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Smart TV operators are gamifying engagement – here is how they can dial it up a notch

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Photo of Ben Woods
by Ben Woods

Tracking Father Christmas’ journey on a smartphone app is a festive tradition of the modern era. Much like leaving a carrot out for Rudolf, many families are now logging on come Christmas Eve to keep tabs on his progress via different tracking apps. One such app could be found this festive season on Sky’s smart TV operating system (OS) in the UK. Between watching programmes, Sky TV subscribers could click through for live updates on Santa’s location and see how many presents he had delivered. In an additional step, viewers could use voice commands via their remote control to ask Santa questions ranging from “What is your favourite Christmas cracker joke?” to, “Am I on the naughty list?” On the surface, it may appear nothing more than an innocuous bit of fun. However, this feature provides a glimpse into the interactive future of smart TVs and the new experiences opening up to advertisers.

The opportunity is a by-product of the ongoing battle among smart TV manufacturers to control the viewing experience. The tussle between Roku, Google TV, Samsung, LG, Amazon Fire, and Comcast-owned Sky has accelerated the advancement of their smart TV operating systems. Smart TVs are now more akin with smartphones than TVs of yesteryear. Their app-based interfaces have been refined from carousels of streaming TV apps towards curated entertainment experiences. Features such as personal recommendations, voice-activated search, and watch lists are combatting the tyranny of choice caused by multiple streaming apps. They are also branching beyond video to become hubs for lifestyle and entertainment content by hosting fitness, video calling, music, and gaming apps. As smart TV operating systems become more sophisticated, they are giving consumers more reasons to spend time with their television. This level of control over how, when, and what viewers consume will become an important revenue driver going forward. Smart TVs can sell ad space on their OS interfaces as well as charge streaming TV services for prominence around their apps, shows, and movies.

This is just the beginning of the evolution. Sky’s ‘Santa tracker’ shows the potential for smart TVs OS to offer interactive – gamified – experiences which could drive fresh monetisation and engagement opportunities. Outlined below are the four areas of opportunity smart TV OS will create and who is best placed to capitalise on them.

1.     Discovery: Video IP holders should explore creating interactive experiences to coincide with the launch of their flagship series. All streaming TV series and movies are fighting to window their content on the home page of a smart TV OS. However, the prominence and time in which such content is windowed comes down to choices made by the OS provider. IP holders that support shows with interactive experiences can bolster their windowing opportunities. Furthermore, they will create an additional engagement touchpoint for Gen Z consumers who want to play as well as watch. This will increase engagement with IP once viewers have watched series and can help funnel users towards more shows on a streaming service.

2.     Advertising and marketing: Smart TV OS are increasing advertising inventory in a new digital space. Google TV has experimented with displaying ads on the main banner behind its carousel of apps and TV shows. However, a more sophisticated solution would be to intersperse the TV and movie selection with video advertising options based on a user’s watch history and location. This could be a YouTube video of a creator recommending a product, or a travel show sponsored by an airline. This could be particularly effective if smart TV OS incorporates self-serve advertising for local businesses. Streaming TV services could also use immersive experiences based on their IP to create sponsorship opportunities and commercial tie-ins. For example, Disney+ could create a Miracle on 34th Street Santa Tracker and have it sponsored by an online retailer for children’s toys or groceries. The voice commands could include: “Show me the top ten most wanted toys this Christmas”.

3.     Smart TV OS premium and ad-tiers: Much like streaming TV apps, smart TV OS could charge consumers for the privilege of having advertising content removed from their OS. This could form part of a wider premium tier that offers enhanced discovery and content curation features for a higher price. Interactive experiences that tap into fandom and offer enhanced value could be included in a premium pricing structure.

4.     Children: The smart TV is a safe digital environment for children to watch and engage with the content they love. Children currently use smart TVs to watch children’s programming and brand safe content on YouTube: especially those who are too young to own a digital device. Gaming is becoming an innate part of a child’s entertainment diet, with Roblox being a key beneficiary. Interactive experiences on smart TV OS can tap into this hunger for play and digital expression through avatars and collectibles. After all, personalisation and creativity was a cornerstone of the latest Apple iPhone update, with ‘contact posters’ providing new ways for users to express themselves. Such experiences would provide an opportunity for brands to directly target younger demographics.

Smart TV OS can provide new ways to monetise the space around entertainment. While smart TVs may have some catching up to do with smartphones, they have a strong basis for building a new commercial proposition thanks to access to premium streaming content and a captured TV audience. The curtain maybe falling on the streaming wars, but the battle for smart TV OS is just getting started.

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