As Head of Content Services at Samsung Electronics Europe, Dan
Saunders is responsible for content strategy across a range of
different devices with a particular focus on Smart TV. I caught up
with Dan a few days ago and asked him about TV app
development, working with content providers and the subtle shift
from selling products to services.
KANJI: Hi Dan, so can you tell us a little bit
about Samsung's Smart TV strategy?
SAUNDERS: Connected TV, as it used to be
called, has been a part of Samsung's strategy since 2008 in Europe
and in the last three years we've gone through some pretty big step
changes in terms of what the technology platform is capable of. So,
in 2008, it was essentially text driven over RSS, static windows
and information on news, sport, finance etc. In 2009, we launched
our first video services with YouTube.
But where it starts to get really interesting is in 2010 when we
launched the BBC iPlayer and Lovefilm in the UK and similar sorts
of services across Europe. By the end of 2010 we had at least one
non-linear service and one true on-demand service in all of the
major European territories.
Now, in 2011, we've really started to build out the service with
multiple offerings in multiple countries in Europe. And just as
importantly, it was this year that we actually started to talk
about Smart TV to customers and make it a central part of our
KANJI: So your message to consumers is moving
from "buy my product" to "buy my service". There's a difference
There's a kind of perception out there that this is a
"box-shifting" manufacturer that's moving into the service industry
for the first time and how on earth is it going to manage to deal
with these new kinds of philosophies and ways to do business. But
of course the reality is that companies like Samsung and any other
major consumer electronics companies hire people that used to work
in the service industries.
SAUNDERS: Well that's one of the really
interesting things that's involved in the work we do. There's a
kind of perception out there that this is a "box-shifting"
manufacturer that's moving into the service industry for the first
time and how on earth is it going to manage to deal with these new
kinds of philosophies and ways to do business. But of course the
reality is that companies like Samsung and any other major consumer
electronics companies hire people that used to work in the service
industries. So we've now got a global group of professionals who
understand what Samsung needs to do and turn those requirements
into something that's understood in that landscape.
We're rapidly developing the competencies to move the company
KANJI: You mentioned philosophies and there's a
difference isn't there between Samsung and, say, Sony in the way
you've opened up your connected TV platform to content providers.
Sony provide only 29 different services on their Bravia Internet
Television which they've hand-picked whereas Samsung is much more
of an open market place. Is that fair?
SAUNDERS: Well, I can't comment on Sony but
Samsung is certainly operating a market place. It's a walled garden
in the sense that you have to build to our technology and make
commercial arrangements with us in order to release services but
our position is that we want anyone who is capable and willing to
build a service to be able to do so. It's true of course that in
order to create something you have to work within the parameters of
our software development kit but if you look at the architecture of
that SDK there's nothing new or surprising it in it. It's basically
a mixture of fairly ubiquitous standards like Flash and XML that
we've put together in a way that allows those services to best
serve the device.
KANJI: And are you able to talk about take up
of Samsung's Smart TV?
SAUNDERS: From the perspective of consumers or
KANJI: Both. I mean, it's a virtuous circle
isn't it in that the more content you get from different providers
the better the product becomes and the more people that, hopefully,
buy it. And the more customers you have the more likely that
content owners will want to develop services for them.
SAUNDERS: That's absolutely right. Another way
of looking at it - and I'll come back to your question in a moment
- is that if you look at the television product line up, we don't
sell Smart TV as a separate product category. We have 2 key product
categories: Plasma and LED and when you think about buying a
television at a certain price point it's going to come with the
connectivity as part of that product. So the business problem is
less about whether people are going to buy these TVs, it's more
about whether they're going to connect them. So, back to your
question about engagement: I can't give you specific numbers right
now but I can say that we're encouraged by what we're seeing. We
feel confident that consumers are actually engaging and connecting
their TVs otherwise we wouldn't continue to market Smart TVs as a
central part of our television offering.
KANJI: Right -
SAUNDERS: We want to be able to publish figures
about engagement, in fact, we're desperate to because we have
nothing to hide and the stats are really positive but we're trying
to make sure that before we do that we've established a proper
currency. This is a new part of the business for Samsung and if you
think that 3 years ago the company was selling a TV to a customer
and saying "We'll see you again in 5 or 7 years time" whereas now
we're saying "Here's your new television and we'd like to have an
ongoing relationship with you" it does take a bit of time setting
things up so that we can ensure that the data we publish is
KANJI: So from a content perspective, how are
you finding providers engaging with your SDK and developing
If you look back at the last couple of years, and with
the benefit of hindsight, it's quite amazing that we've managed to
launch so many services.
