Guest report from Evan Frank from the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin:
Last week I attended the IFA (consumer electronics) conference in Berlin. What struck me walking through the exhibition was just how far LCD and plasma technology has come in the past few years. The manufacturers continue to push the boat out beyond what seems possible, as demonstrated by the truly mind-blowing Samsung 102-inch plasma on display, below:
Televisions are becoming wider, thinner, sleeker and cheaper than ever before. And they are all ready for High-Definition (HD) television signals. In fact, as a consumer you’d be hard-pressed to find a non-HD-ready plasma TV (and who would want that, anyway?). Yet despite this favourable trend, are the television networks holding up their end of the bargain?
I come from New York City, home of Time Warner Cable (and really good pizza and Chinese food), so I’m a bit spoiled. Time Warner, the main broadcast network in the city, offers some 25 HD channels, with content ranging from premium stations (like HBO), to sports, nature and so on. The service costs between £30 and £45 per month, with no up front charge. Generally speaking, good HD content is commonplace in your typical NYC household (and has been for the past 18-24 months).
Back here in London, after two years I finally succumbed to buying a cable subscription -– mainly because I bit the bullet and bought myself a plasma. So, what is the HD experience like on this side of the pond?
Sky’s HD offering looks like this: first you have to pay £299 just to get the box. Then you assemble your channel package, say standard sports + movies. This will set you back around £40/month (similar to New York). Want HD programming? Add another £10/month. What do you get? Ten dedicated HD channels, which apparently include frequent non-HD programming.
Wow. Even for someone who’s been seen once or twice paying $25 for a cheeseburger and fries at Automat, this seems a little excessive.
But I digress. Back at the IFA, over a bratwurst I chatted with an entrepreneur whose company sells content management platforms to traditional broadcasters and new IPTV operators. He reinforced what seems obvious, that:
in the era of user-generated content and incredibly rich PC and console games, the traditional networks are terrified that their bread and butter –- from Fox Kids to Desperate Housewives -- is losing our interest. To be sure, some broadcasters such as BskyB are announcing subscriber growth (although much of this is attributable to the price and marketing war with Virgin Media), but can they actually recover?
If networks want to do something about subscriber retention and growth in the age of the ubiquitous consumer Internet -– here’s an idea: invest in making quality content affordable and available for the current generation of HD-ready plasmas. These amazing screens are proliferating in households and are woefully underexploited. Perhaps if the end-user experience reflects the capabilities of the technology, the networks might reverse the flow of user interest back to the TV.