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14 March 2024

Vertical Video Syndrome strikes CTV World Summit 2024

“I hope in three or five-years’ time that my TV looks more like TikTok,” was not a declaration anyone in the room at Connected TV World Summit expected to hear from a representative of a veteran pay TV operator.

Indeed, you would not hear the head honchos at Vodafone or Deutsche Telekom or Comcast talking in a way that resonates with the crossover of social media generations and the content creator economy.

This tidbit on the TikTok-ification of TV came from Brigita Brjuhhanov, TV Product Owner and Development Team Lead at Estonian-Finnish operator Elisa, on a panel discussing the future of the EPG.

This question – how to build a more scrollable, social, and intuitive TV experience – is an existential one facing entertainment organizations right through the value chain, from the TV manufacturers to the content providers to the network operators.

Elisa of course does not have the silver bullet answers. As a telco by trade, Elisa can shrug until the cows come home, and continue to milk its pay TV operation until it faces the inevitable future where it no longer owns the TV experience, either going the route of bundling content with broadband, or relinquishing control to a technology like Google TV.

“I open TikTok and it knows exactly what I want to watch. I just wish my TV could do the same,” Brjuhhanov admits.

Thankfully for the Elisa exec, Google is always listening. The Alphabet company is actively recruiting young interns and sitting them down in front of a Google TV experience for learnings about how to resonate better with future generations.

These interns think totally differently about TV, according to Google TV’s Fahad Durrani, Group Product Manager for Content Discovery and Monetization. Durrani evidently did not have clearance to elaborate on these intern findings, and of course TikTok was not mentioned by name, as one of YouTube’s big rivals for young eyeballs. However, like most mobile-first video applications today, YouTube has long been experimenting with vertical short-form content which offers a user-friendly endless scroll experience, and Google will be working on how to bridge the gap between small screen and big screen experiences.

Being “AI-first from the get-go,” Google TV is in a strong position. It has used neural networks of some 28 layers to understand content affinity, according to Durrani. Metadata challenges are cited on every other panel at Connected TV World Summit, but Google is throwing significant cash and dedicating substantial resources to metadata tagging for content recommendations.

To stay relevant, content providers must understand how to accommodate parasocial relationships in future TV experiences, and our separate story on Plex this week is a steppingstone in this direction.

One panelist floats 2025 as the year when millions of people at the tail-end of the Gen Z bracket (born mid-2000s to early 2010s) will buy their first ever TV sets – marking a gold rush for the streaming ecosystem as eyeballs born into social media start to migrate to bigger screens.

Mounted TV sets that can be rotated between vertical and horizontal displays are already available at retail, and should this large-screen hardware format become mainstream, it will dismantle Hollywood as we know it.

A long-time favorite here at Faultline is a satirical video, created nearly a decade ago, mocking the vertical video format and playing out a dystopian parallel universe where cinemas have to be rebuilt as skyscrapers to accommodate the towering vertical screens demanded by the TikTok and Tinder generations. This cult clip has ended up semi-accurately predicting the future it tried to actively discourage.

Quibi was much mocked for its vertical video concept, after the venture collapsed catastrophically in 2020 after raising $1.75 billion from investors, but the truth is that Quibi was ahead of its time.

Since Quibi’s content assets were acquired by Roku in 2021, for under $100 million, full-on vertical short-form video productions have exploded on applications such as TikTok. It would be remiss not to mention the pornography business, which accounts for an inordinate proportion of internet video traffic, and has been transformed by the arrival of OnlyFans. This democratized the creation of adult content, requiring nothing but a smartphone for creator and for consumer alike, while also branching into parasocial relationships that are desperately craved.

For most pay TV operators, everything we have discussed here is alien. We have heard several TV veterans claim that, as today’s kids get older, they will naturally acquire old habits, and therefore set tops and traditional linear TV EPGs will live on in immortality. That is simply not the way things will play out.

Elisa and Magenta Telekom share an admission on the panel, noting that neither operator can just get rid of the zapping generation of EPG users. These are loyal customer bases paying good money for services, and will continue to pay until the day they die. Traditional TV is almost becoming a grandfathering process, and Elisa’s Brjuhhanov confesses that Elisa has not refreshed or played around with the EPG on its pay TV platform for years, for fear of disrupting the familiar experience for legacy users.

While this base withers on the vine, Elisa has been investing in advanced discovery technologies, with its Finland-based operation working with TiVo’s Deep Discovery software for the Elisa Viihde on-demand video platform. However, this initial deployment was back in 2020, and we have not heard any update for how the metadata package improves recommendation relevance with moods, tones, themes, weighted keywords, age descriptors and popularity scores.

More recently, Elisa last year switched on two new smart TV apps for its Elamus (translated to Experience) streaming service, on Samsung and LG smart TVs, powered by UX specialist 3 Screen Solutions (3SS).

The full-fat Elisa Elamus is a hybrid Android TV Operator Tier platform supporting DVB-C, DVB-T, IPTV and OTT delivery on a Technicolor Pearl set top with a powerful dual-core processor, supporting 4K UHD and HDR – packed into a flat Roomba-esque circular design.

Nagra Protect, the Swiss vendor’s cardless CAS, is the latest generation of premium security deployed for the Elisa Elamus project.

Another major deployer of Android TV services in Europe is DT-owned Magenta Telekom in Austria. With Elisa, Magenta, and Google all brushing shoulders on the same panel, the silence on Android TV was deafening, while the TikTok influence was noticeable at an event with a visibly lower average age than many media and entertainment industry conferences.