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The rise of the screens

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Digital entertainment on demand is set to disrupt broadcasting, traditional media, telecoms, marketing and more and there’s no going back, writes STEPHEN WATSON, MD of Discover Digital.

Digital entertainment on demand is set to disrupt broadcasting, traditional media, telecoms, marketing and more. There’s no going back. Whether you’re talking streamed linear broadcasting (accessing scheduled TV channels online), VOD (video on demand available online), SVOD (subscription video on demand where subscribers pay monthly to access content from a bouquet), TVOD (transactional video on demand where content is rented per movie or series), hybrid VOD or even EST (electronic sell through, where viewers download content to own it), digital entertainment now gives viewers unprecedented levels of choice, and they like it.

Next-gen entertainment arrives

Internationally, multi-screened entertainment experiences have become mainstream, led predominately by Millennials and Gen Z youth and underpinned by affordable high speed bandwidth. Nielsen reports that globally, 31% each of Generation Z and Millennial respondents pay an online service provider for content, compared with 24% of the older Generation X, 15% of Baby Boomers and 6% of Silent Generation respondents. And 40% of Gen Z and 38% of Millennial respondents who subscribe to cable or satellite say they have plans to cancel their service in favour of an online-only option.

You Tube and other social video platforms paved the way for this and encouraged a culture of short form, shareable user generated content. Whilst this content is not necessarily of premium quality, it nonetheless attracts millions of viewers seeking authentic clips of real-life where the need for an emotional experience can be fulfilled instantly.

In South Africa, You Tube was the first video on demand service to heavily influence viewership habits and in doing so fundamentally changed the way content generated revenues from advertising and subscriptions. Now, the country’s viewers are following international trends by seeking premium digital content customised to their own preferences. As eyeballs turn to new screens, new industry players and marketing professionals are sitting up and paying attention.

The enormous success and meteoric rise of You Tube Stars ranging from Justin Bieber to Caspar Lee and Suzelle DIY and the multitude of ‘Tube Stars’ in between, proved to advertisers that the millions of eyeballs it attracted – often more than traditional TV – could make the on demand industry enormously lucrative, not least amongst the ever changing and fickle high spend influencer youth market.

A further benefit of this success was the emergence of new local filmmakers and celebrities, producing accessible and desirable content that slowly began to change the face of the local industry. Rather than equating a successful launch through the prestige of securing a big screen cinema release, these various platforms showed success and influence was not determined by the size of the screen.

New opportunities, new bedfellows

The field is open for new business, and traditional players and start-ups are moving to capitalise on this new trend. Discover Digital, the longest-standing digital content on-demand company in South Africa, is bringing to market an on-demand content hub offering a broad bouquet of premium local and international entertainment and educational content and linear channels. Discover Digital is taking this new service to market in partnership with mobile operators and big consumer brands that may opt to offer the service as a value add or add their own branding to the service.

The new multi-screen environment presents huge revenue and value-add opportunities for telecoms operators. Pyramid Research noted recently that in Europe, an increasing consumer appetite for on-demand video services presents an opportunity for operators to complement their core portfolio of services and add new revenue streams. The company said that adoption of subscription-based OTT video and video on demand (VOD) services has grown steadily in the UK over the past two years, reaching 37% and 23% of pay-TV users respectively in the second quarter of 2016.

Discover Digital is aggressively entering the African market through partnerships with mobile operators, aiming to take fully converged linear on-demand news and entertainment streaming services to viewers across the continent.

But Discover Digital is not alone in pioneering the possibilities for on-demand content. Netflix and Showmax are making inroads in South Africa and across the continent. Naspers is reported to be seeking partnerships with mobile network operators across sub-Saharan Africa to boost Showmax. The company has already concluded a partnership with Safaricom in Kenya and says talks are underway with other telcos. MTN Nigeria recently announced its converged OTT VOD service for subscribers, while Ericsson is actively securing content deals for its Nuvu VOD service, which it is taking to Africa in partnership with mobile operators.

There are opportunities for smaller, niche players to enter the market too. Pride TV, a VOD channel for Africa’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, recently announced its launch.

VOD is set to create new bedfellows as content specialists, software firms, telcos, media companies and big brands partner to tap into the potential. Even the hospitality sector is seeing the potential for VOD services.

