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The technology that is changing TV

Streaming services like Netflix begin to alter what TV manufacturers are expected to provide in their latest models, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Last week, a small earthquake shook the cosy world of TV manufacturers. It is an industry that is often seen as being in lockstep, with similar major advances in technology announced almost simultaneously by market leaders every year.

The latest technology in high-end smart TVs is usually unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January every year. However, these are several generations ahead of what is selling in stores. The initial cost of a new machine is high, but falls fast as production volume increases and cost of new components comes down.

Now, suddenly, the industry has been caught napping. Global video-on-demand market leader Netflix has issued a list of recommended smart TVs “that provide the best performance and are the easiest to use for Netflix”. And, it adds, for “other streaming services”. Only three manufacturers make the cut: Samsung, Sony and Panasonic.

Not that the rest are technologically backward, but rather that in their single-minded focus on the latest display technology, their integration of streaming services is not seamless. The criteria are simple, yet rare. Aside from several Netflix-specific features, a Netflix recommendation requires:

  • TV Instant On: TV wakes up instantly and remembers where you were. Apps are ready to use right away.
  • Fast App Launch: Whether you’ve just turned on the TV, or switched from a different app, an app always opens quickly.
  • Always Fresh: The TV updates in the background, while the TV is “sleeping”, so the latest content is always displayed when an app is opened.

The Netflix Recommended TVs are:

  • Samsung Q60R/Q70R/Q80R/Q90R/Q900R series, RU8000, The Serif and The Frame devices
  • Sony BRAVIA X85G/X90G series and A9G series
  • Panasonic VIERA GX700/GX800/GX900 series

Other manufacturers can be forgiven for missing these tricks. For most, the innovation flavour of the moment is 8K display, which offers double the resolution of the previous high-end, known as 4K, which itself offers twice the resolution of regular high-definition (HD) TV.

Where HD has 1920 horizontal lines down the TV screen, 4K has 3840, and 8K 7680 lines. When multiplied by vertical lines – HD at 1080, 4k at 2160 and 8K at 4320 – one sees an exponential increase in the number of pixels. These light elements that make up the picture leap from 2-million in HD to 33-million in 8K.

However, very little content is ready for it. TV manufacturers are demonstrating their ability to lead in technology, rather than in content. The flip side of the argument is that the new cutting edge technology announced today will be mainstream technology three years from now.

In other words, when Samsung announced recently that it’s new QLED 4K and 8K TV models – the latter with price tags of R77,000 upward – were available at select retailers in South Africa, it wasn’t mere hype. Last week, Samsung Electronics Africa CEO and president Sung Yoon told Business Times that several dozen of the 8K units had already been sold in South Africa.

Budget-priced 8K can be expected in South Africa as early as next year, with both HiSense and Skyworth entering the fray.

At its recent Global Press Conference in Andalusia, Spain, organisers of the annual IFA tech fest in Berlin gave the media a sneak preview of what to expect at the event in September. Top of the list was 8K TV.

Hisense showcased a 75-inch 8K TV that will launch in China this year, and is likely to come to South Africa next year. Skyworth showcased 8K via German TV brand Metz, which it acquired last year. The company offers a “premium-affordable” sub-brand called Metz Blue, which will be its showcase for 8K TV, meaning it will reach the mass market quickly.

Smart TVs spell the demise of set-top boxes like the DStv Explora, since most of the programming functionality is built into the TV itself. Internationally, streaming devices have replaced decoders, as they allow for extensive functionality that may not yet be available in the TV sets themselves. The big names, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire Stick, and Google’s Chromecast, all complete with market leader Roku.

Global market intelligence firm Strategy Analytics announced on Wednesday that Roku accounted for almost a third of US sales of connected TV devices in the first quarter of this year.

Of these, only Apple TV is readily available in South Africa, sold mainly through the iStore chain. However, an innovative service called FutureTV has brought Roku into the country, built its own software into the system, and bundled it with an Internet router that masks users’ location, and allows them to subscribe to international services, as well as viewing free channels that are locked to specific geographic locations around the world.

“We’ve been in the streaming industry for ten years, and we know what services are available worldwide and how to make them happen in South Africa,” founder Steve Cohen told Business Times this week.

FutureTV also sends content in the other direction. It creates bespoke channels via the Roku device for distribution internationally. Its channel for the CNBC Africa show Cryptotrader has more than 50,000 subscribers, mainly in the USA.

This month, it launched a channel called Whats New, which it claims is the world’s first on-demand television streaming guide, offering viewers “a comprehensive guide to the top-rated series, movies and music available for streaming on your television”.

Cohen said he developed the channel out of the frustration of “having limited time, yet so much to watch, and not being able to recall which show is where”. The problem, he says, “will just escalate over time as more streaming channels become available”.

