TV Komm. 2013: Media world in transformation

Jörn Krieger | 27-02-2013
Television consumption will become more and more individualised, following the pattern of the Internet, with programmes and advertising to be increasingly customised to viewers' interests, according to Boris Kühnle.
With this look into the future, Kühnle, professor at the Stuttgart Media University, opened the German media conference TV Komm. 2013 in Karlsruhe on 26 February.
At the summit discussion, media industry executives evaluated the chances and risks of digital transformation for the media world. "Smart TV sets aren't really smart yet," Lutz Schüler, CEO of Unitymedia Kabel BW, replied to a question from moderator Hans-Peter Siebenhaar from business magazine Handelsblatt as to why the cable operator would introduce multimedia box Horizon. Schüler considers the central gateway which will connect all media sources in a customer's household through a unified user interface to be a bastion against US companies such as Google and Apple "who will otherwise take away the business models from us".
Schüler didn't want to give details about the cost of Horizon for German consumers yet, but disclosed that the box would not be deployed simultaneously across Unitymedia Kabel BW's whole coverage area. The launch will take place in summer 2013 on Unitymedia's network in federal states North-Rhine Westphalia and Hessen, with Baden-Württemberg to follow around six months later. The reason for the delay is the different network structure in the regional states.
Nicole Agudo Berbel, director affiliate sales & business development at Discovery Networks Deutschland, confirmed that Discovery Channel HD will join Eutelsat's direct-to-cable platform KabelKiosk on 1 March 2013. In return, the standard definition version of Discovery Channel will be removed from the KabelKiosk line-up. Documentaries from Discovery Channel and sister channel Animal Planet will be added to the video-on-demand (VOD) portal of KabelKiosk Choice.

Martina Rutenbeck, managing director of Eutelsat Deutschland, expects search and sorting functions and ways to secure that content is actually being found by consumers to become increasingly important in future both for viewers and content providers. With the multimedia portal KabelKiosk Choice, which supplements conventional television with interactive offerings from the Internet, Eutelsat illustrates how both worlds can be converged on the TV screen.
But the new media world also brings with it new problems: Claus Grewenig, managing director of VPRT, the industry association of German commercial broadcasters, drew attention to the paradox situation that traditional television channels and Internet offerings are unified on the TV screen through hybrid platforms like connected TV sets, but are still subject to different regulation. The many restrictions imposed on TV broadcasters, for example regarding commercials, are not applied to offerings coming from the Internet to the TV set.
Grewenig proposed more flexibility regarding advertising opportunities, for example that the maximum advertising time of 20% of a broadcaster's airtime should not be applied to each hour, but instead be spreadable across the whole 24-hour schedule of a day. Another problem he sees is the danger that third parties could overlay the linear programme of a traditional TV broadcaster on a connected TV screen with their own commercial offerings from the Internet, thereby acting as a "parasite" misusing the broadcaster's programmes for their own business models.
Thomas Langheinrich, president of Baden-Württemberg's local media authority LFK, agreed with Grewenig that regulations need to be adjusted in the converged digital world. As a new problem area, he cites the media portals compiled by the manufactures of connected TV sets which, as a gatekeeper, could influence the programmes and offerings actually reaching viewers through the design of the portals. Regulation has to react to this, said Langheinrich. Agudo Berbel drew attention to the increasing concentration among platform operators which would strengthen their negotiation power. This development could particularly pose risks to smaller and independent content providers. Berbel stressed the importance of ensuring that offerings can actually be found and variety ensured.
In the dispute with public broadcasters ARD and ZDF regarding carriage fees, Schüler had strong words: "If we don't receive money for our capacities, then our business model will collapse." He added that if the public broadcasters were to succeed in not having to pay carriage fees any longer, then every other broadcaster would make the same demands. "Capacity on cable would then be a free commodity." His company would not move away from its basic position that cable capacity needs to be paid for, he stressed, while at the same time hinting possible ways to find a solution. ARD and ZDF and the cable operators would have several joint interests such as pushing digitalisation and non-linear services like the broadcasters' catch-up portals (Mediatheken). Unitymedia Kabel BW could, for example, integrate Germany's video-on-demand portal Gold jointly planned by ARD and ZDF onto the Horizon platform, Schüler proposed.
The discussions about cable distribution conditions would currently go at a snail's pace, but Schüler still hopes to find a solution on the negotiation table and not in court, he said. Schüler stressed that it would be important to him not to battle out the conflict at the expense of his customers - a punch against equally affected cable operator Kabel Deutschland which tries to put ARD and ZDF under pressure by removing some non-must-carry channels from the public broadcasters from its network and by reducing the picture quality of their digital channels. Grewenig disagreed with Schüler's dramatic description, arguing that cable operators would well be able to survive without carriage fees as they would have several footholds as sources of income.
The participants of the summit discussion agreed that more chances than risks lie in digital transformation. However, market players would need to talk more to each other to react to the upcoming challenges instead of isolating themselves because they fear competition. Cooperation instead of confrontation is the motto. The discussions, workshops and media party at TV Komm. 2013 offered visitors plenty of opportunities to reflect on joint interests and approaches.