Set-Top Boxes and The Future of Interactive Television

by David Eckoff · 0 comments

This article was originally published on on November 17, 2004.

I recently attended the 6th Annual Sports Media & Technology conference and this is a second in a series of reports blogging some of the more interesting panel presentations.

Tuesday morning we heard a panel presentation about “Set-Top Boxes and The Future of Interactive Television“.

Dave Clark, Director of Product Strategy at Scientific Atlanta noted that the key to interactive applications and DVR capabilities is the horsepower of the set -top box. Each year, set-top manufacturers such as Scientific Atlanta roll out more powerful set-top boxes at a lower cost. The practical constraint: cost vs. capability.

Clark described the set-top box with DVR and HD capability as having a $400-$500 cost basis. With a 160 GB hard drive needed to support high definition (which fills 10GB/hour). “You can never give people enough storage, they’ll always fill it up,” said Clark. The question is: will the distributors subsidize part of the cost of the box?

A trend to watch: more mobile content, video to-go to catch up with your viewing while on a plane as an example.

And how content rights and DRM are handled is a key issue, according to Clark. There’s no doubt, people will increasingly want what they want, when they want it. An interesting side note to expand your thinking on this topic: check out this report by Saul Berman of IBM on a phenomenon he calls the “attention loop” that “will enable successful companies to determine the optimal match of digital content and access rights to consumer needs and demands – and to create reciprocal relationships with alliance partners, vendors and suppliers, customers and consumers.”

Paul Nathanielsz, Senior Director, Product Marketing for Bell ExpressVu, observed that consumers view set-top boxes as consumer electronics and as a result are accustomed to the idea of upgrading hardware every few years. Nathanielsz gave examples of multi-camera hockey applications, with the user able to select from three alternative camera angles, jump back 45 seconds in a game, view stats, and more. “You’ve got to deliver a great show at the end of the day,” Nathanielsz said.

John Vartanian, SVP, Technology & Operations for iN Demand, described a NASCAR in-car interactive application with 4 cameras in 7 different cars, enabling the viewer to experience a race from different angles.

These apps are very cool, but coming back to business reality, this programming is expensive to produce and distribute and consumers haven’t yet shown they’re willing to pay more.

In my next report, I’ll cover “Expanding the Fan Base with Wireless Applications”.

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