In the world of sport, Rider Research reports that 2016 was the year live sports went over the top, with mainstream live sports coverage moving from TV to the internet. Rider cited a Consumer Technology Association study as saying a third of sports fans now want to watch sports programming on their cellphones and tablets. In South Africa another brand-VOD service partnership saw Discover Digital breaking traditional moulds for sports event coverage, with a simultaneous live stream of the SuperGP Championship to the SuperGP website and the organisation’s Facebook page, presenting new options for web page branding, advertising sales and monetising of archived content.

Behind the scenes

While the world of VOD presents heady new business opportunities, on-demand digital is not a goldmine in Africa – yet.

Start-up costs in this space could be prohibitive for would-be on-demand service providers, and newcomers must seek mutually beneficial partners and new business approaches to make the business viable. Content licensing and screening rights issues can hamper content offerings, while issues such as technical quality, payment gateways and recommendation engines must also be addressed. And these investments must be made ahead of mass adoption when economies of scale are achieved.

VOD is definitely having an impact on audiences but unfortunately this remains limited to the high LSM, high spend end of the market and therefore is still relatively small. It means the ability to generate revenue in the short term through subscriptions is extremely limited and therefore high-cost VOD businesses are running, and will continue to run, at a loss for several years.

Because of the enormous expense of content rights, marketing and technical development, and the slow uptake of services, VOD is most certainly a long term business strategy and so one needs to be able to remain sustainable for a lengthy period before beginning to turn a profit. The casualties in this industry to date – The Node and Vidi (Altec and Times Media respectively) – have also shown that big listed companies don’t necessarily have the stomach or dedicated financial resources to stay in the game and so success in the VOD space heavily relies on being nimble, cost efficient, remaining dedicated to your cause and really to think out the box in terms of long term sustainable business strategies. Those that do will strive and thrive.

The emphasis is on long term. South Africans tend to resist new technologies initially – not trusting elements like e-commerce, recurring subscriptions and feeling uncomfortable taking their viewing experience into their own control and away from scheduled linear TV.

But like all major digital trends, once the benefits are clearly understood, South Africans will begin to take up paid- for on-demand services in greater quantities and I believe this will then start to significantly shift broadcast ad budgets and spend.

Viewing trends

Early adopters are giving VOD firms some idea of the viewing trends to expect in future. In terms of storytelling and content we are seeing at the top end of the market the usual mainstream genres – one-hour dramas, half hour comedies, reality, soaps, documentary and movies.  However, we are seeing a growth in short form content too. Webisodes, skits to educational ‘how to’ videos are proving popular across a continent where mobile is the overwhelmingly dominant device and data access is expensive and/or limited.

Short form content is giving legs to a great variety of content for all members of the family and the way content is packaged and offered is changing.  Audiences no longer want to be prescribed extensive, expensive bouquets of channels that they may only watch a small percentage of, or that overwhelmingly do not speak to their interests; they want to be able to choose and so smaller packs of niche focused content or channels are becoming more readily available. Where some services will offer niche packs of programming as part of a general content offering, other services will launch an entire service aimed solely at a specific market.  We will see more of these services and offers emerging and again this will have benefit to advertisers because brands can align themselves far more strategically with their target markets.

Branding benefits

Not only does the VOD revolution present room for advertisers to attract a multitude of eyeballs and click throughs, but it also brings the opportunity for brands to sponsor select content packages and specific titles on the service – and in doing so make use of the characters and film studio creative collateral without incurring any licensing costs. This makes the space enormously exciting and racked with potential for advertisers to offer their clients bespoke money can’t buy experiences for their customers.

Advertisers also benefit from the most sought after campaign result – attaining individual relationships and granular knowledge about their specific customers – who they are, their behaviour and habits, and their demographics. This is all information not available via traditional television advertising. Cost of sales and acquisitions become clearly defined and the richness of the results ensures effective targeted future campaigns rather than wastage through broad market spray and pray approaches.

Viewers today want freedom of choice. They want customisable, affordable access to movies, news, sports, music and TV series wherever they are. Disruptive new models are breaking the traditional broadcast and pay-TV moulds by letting viewers choose what packages and genres they want, what subscription models they prefer, and even how they’d like to pay. VOD delivers.

 

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Acer gaming beast escapes

Acer this week unveiled two notebooks that take portable gaming to new extremes.

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Acer  unveiled two new Predator Helios gaming notebooks this week at the next@acer global press conference in New York. They include the powerful Predator Helios 500, featuring up to 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors, and the Predator Helios 300 Special Edition that includes upgraded specs from its predecessor and a distinctive white chassis. Both feature VR-Ready performance, advanced thermal technologies, and blazing-fast connectivity.

