There has been much speculation about the migration away from cable and the potential disappearance of set top boxes. However, regardless of what happens in the future, we cannot escape the fact that a multitude of sources is streaming content into people's living rooms and this is having a significant impact in consumer's use and choice of devices. Whether it is cable, satellite or broadband, the ability to control and interact with this content has increasingly grown in complexity and the choice of viewing and device options is becoming more diverse.
A recent Trendbox DB on behalf of Universal Electronics, studied the TV viewing and control habits of more than 1800 people across the UK, France and Germany. The research revealed that when it comes to Pay TV access devices, set top boxes with hard disk or PVR are still the most common, in fact, in the UK alone 63% of those surveyed use them. However, for those viewers watching OTT services, only 12% use set-top boxes as their chosen device, in this case the most popular devices were media players (30%) and Smart TVs (29%).
Those results would suggest that if the current surge in OTT service offerings continue as expected, more consumers could move away from set-top boxes to the other emerging devices. However while the future of the devices themselves looks unpredictable, competition between traditional broadcasters, broadcasters with streaming services and the growing number of OTT providers is stronger than ever.
It is somewhat ironic that from the viewer's perspective, the devices themselves would come way down the priority list. Content is still king, regardless of where it comes from - whether that's a set-top box, a pay-tv provider or the internet. The same could be said for the viewing device, it might be the latest UHD-enabled screen or the screen of a next-generation tablet - but ultimately, it is all about the content and how viewers interact with that content.
Another vital element in the whole customer experience is control. Today's audiences may want the convenience to be able to watch what they want, when they want, on whatever device, however this has heightened the desire for ultimate control. With the myriad of systems in the living room, access needs to be easy and instantaneous, with navigation and searching for specific content as straightforward as possible. The entire user experience would be based on ease of use, particularly the remote control and user interface (UI). When it comes to the remote control, viewers want the widest range of functionality, without the frustration, brought by handling multiple devices and complex buttons.
The current challenges facing viewers was highlighted in the research, which evidenced the confusion around switching source, or navigating between TV, set-top box, games console and other components such as DVD players or amplifiers. Consumers even find getting the right picture on to the screen a struggle, with 34% of respondents saying it was an issue. The TV audiences surveyed want simple solutions to their needs, and almost one in four consumers said they had already selected to use universal remote controls in their homes in a bid to cut through the complexity and control all of the systems through one device.
The universal use of a remote control from both content providers and device manufacturers still allows consumers the choice yet it creates a more streamlined user experience. So what will the remote controls of the future look like? We are already starting to see models making use of voice, motion and touch pads and these are beginning to affect the way in which viewers navigate through content and find new entertainment choices. Biometrics, for example, can help create a very effective and simple personalised entertainment user experience. Through the use of voice, an entertainment system can identify the user and suggest content for them based on elements such as gender and age.
However, functionality aside, if we go back to basics, one of the most fundamental features of a remote control has to be that it actually works across the consumer's range of viewing devices. Voice, motion and touch may be part of the next generation of models, however if they are not guaranteed to work or completely compatible, it makes the fancy functions somewhat redundant. Additionally, the remote control should be able to cover the vast majority of the TV replacement market.
Content may be king, however control will remain at the top of the hierarchy for the near future, particularly in terms of the viewer experience. Whether the future is set top boxes or the most advanced smart TVs, consumers want the greatest choice of what and how they view, and have the ultimate control at their fingertips.