given the success of app stores for mobile devices it is hard to challenge them, but I don’t think they work well enough and are not the future of TV interfaces. I do however have an alternative.

History of TV Applications

Before detailing this alternative, it is worth spending a bit of time go through the history of TV applications and the different application models.

Single Service Provider Application

In the beginning of Digital TV and on many current products the models was a single service provider application. With this model the service provider provides a single consistent user interface for all activities. In the beginning this was just the TV guide but grew to include on-demand services with the advent of VOD.

Third Party TV Applications

Support for additional applications alongside the service provider application is older than you might think. The service provider application has been augmented by third party apps since the very first digital TV launches back in the nineties. At this time, the web was not what it is today and a whole range of TV applications existed, weather apps, shopping apps, banking apps, community apps.  These apps were not downloaded or bookmark but could be discovered and used. These TV apps declined with the growth of web based services. Games lasted the longest and I would argue were most successful, but these were killed off by casual gaming on smart phones.

I’m proud to have been part of the Open….launch team back in 1999, the most ambitious TV application service of it time. I’ve a promotion video here.

In the nineties and the first decade of this century (I hate using the term naughties) the apps were generally built for propriety middleware, the likes of OpenTV, Wink and Mediahighway.

TV App Stores

Apps were revived on TV off the back of the success of the smart phone app stores. It was a model that consumer and executives were familiar with. At this time TV technology embraced HTML (after a short lived dalliance with Flash) and Android/Java which made apps relatively portable and much cheaper to develop.

One key point is we have all learnt that the application that make sense on TV are video applications.

In most cases the service provider app was retained for access to linear TV with a main VOD service, but third party VOD services emerged as apps. Some TV manufacturers did look at making linear TV just another app in the app store, but this didn’t become a trend. App stores delivered three important values:

  • Personalisation – app stores enabled consumer to personalize their experiences, to include or give prominence to the services they were interested in. But I expect most consumers use the default set of app their devices comes configured with and don’t change it.
  • Innovation – apps allow content providers to innovate separately from the service provider. They can experiment and evolve services.
  • Brand protection – apps allow content providers to protect their brand, by having their content available in a user interface they control and brand.

Some TV services embraced applications but not app stores. These services provide a list of curated applications for viewers. This doesn’t support personalization in the same way as an app store, but it does ensure prominence for the content provider brands. It also avoids viewers being overwhelmed with app choice. Freeview Playis a good example of this model.

The most successful applications in this era have been the major broadcaster catch-up TV application (e.g. BBC iPlayer in the UK), the major SVOD services (e.g. Netflix and Amazon everywhere) and some strong local players (e.g. Maxdome in Germany).

Freeview Play on TV

Deep Linking Aggregator Applications

One of the issues with the growth of TV apps was it made content discovery more difficult for viewers. With an app model viewers needed to open and search/browse each individual application to find the content they want to watch. One solution to this is deep-linking aggregator applications. Such application enable content discovery across all content provider applications, with content playback within the content provider’s app via deep linking.

These applications are generally based around search, with additional recommendation and genre based browsing.

Examples of such applications are the Apple TV App and the Freeview Play Explore App.

Model Comparison

We have two opposing models today. One is where the service provider is providing the majority of the UI for on-demand content, may be with the odd third party application (e.g. Netflix if they can get it) and the other where the UI for on-demand content comes for a number of different content provider applications (accessed via a fixed list or app store). There is also the deep linking aggregator app occupying the middle ground.

A summary of the pros and cons of each of these models is given in the table below.



Service Provider UI

Content Provider UI


Strong links between linear TV and on-demand TV

Consistent UI across all services for consumers

Personalization common across all content sources

Consistent content discovery across all content sources

Content provider protects brand and existing business relationships

Content providers can innovate independently of service providers


Content workflow of Content provider must be integrated with the service provider

Loss of advertiser relationship by content provider

Loss of detailed usage data of content by content provider

Consumers must learn and use multiple UIs

Personalization constrained to each app

Content discovery inhibited by switching between apps

Deep Linking Aggregator Applications go someway to address the cons of a content provider UI (app store) model but not all of them. A consumer is still thrust between applications with a potential loss in UI consistency and personsalisation. I believe there is value in looking at addressing the cons of a service provider UI by adapting it. A model I call content linking (as opposed to deep linking).

Content Linking

With content linking a service provider application links to the content of a content provider but not to the application of a content provider. This means the content is delivered by the content providers servers to the UI provided by the service provider.

This model provides to clear advantages: 

  • The content workflow of the content provider does not need to be integrated with the service provider, only the meta-data needs to be integrated (something needed for aggregator applications). This reduces the cost of integration and reduces workflow delays in publishing content, which can be particularly important for catch-up TV content.
  • As the content is delivered from the content providers servers, the content provider can provide their own dynamic advertising within the content, this means the content provider can continue to own the relationship with advertisers which they have for linear TV and their own direct to consumer actitivies.

For this model to work well it require close cooperation and collaberation between the service provider and the content providers. 

They must share data between each other, the content providers must provide rich meta-data for the content to the service provider. The service provider must provide the content providers with information about the viewer to support dynamic advertising. Both must agree on the technology to support dynamic ad insertion.

I will cover these needs and solution to them in a future article.



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