“We’ve expanded our Predator Helios gaming notebook line in response to popular demand from gamers seeking extreme performance on the go,” said Jerry Kao, President of IT Products Business, Acer. “The Predator Helios 500 and Helios 300 gaming notebooks feature Acer’s proprietary thermal technologies and powerful components that, coupled with our award-winning software, deliver unparalleled gaming experiences.”

“The 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processor for gaming and creation laptops is the highest performance Intel has ever delivered for this class of devices; purpose built for enthusiasts who demand premium gaming experiences whether at home or on the go,” said Steve Long, Vice President and General Manager, Client Computing Group Sales and Marketing, Intel. “Intel and Acer’s long relationship has produced amazing products over the years, and the new Acer Predator Helios gaming notebooks are powerful examples of what’s possible with this unprecedented level of performance.”

Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast featuring overclocking, 4K 144 Hz panels

Designed for extreme gamers, the Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast. It features up to overclockable 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors and overclockable GeForce GTX 1070 graphics. Intel Optane memory increases responsiveness and load times, while ultra-fast NVMePCIe SSDs, Killer DoubleShot Pro networking, and up to 64GB of memory keep the action going, making the Helios 500 the ideal gaming notebook for graphic-intensive AAA titles and live streaming.

Top-notch visuals are delivered on bright, vibrant 4K UHD or FHD IPS 17.3-inch displays with 144Hz refresh rates for blur- and tear-free gameplay. NVIDIA G-SYNC technology is supported on both the built-in display and external monitors, allowing for buttery-smooth imagery without tearing or stuttering. For those looking for maximum gaming immersion, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, and display and HDMI 2.0 ports support up to three external monitors. Two speakers, a subwoofer, and Acer TrueHarmony and Waves MAXXAudio technology deliver incredible sound and hyper-realistic 3D audio using Waves Nx.

The Helios 500 stays cool with two of Acer’s proprietary AeroBlade 3D metal fans, and five heat pipes that distribute cool air to the machine’s key components while simultaneously releasing hot air. Fan speed can be controlled and customized through the PredatorSense app.

A backlit RGB keyboard offers four lighting zones with support for up to 16.8 million colors. Anti-ghosting technology provides the ultimate control for executing complex commands and combos, which can be set up via five dedicated programmable keys.

Acer’s PredatorSense app can be used to control and monitor the notebook’s vitals from one central interface, including overclocking, lighting, hotkeys, temperature, and fan control.

Predator Helios 300 Special Edition brings a sophisticated design twist to gaming notebooks

Acer’s budget-friendly Helios 300 gaming line sees the addition of a Special Edition model featuring an all-white aluminum chassis accented with gold trim, an unusually chic design for gaming notebooks.

The Helios 300 Special Edition (PH315-51) allows for ultra-smooth gameplay via its 15.6-inch FHD IPS display with an upgraded 144Hz refresh rate. The rapid refresh rate shortens frame rendering time and lowers input lag to give gamers an excellent in-game experience. It’s powered by up to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7+ processor, overclockable GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, up to a 512 GB PCIe Gen 3 NVMe solid state drive, and up to a 2 TB hard disk drive.

The Helios 300 Special Edition also comes equipped with up to 16 GB of DDR4 memory, and is upgradable to 32GB. Intel Optane memory speeds up load times of games and applications, access to information and improves overall system responsiveness. In addition, Gigabit Ethernet provides fast wired connections, while Gigabit Wi-Fi is provided by the latest Intel Wireless-AC 9560 that delivers up to 1.73Gbps throughput when using 160 MHz channels (2×2 802.11ac, dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz).

The Helios 300 Special Edition also includes two of Acer’s ultrathin (0.1 mm) all-metal AeroBlade 3D fans designed with advanced aerodynamics and superior airflow to keep the system cool. They can be controlled with Acer’s PredatorSense app, which offers three usage modes:

1. Coolboost mode:

For heavy loading games, rendering, streaming, and extended video consumption

2. Normal mode:

For productivity tools like Microsoft Office

3. Silent mode:

For web browsing and online chatting

Price and Availability

Predator Helios 500 will be available in South Africa in June starting at R34 999.00

Helios 300 Special Edition will be available in South Africa in August 2018. Exact Price will be communicated closer to the time.

