Personal video recorders were the subject of a dedicated conference in Germany, bringing together experts to look at their future impact on the television industry.

The impact of personal video recorders or PVRs on television advertising has often been stated as potentially damaging, but there is also the suggestion they will also drive an increase in the quality or performance of commercials to compensate for the decrease in exposure. This belief was expressed by Professor Wolf-Dieter Ring, chairman of the Bavarian Media Authorities, and seconded by Professor Duane Varan of Murdoch University in Australia.

Such an improvement in quality can be characterised as advertisements having higher impact on the viewer and being able to demonstrate return on investment, for example through lead generation. Professor Varan claimed that one well-executed interactive advert can have the impact of three viewings of a linear spot.

Adding interactivity is not without risks. Viewers who are being asked to make choices through an interactive commercial want to feel they have made the right choices. The Murdoch University research found that if the interactive element of an advert failed to match the viewer’s expectations then it was more likely to be damaging to the brand it was advertising than add value.

PVRs provide the opportunity to deliver far richer, video-centric, advertising content using a pseudo video-on-demand or push-VOD model where a partition of the hard disk is reserved for caching content that is then made available on-demand. This capability is more likely to be available with devices tied to a particular platform than retail devices.

The tightness of coupling between the platform and the PVR has considerable impact on what can be offered to the consumer and what value the PVR adds to the platform owner and digital rights holder of content on the platform.

As these devices become more like personal computers, and in the case of the Microsoft Media Centre, they already are personal computers, they will succumb to similar issues, such as viruses. Stefan Jenzowsky of Siemens suggested that a particular virus had already afflicted a group of set top boxes. The presence of desktop computer level capabilities in the set-top box also offers the potential of peer-to-peer network functionality, be it legal or otherwise.

PVRs raise interesting digital rights issues, as content is no longer merely being broadcast to the viewer but is being recorded by them, or in the case of push-VOD, recorded on their behalf. Stefan Jenzowsky commented that in more advanced PVRs, the same content, be it live broadcast, recorded, push-VOD, or network VOD would all be available to the viewer on the same screen but subject to different rights. The matter is further complicated if that content is then made available on portable storage devices.

While PVR users tend to time shift more pre-recorded content and then skip advertising breaks, live television, such as news, sport or reality programmes, still tend to be watched when they are scheduled. This presents an opportunity for adding value to a live broadcast through interactivity.

OpenTV presented their demonstration of a PVR recording interactive content as well as audio and video. They have a partnership with Nagravision to provide conditional access to recorded content.

NDS were clearly advocates of a broadcaster driven PVR solution, as they see effective conditional access and middleware as integral to the PVR. NDS stressed the role of the middleware for providing rich presentation of pre-cached push-VOD content.

Osmosys on the other hand advocated PVR functionality which will be available as part of the MHP standard. This would allow for a consumer electronics device to be independent of a particular platform but still allow for rich functionality. This could include the creation of virtual channels sourced from the PVR hard disk based on their metadata, or the ability to allow a viewer to jump back to thematic points such as a particular event within a programme based on metadata broadcast with the video content.

InOutTV, a Spanish company, proposed a further model, in which a PVR branded by a third party, such as a retail brand, who would push advertising to the viewer’s PVR. This would then be presented alongside the broadcast content.

Future Trends
Both software vendors and consumer electronics companies appeared in agreement that as PVRs develop they will offer multiple tuners to allow more concurrent recording and dedicated push-VOD. The inclusion of USB ports will allow recorded content to be transferred to portable devices. Multi-room distribution will also allow a central device to serve content to less fully featured boxes elsewhere in the home.

Much more than a simple video recorder, the PVR, while a threat to existing models of advertiser funded television, also presents intriguing possibilities for new forms and formats, which are only beginning to be explored.

The PVR symposium in Munich was organised by thebrainbehind in conjunction with Siemens.