TV Komm. 2014: TV rolls out on new paths

Jörn Krieger | 26-02-2014

What used to be exceptional is now taken for granted, with viewers now free to decide through which paths and devices they want to consume TV content. This change became apparent at German media conference TV Komm. 2014 which took place in Karlsruhe on 25 February.

This development is spurred by the rising sales of smartphones and tablets which are increasingly used for TV and video consumption, as Michael Schidlack (BITKOM) explained in his keynote. The German industry association expects 9.5 million tablets to be sold in Germany this year – a new record. Touchscreen computers will, thus, overtake the sale of TV sets which is expected to decline to 7.8 million devices. The smartphone boom will continue, with almost 30 million units sold. On-demand content will become increasingly important – Schidlack expects that viewers will in future see on-demand offerings on the start page when they switch on the screens while classic linear television will just be an option.

The question of how the industry handles this change was a core point in the discussion round hosted by Hans-Peter Siebenhaar (Handelsblatt). An example was given by Susanne Aigner-Drews (Discovery Communications). The US media company will launch its women's channel TLC in Germany on 10 April 2014 not as a pure TV channel, but as a multimedia proposition from the outset which will contain both linear and non-linear elements and reach its audience in various ways. The website which already gives a glimpse of upcoming programmes will feature an extensive catch-up service. The channel will also be present on Facebook and Twitter, with an offering for connected TV sets planned as well.

Nonetheless, television will not lose its outstanding position as a lighthouse in future, Stephan Zech (Axel Springer Digital TV Guide) predicts, but will increasingly be accompanied by on-demand services. According to Alexander Mazzara (joiz), conventional television can particularly demonstrate its strength at live events.

Content will increasingly be centre of attention in future, predicts Claus Grewenig from the commercial broadcasters' industry association VPRT, while the question of which devices it is consumed on will become secondary. It is therefore important for broadcasters that their visibility is secured, he stressed. The regulatory bodies are aware of the vital importance of this issue, said Thomas Langheinrich from media authority LFK, but he added that lawmakers lag behind the technological development.

One problem could be that TV set manufacturers will take over the power that used to be in the hands of infrastructure providers, for example through the addition and placement of apps in the media portals of connected TV sets. They could exclude offerings and thereby prevent them from being found, Langheinrich pointed out. This would provide a challenge for regulators. Grewenig said that it is "shocking" that the discussion about securing equal treatment and variety has been ongoing for years, but not much has happened so far.

In contrast, there are some areas which are overregulated, Lutz Schüler (Unitymedia) pointed out. The commercial TV groups RTL and ProSiebenSat.1 (Amazonas) and public broadcasters ARD and ZDF (Germany's Gold) wanted to set up as German responses to Hulu and Netflix but were blocked by the cartel office – to the advantage of foreign players like Amazon and Watchever. Now everyone is waiting "for Netflix to come to Germany and wipe out everything", Schüler said, warning: "We shouldn't regulate ourselves to death." Simin Lange (Sky Deutschland) is certain that Netflix will come – "faster than we think". She expects the market entry will take place in autumn 2014. However, Lange doesn't see the US powerhouse so much as a competitor, but more as a chance to give the German video-on-demand (VOD) market a boost. This would also be beneficial for Sky's on-demand services Sky Go and Snap.

An example of a converged offering combining linear and non-linear content was provided by Ulrich Rath (Eutelsat Deutschland) who presented the new platform Mein Fernsehen (My Television). The offer, which the satellite operator wants to launch at the industry trade fair ANGA COM in May 2014 for German city carriers and fibre-optic network operators, will contain around 150 TV channels in standard and high definition, on-demand content and a multiscreen hook-up with tablets and smartphones. As a special feature, the electronic programme guide (EPG) will allow viewers to rewind the TV programmes for up to seven days. The necessary rights have been acquired from most broadcasters, said Rath, while negotiations were still taking place with the others. The move would make Eutelsat the first big provider to introduce a TV replay function in Germany.