SAUNDERS: If you look back at the last couple
of years, and with the benefit of hindsight, it's quite amazing
that we've managed to launch so many services. I mean, in the early
days we were asking these players to build these services at not
inconsiderable cost during the first run of the technology and we
found a lot of European terrestrial broadcasters and VOD providers
contributing almost on a leap of faith. There was no real guarantee
that this was going to work. But sometime between late 2010 and
early 2011 I think the market cottoned on to the idea that this
wasn't a fad, that connected TV was something that would become a
central part of the television experience.
From a strategic perspective there are 4 classes of content
- Terrestrial broadcasters
- Internet-based video-on-demand providers like Lovefilm
- The telco that has video services that they want to supply to
- Everyone else
So Samsung has launched with the BBC and Lovefilm in the UK,
Maxdome and ARD in Germany, Belgacom in Belgium, ViaSat and Canal
Digital in Scandinavia, Antena 3 in Spain, Cubovision in Italy...
and the list goes on.
You can also expect to see partnership announcements over the
next 6 months from commercial terrestrial broadcasters and other
telcos. All of the major players are actively engaged with the
KANJI: And that makes sense because one of the
things that Daniel Danker at the BBC recently said to me was that
people want to watch TV on TV - on the big box in your
SAUNDERS: It's quite interesting when you look
at central and Eastern Europe because some of them haven't
developed non-linear services yet and they're asking, do we really
need to develop something for a PC when we can go straight to
on-demand viewing on TVs? One of the amazing things about the BBC
iPlayer was that it was such a good service right from the start
that people were prepared to hunch over their 14-inch screens at
their desk in order to watch a programme. It wasn't that this was
the natural way of watching TV but that iPlayer was such a good
service that it modified user behaviour.
One of the surprising things is that it's not just confined to
on-demand video services. We're also finding similar uptake of
things like Twitter and Facebook which is really extraordinary.
Providing Facebook and Twitter access on a television
does add value. It's challenging perceptions of what the internet
actually is. If the internet is available on any device, and it's
easy to navigate, people seem to use it.
SAUNDERS: Yes. I have to say that when we
launched Twitter and Facebook on Smart TV, I was a non-believer. I
really didn't understand why people would want to use such personal
services on what is, essentially, a social device. What we've found
is that although it may not constitute all your usage, once you
sign up to use Twitter and Facebook on your TV you're only 2 button
presses away from being able to get the latest updates, seeing what
your friends' statuses are and participating yourself. It may not
be the dominant way to use these services but providing access on a
television does add value. It's challenging perceptions of what the
internet actually is. If the internet is available on any device,
and it's easy to navigate, people seem to use it.
KANJI: And that's the crux isn't it -
navigation? One of the big problems of using any television is that
you're limited - out of the box at least - to using a remote
control to move around your TV screen...
SAUNDERS: That's right and that's why our SDK
technology is so important because it allows a content provider to
build a service in a way that properly reflects a television
experience. So it might not be as "whizzy" as the service you might
find on a PC, it might be stripped back a little, but the idea
behind all of these TV app interfaces is that they should aim to
get you to where you want to be as quickly as possible. So, many of
the apps that we build are predicated on the four directional
buttons, "Enter" and "Return".
We're just now beginning to understand some of the tensions
between "lean-forward" and "lean-back" and personal versus social
devices and you can almost do a matrix that consultants are so fond
of doing where you can map all of the different devices to the
behaviours to try to understand where the balance might lie.
KANJI: Finally, referring back to your 4 groups
of content provider, you said that terrestrial broadcasters are
obviously a key set so is it Samsung's strategy to concentrate on
getting services from those companies or is to further engage with
the other classes you mentioned?
SAUNDERS: We want to engage with everybody!
When we sign a contract with a content provider, the roles are
clearly delineated. Samsung is responsible for the hardware and the
platform and the provider is responsible for the end-to-end
service. We're quite realistic about what we do and don't
understand about the content business and our technology is great
for anyone who wants to provide a service to consumers.
We're not forcing models on the entertainment industry.
You can download the official Samsung Smart TV SDK