OPINION: From 'bastard' to 'my beloved'?

Ian Czencz
By Ian Czencz | 26 November 2013
Ian Czencz

Television is a bastard. Well etymologically speaking anyway. It’s the bastard hybrid of the words ‘tele’, ancient Greek translating to ‘far’, and the Latin word ‘visio’ translating to ‘sight’.

So it’s with a degree of irony that television, a far-sighted medium, is struggling to keep pace in a digital world and a world of seemingly limitless choice.

Before our trading director runs over to my desk claiming, “You strategy boys love throwing these anti-TV grenades in the air!”, I want to make one thing clear: this isn’t a TV-bashing piece.

I love TV.

It perhaps wouldn’t be going too far to suggest that I subscribe to the Homer Simpson belief system: “Television – teacher, mother... secret lover.”

However, with increasing interest over the past few years I have attended the TV networks 'upfronts'. We hear from a CEO, an MD, a director of programming, perhaps the head of sport and maybe a quirky turn from some network talent. The main purpose of these events is for the networks to showcase their TV schedules for the following year.

I’ve been increasingly interested to see how the speakers address television’s current predicament and the ever-looming and ever-expanding digital shadow that threatens their revenue.

This year, with all but one of the upfronts now complete, I was intrigued that all of them had introduced a new acronym: HbbTV. Hybrid Broadcast Broadband Television.

Simply put, HbbTV will seek to marry broadcasting and the internet, allowing television viewing and internet browsing at the same time with the one remote.

So we already have digital TV, catch-up TV, IPTV, EPGs, VOD, aimed at giving viewers greater flexibility in how and when to watch. We also have Jump-In, Fango and Zeebox aimed at making TV viewing more social. Each of these a way to keep TV connected and relevant in the digital age. One wonders why then we need HbbTV? Do we not already watch TV and interact online at the same time? Are we not smack- bang in the middle of the multi-screen age?

So where to start with HbbTV?

First, HbbTV clearly needs a better name.

It was almost painful to watch presenters get through this component of their up-fronts. This is no slight on any presentation skills. Simply saying HbbTV makes even the most mellifluous of voices sound like they stutter.

Returning to the earlier linguistic theme, perhaps we can borrow from another ancient language, Aramaic, and rename HbbTV, ‘Habibi TV'.

It rolls off the tongue more readily and its translation is more elegant: ‘my beloved’.

I’d more readily buy into the proposition of bringing both old and new darlings (broadcasting and internet) together for one greater love. Most Australian living rooms already focus their furniture layout toward the television.

Though let’s put semantics and sentimentality aside for one moment. There are more worrying concerns for the roll-out of HbbTV.

While its proponents suggest it will lead to new channels, e-commerce functionality and targeted advertising, there already seems to be a worrying scepticism of HbbTV.

A cursory search for the term HbbTV in Australia online and you’ll be greeted with headlines such as, “HbbTV could be short-lived just as program starts” or “Can ‘hybrid’ broadcasting save free-to-air-TV?”

There is also the feeling that there is little need for online focused content providers to partner with free-to-air broadcasts.

Ultimately it is all about consumer utility and choice. It’s that simple. One wonders whether HbbTV is about protecting revenue for the major free-to-air networks or giving more to consumers.

HbbTV is also BYO.

BYO HbbTV does not have a pleasant ring to it. That is to say, you will need a new HbbTV-enabled set (or set top box) to take advantage of its features.

While I love TV, a model that bucks the current trend of “watching where, what and when I like” and looks to lock me back to the box feels a bit odd to me.

Ian Czencz
Strategy Director
Match Media

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