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LG G7 arrives in SA

LG this week introduced South Africa to its latest premium smartphone, the LG G7 ThinQ, focused on bringing useful and convenient AI features to the smartphone experience.

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Powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform, the LG G7 ThinQ offers 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage to run demanding tasks and apps with. It is equipped with a 6.1-inch Super Bright Display, but the LG G7 ThinQ remains compact enough to use with one hand.

Sporting a new design aesthetic for the G series, the polished metal rim gives the LG G7 ThinQ a sleeker, more refined look, complemented by Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and the back for enhanced durability. Rated IP68 for dust and water resistance, the LG G7 ThinQ is also awarded MIL-STD 810 c certification, having been subjected to a range of extreme temperature and environment tests designed by the United States military.

The LG G7 ThinQ has an 8MP camera up front, rendering clear and natural selfies, with two 16MP cameras at the back that deliver higher resolution photos with more detail, as well as a Super Wide Angle configuration.

As with other leading brands, LG has evolved its signature camera by including AI functionality. The AI CAM offers 19 shooting modes for intelligence-optimised shots. Users can also improve their photos by choosing from an additional three effect options should the AI CAM recommendation not suit their taste.

The new Super Bright Camera captures images that are up to four times brighter than typical photos shot in dim light. Through the combination of pixel binning and software processing, the AI algorithm adjusts the camera settings automatically when shooting in low light.

Live Photo Mode records one second before and after the shutter is pressed for snippets of unexpected moments or expressions that would normally be missed. Stickers uses face recognition to generate fun 2D and 3D overlays, such as sunglasses and headbands, that can be viewed directly on the display.

New to the G series is Portrait Mode, which generates professional-looking shots with out-of-focus backgrounds. This effect can be generated using both front and rear standard lenses as well as the rear Super Wide Angle lens.

LG G7 ThinQ offers further AI functionality with the inclusion of Google Lens features. Google Lens is a new way to search using the AI and computer vision. Google Assistant and Google Photos allow users to access more information on objects such as landmarks, plants, animals, and books. It can identify text or visit websites, add business cards to contacts, events to the calendar or look up an item on a restaurant menu.

A button just below the volume keys launches the AI functionality. A single tap of this button launches the Google Assistant, while two quick taps launches Google Lens. Users can also hold down the button to start talking to the Google Assistant without the repetition of the OK Google command.

With Super Far Field Voice Recognition (SFFVR) and the highly-sensitive G7ThinQ microphone, the Google Assistant can recognise voice commands from up to five meters away. SFFVR is able to separate commands from background noise, making the LG G7 ThinQ an alternative to a home AI speaker, even when the TV is on. Commands for the Google Assistant have been increased in the LG G7 ThinQ so users can get more done with their voice alone.

“The LG G7 ThinQ is strongly focused on the fundamentals and its launch marks a new chapter for our company,” said Deon Prinsloo, General Manager for Mobile Communication, LG Electronics S.A Pty Ltd. “Through the combination of personalised and useful AI functionalities with meaningful smartphone features, this is LG’s most convenient and in the moment smartphone yet.”

Key Specifications

  • Mobile Platform: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform
  • Display: 6.1-inch QHD+ 19.5:9 FullVision Super Bright Display (3120 x 1440 / 564ppi)
  • Memory:
    • LG G7 ThinQ: 4GB LPDDR4x RAM / 64GB UFS 2.1 ROM / MicroSD (up to 2TB)
  • Camera:
    • Rear Dual: 16MP Super Wide Angle (F1.9 / 107°) / 16MP Standard Angle (F1.6 / 71°)
    • Front: 8MP Wide Angle (F1.9 / 80°)
  • Battery: 3000mAh
  • OS: Android 8.0 Oreo
  • Size: 153.2 x 71.9 x 7.9mm
  • Weight: 162g
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n, ac / Bluetooth 5.0 BLE / NFC / USB Type-C 2.0 (3.1 compatible)
  • Colours: New Aurora Black
  • Others: Super Bright Display / New Second Screen / AI CAM / Super Bright Camera / Super Far Field Voice Recognition / Boombox Speaker / Google Lens / AI Haptic / Hi-Fi Quad DAC / DTS:X 3D Surround Sound / IP68 Water and Dust Resistance / HDR10 / Google Assistant Key / Face Recognition / Fingerprint Sensor / Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Technology / Wireless Charging / MIL-STD 810G Compliant / FM Radio
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