In this week's round-up, we look at how Xbox is launching their vision of the future of TV, Tesco are giving away free films and wifi, BSkyB might be giving access to their competitor's films, Google are in talks with the EU, Chrome is growing, and lots of stats about the incredible growth of mobile.
As we mentioned last month, Microsoft have been working to bring more TV content to the Xbox, and this week launched an update to the Xbox 360 introducing the first group of new TV applications on Xbox LIVE.
The new applications don't just bring online video content to the TV screen via the Xbox — they also provide integration with Kinect, allowing users to navigate either through the regular remote/controller, through the Kinect motion sensor, or using Kinect's built-in microphones and voice recognition technology. Using Bing's search technology, you can simply say what it is that you want to see, and if it is in its library of content, Xbox can find it.
Here is a video from our own Oliver Newton of the voice navigation in action.
(I should note that Oli says that he says "Xbox" more often than necessary…)
In the pipeline are a number of TV and film partners, and a companion application for Windows Phone 7.
(Also, check out the nice infographic showing the evolution of TV - and highlighting what has been a personal bugbear of mine for several years now — the failure of the remote control to evolve alongside the rest of our TV & video technology.)
Tesco announce new online benefits to Clubcard holders.
Online services are providing an increasingly useful way for people to watch films on laptops, tablets and phones that don't have DVD or Blu-Ray players. Unlike CDs, it isn't a simple task to copy from discs to digital versions.
But Tesco are providing an interesting reason for customers to buy the physical DVD/Blu-ray copies of films; Clubcard holders who buy select films at Tesco will also be given access to them online for free via the Blinkbox service (which tesco bought an 80% stake in earlier this year.)
The first film to be available in this way will be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, with other films (including The Lion King, Cars 2, The Hangover Part II and Transformers: Dark of the Moon) will soon be added.
(Related — don't forget that Tesco have been doing interesting experiments with their own Freeview boxes and online content delivery.)
Tesco are also rolling out free in-store WiFi across all Tesco Extra stores. Powered by O2, this will provide free in-store wifi
For Clubcard holders, this will give unlimited online access — customers who don't have or want to sign up for a Clubcard will be able to have 15 minutes access every 24 hours (enough for a quick price check or to look up product details while shopping.) Referring to a pilot earlier this year, Tesco say that 82% of customers recently surveyed said they will definitely use the service again, and that 71% of customers access the Wi-Fi via smartphone, 11% via a tablet and 9% on a laptop.
Individually, these are two interesting moves for Tesco — but together, they show a clear value to Tesco of offering services in exchange for the sort of data that can be collected via the Clubcard. Presumably, as well as encouraging shoppers to visit Tesco, these initiatives will also encourage them to both sign up for Clubcards and use them when shopping.
The online video market is about to go through a very interesting transition, with expensive licensing fees from premium content providers on one hand, and a relatively small (but fast growing) userbase providing limited short-term revenues on the other. With retail partnerships like Tesco and Blinkbox, Amazon and Lovefilm, and HMV and FilmFlex, NetFlix set to launch in the UK early next year, we are going to see a very competitive video marketplace in 2012 with revenue sources that aren't limited to simply "paid by consumers" or paid/subsidised by advertising. (We have already seen SeeSaw shut down earlier this year after being squeezed out of the online TV marketplace by bigger US-based rivals.)
So its easy to see why BSkyB's finance chief Andrew Griffiths said they were "slightly perplexed" by the judgement that BSkyB may be asked to offer rival services alongside its own Sky Movies, after provisionally ruling that Sky's movie deals with six Hollywood studios is anti-competitive.
In an additional consultation, the Commission is considering whether offering access to other service providers through the ethernet-enabled Sky+HD set-top boxes would enable them to compete more effectively with Sky's movie services, or whether developments such as internet-enabled TVs and set-top boxes.
Its hard to see this one coming to pass - not least because of the technological challenges that it would propose (Sky boxes simply weren't designed to deliver other providers' content.) But I would expect this regulatory process to have an impact on the growth of the on-demand marketplace.
On the subject of antitrust regulation, Google's chairman is set to meet with the European competition commissioner, with signs indicating that Google will be accused of abusing its dominant position in the market. Google could either face fines, or being overseen in how it runs its search and advertising business in Europe.
It isn't clear exactly what is being discussed, although the issue seems to revolve around the allegations that Google pushes its own services (such as maps and shopping) to the top of search results above rival services, and that it uses news organisations' content "unfairly." (There is also the issue we mentioned last week about the proposed $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility.)
