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Samsung's Smart TV division interview: 'Connected TV is here to stay'

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BBC Samsung app
Samsung is currently leading the emerging market for connected TV, sets that feature in-built web connections delivering various internet delights to the TV screen. The South Korean firm's Smart TV platform, known as Smart Hub, offers a range of services, such as BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm and a recently launched BBC News application optimised for connected TV.

According to figures from Ofcom, there were 1m connected TV sets sold in the UK last year, but is this just another false dawn like interactive TV in the late 1990s? Darren Petersen, Samsung UK's content services manager, told Digital Spy that connected TV is here to stay.

What proportion of Samsung's TV sales are now connected models?
"This year, 70% of our TV range is Smart (Samsung's term for connected), and 100% of our Blu-ray players are Smart. That is quite a jump on last year when only 40% of our TV range was Smart. So now it's very much a mass market proposition."

There have been question marks over how many people are actually connecting their TVs to the internet after getting them home. Do you have data for that?
"Yes, this year we are seeing connection rates of 75%, so very, very healthy. There are a number of reasons for that, one is that we really heavily marketed the Smart TVs this year. That kicked off around May, including TV adverts, press and lots of PR activity. Crucially, it was also lots of in-store activity educating consumers about what Smart TV actually was, and what the benefits were.

"But even with the more unsexy stuff, such as when you are actually in the device, at the plug-and-play stage, even before the tuning stage, you are encouraged to plug the device into the network. Because even those consumers that didn't buy the TV because it was a Smart TV during plug-and-play will start to see that the TV has got more inside it than just Freeview. That really gets a lot more consumers to connect their sets."

Do you think that a lot of consumers are still just buying the sets because they are the best ones in the shop, rather than specifically because they have this internet portal attached?
"Well, it's the best one in the shop for number of reasons. We lead the market because of the quality of our models. The Smart TVs have the best picture across the range and the best picture quality across any Smart TV platform. Plus it has the best applications available across all Smart TVs available across the market."

In terms of the apps, give us a snapshot of the services that are available...
"That can be broken down into two things. If you press Smart Hub on your remote control then you are presented with a range of different applications that are embedded in the device, such as BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm, YouTube, things like that. So that is the applications, but we also have other parts of the platform that are more integrated, such as search, active recommendations and social TV. So, people are using the applications and using the functions to have a more advanced TV experience."

But are people actually using the apps and services? Or are they just getting forgotten after the novelty wears off?
"We have all the data, but I can't tell you specifics. But on a broad picture, we see that on a monthly basis the trend is that a million more people are looking at Smart Hub. I can see the amount of times people actually use Smart Hub, the types of apps they click on and how much they engage with the services. And since launch in May, I can see that it is climbing by a million every month. That is very healthy growth."

It seems to have taken a while for manufacturers to understand what people actually want from apps on TV...
"I would disagree that it has taken a while to understand what apps would work on the TV, as people do understand what works. We knew that video apps in the early stages of the game were going to be a leading service on these devices. Catch-up TV, video on-demand, movies, user-generated stuff; these are the leading lights so far. We are also engaging with familiar big branded apps on other devices as well. But it's not about having hundreds of thousands of apps on the TV, it's about having the right quality on the TV."

There was a stage, though, where certain companies were adding seemingly unsuitable services to their connected TVs, such as maps, as though they were trying to get as many stickers on the box as possible...
"We do have an App Store and we do have those sort of applications, but when we launch services we don't just leave them as they are. We will upgrade those services so that they are more integrated with the whole experience, and also more relevant on the TV. We work with our partners so that an app launched in 2011 will be even more advanced in 2012 and integrated into the experience."

You must be talking to the developers and partners all the time, so what are they saying about their experiences trying to monetise apps on connected TV?
"There are various ways to monetise apps on our platform. For example LoveFilm is a subscription based service which is one of the most popular apps on Smart TV despite the fact that it has a paywall. Then there are ad funded services such as Muzu.TV. They have just released pre-roll ads on their service, so every video now has a pre-roll ad. They have been able to demonstrate that their numbers are high enough on Smart TV to secure pre-roll ads."

Some people have suggested that connected TV could be the next big platform for video gaming; would you agree?
"Absolutely, as the design and software becomes more advanced you can certainly expect to see the games available improve quite significantly. Plus, as that industry moves more towards cloud-based gaming or online gaming you can certainly see a lot of their services being able to be delivered on Smart TV."

Cloud-based services such as OnLive are now delivering console standard games over remote servers without the need for powerful local hardware. Could the Smart TV platform also handle these services in the future?
"Theoretically, that is already available by browsers anyway so that is absolutely possible. I wouldn't say that we are positioning Smart TV as a games console and I am sure that the games consoles will always be a step ahead of us in terms of innovation in the leading games services, but we will certainly be able to offer consumers a gaming experience of a very good level."

Gazing into the crystal ball, what do you see as the key developments going forward that could change the game for connected TV?
"I think at the moment in the near term, it would be more on development about ease of use, particularly in terms of multiple devices, being able to access content across all your devices wherever you are. We are quiet uniquely placed in that we have smart TVs, smartphones, smart tablets, smart Blu-ray devices, smart PCs, even smart fridges. So we are working with a number of leading technology providers to bring these propositions to market in the near future."

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