Statistics from Statcounter.com indicate that Google's Chrome browser has overtaken Firefox in terms of global user numbers. The milestone highlights the pace of adoption of Google's browser, launched in September 2008; Firefox dates back to a 1.0 release in November 2004, and as an open-source project dates back to 1998.
Although Firefox is an open source project, it is run by the Mozilla foundation. A large proportion of their revenues (84% in 2010) come from the deal with Google to use its search engine for the built-in search functionality in the browser. What makes the timing of this milestone interesting is that it comes just as the advertising deal with Google has apparently come to an end.
A KPMG study has highlighted how UK shoppers behaviours are being transformed by technology, as we see certain technologies being embraced at a faster pace than many other countries.
In a survey running across 31 countries, the study found that 77% of British shoppers prefer to buy goods like CDs, DVDs, books and video games online (compared with 65% globally.) 74% of UK consumers said they were more likely to buy flights and holidays online and six out of ten used some form of online grocery shopping (compared to just 21% in the US.)
When buying goods or services, the majority of customers (both in the UK and globally) now said that they look at social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and online review sites.
One area where UK customers have been slower to change their habits is mobile banking — only 27% in the UK said they had used some form of mobile banking in the past six months. That is only about half of the 52% globally who have adopted the technology - which itself is a massive jump from just under 20% using it in 2008. UK consumers are also slightly more sceptical about "the cloud", with 53% saying they store their data online rather than on their own computers (compared with 65% globally.)
A different study by EPiServer has found that 33% of smartphone users have made a mobile purchase, with a further 26% saying that they had bought something online using an app.
The survey revealed some interesting indications that the barriers are no longer on the side of consumers or availability of technology, but that the onus is now on brands to catch up with their expectation; 32% say that they find mobile websites hard to navigate, 35% say important functionality is missing, and 35% say they will drop off if a site is hard to use.
64% would give an average of 3 chances to work before moving on, and 25% would try a competitor is mobile site wasn't working.
The message seems clear — if brands expect frustrated mobile consumers to wait until they have access to a "proper" computer, they could be shunning a significant number of customers. But the study also included a survey of marketers with some encouraging findings; although just 20% of marketers had a mobile-optimised site, and 18% had an app, 76% say that they have mobile strategy in place, and 26% plan to launch mobile-optimised site in the next 12 months.
The problems facing marketers seem to be more varied, with 24% saying they lack the necessary technology, 23% lack staff resource, and 7% have trouble proving ROI.
Now, I'm a big believer the mobile technology is something of the present rather than the future, but this is a statistic that surprised even me. In the US, Starbucks have have a payment option (similar to their store cards) built into mobile applications for iPhone, Android and Blackberry smartphones, and have announced that they have processed more than 26 million mobile payments since January — more than 6 million of which were in the past 9 weeks.
This figure highlights something that banks and network operators are perhaps afraid of — money being given to stores ahead of purchases to "charge up" payment accounts, and transactions going through mobile phones without involving the network operators.
Starbucks are expected to roll out their mobile payment strategy in the UK next year; it will be very interesting to see how the levels of usage compares here with the US — especially considering the different types of mobile behaviours highlighted in the KPMG study above.
We've mentioned the FT's success with their digital title before (most notably when they switched to a web app strategy, bypassing Apple's App Store restrictions.) With 250,000 digital subscribers now alongside 350,000 newsstand subscribers, the FT has announced that subscriptions revenue has overtaken advertising.
Mobile now accounts for 30% of subscriber views (and 20% of total views) for the FT, but advertising on the mobile site is still very restricted. Rob Grimshaw (Managing Director of the FT) says that this is an industry problem;
"The industry as a whole is not doing enough to sort this out. Either publishers have to hard code the ads, but then get no tracking data which is key to clients; or go for restricted formats with tracking,"
Although Foursquare got more attention and user adoption (Wired UK crowned Foursquare CEO as "the new king" of Social Media in a cover story last year), Gowalla were an interesting competitor offering location-based services — particularly in the US. But since then, Gowalla has changed their focus from social networking to a travel recommendation service, which could have implications in terms of more creative thinking about the possibilities of location-based check-in services. Rather than being about buying the technology and userbase, the focus of the purchase seems to be around the capabilities of the staff; in the announcement, Gowalla's CEO stated that;
Gowalla, as a service, will be winding down at the end of January. We plan to provide an easy way to export your Passport data, your Stamp and Pin data (along with your legacy Item data), and your photos as well. Facebook is not acquiring Gowalla’s user data.