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Stop being creepy! An essential guide for digital marketers

Advertising and marketing is becoming increasingly creepy as personalisation strategies lose the plot, writes JOAN OSTERLOH, authorised Forrester Research Partner for South Africa.

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Marketers need to be aware of the “creep factor” when deploying strategies of personalisation and individualisation in their marketing efforts, Forrester’s Brendan Witcher, VP and principal analyst serving eBusiness and channel strategy professionals, warned as early as December 2017.

Six months later, Forrester senior analyst Susan Bidel was even more direct in her message: “Marketers, you need to take control of your advertising strategies and adtech stacks now to better address today’s consumers.” She cautioned that those who didn’t, were at a high risk of annoying and creeping out the very customers needed for business growth.

In its latest research, “Marketers Versus Customers: Opposing Forces  Erupt” Forrester now finds that even though marketers set out with the best intentions to implement customer-obsessed marketing and customer experience strategies, they still end up alienating and ‘creeping out’ customers, resulting in lost loyalty.

Marketers use personalisation to make their marketing more relevant and to help it stand out, Forrester says in a blog on the study. The irony is that with all the customer data that marketers use to personalise, the one thing they seem to have forgotten to find out from consumers is whether they even want personalised communication at all, the firm writes. Combined with identity resolution and increased automation, companies have created adtech and martech stacks that are creeping people out. We think our phones are listening to us. And then Facebook admits it is doing this. So, what’s gone wrong?

The report by Melissa Parrish, Forrester’s VP and group director serving marketing professionals, highlights that marketers are ignoring their customers’ desire for anonymity, by assuming that they all want personalised experiences. They are foregoing the authenticity of their own brands by “giving lip service to brand values they think resonate with customers.” There’s an overt focus on martech at the expense of human creativity. Lastly, they’re profiling customers on precarious connections and getting it wrong, sometimes with harmful and even traumatic results, she explains.

The solution is to return to true customer-centricity by going back to basics by looking at the following, Parrish writes in the report:

  1. Remember that customers are different.  Here it’s not about customer segments or personas, but rather the extent to which they expect you to know them. Treat customers and prospects differently – e.g. prospects “want value, not a background check”.
  2. Customers are tired of lookalike ads and direct mail that is poorly personalised, trying to get them to buy things for which they’re not even in the market.  Choose your target audience, focus on them, and then let go of the others.
  3. Programmatic marketing has its upsides and downsides.  Avoid the two extremes of advertising at scale across multiple channels on the one hand and limiting advertising to channels where everyone seems to be at once, such as Facebook, on the other.  Instead, target your audience with responsible content and choose platforms on which you can reach them online and offline.
  4. Consider whether you should be using cookie, key-stroke and audience data at all for your brand.  Intent-based target marketing through search optimization might be a smarter choice.
  5. Don’t assume that personalisation will make customer experiences more relevant.  Rather interview your customers and test different variations of personalised content to find the right balance between information, recommendations, simplicity and empathy.
  6. Don’t ignore the 20% who don’t want any personalisation at all – use your customer insights data to identify them, and then meet their expectation of no personalisation.

Parrish offers important recommendations for the winning marketers of the future. Since the success of marketing is measured by the bottom line of revenue generation, truly customer-obsessed marketers need KPIs that are “fine-tuned” to understand what customers value, not what’s valuable to the brand, she writes. What customers want and value should be defined in terms of four dimensions along the axes of functional-experiential, and economic-symbolic.  Then, measure the dimensions along the entire customer life cycle, she explains. What this requires is the following:

Firstly, marketing and Customer Experience (CX) teams need to unify and leverage one another’s unique skills to deliver best-in-class customer experiences that drive loyalty, customer retention and growth.  Truly customer-obsessed brands will bring CX and marketing together to harness the best that both have to offer.

Secondly, brands need to rebuild trust.  As consumers become more privacy-savvy, they will become more selective about the brands with which they are willing to share their data.  Marketers need to develop ‘Privacy Personas’ as a new marketing segment to ensure that they deliver experiences their customers are comfortable with.

Thirdly, refocus on creative excellence. In Parrish’s words “new prospecting strategies will center on great creative making an emotional impact and contextual targeting driving relevance.”

Lastly marketers need to find ways to extend customer obsession throughout the enterprise. Employees need to be empowered to deliver on the brand promise, which must align to and be in harmony with CX.   The companies that thrive will be those whose CX truly reflects brand values, Parrish concludes.  

Sources: “Marketers Versus Customers: Opposing Forces  Erupt18 Sept 2019. By Melissa Parrish with Sharyn Leaver, Brigitte Majewski, Caroline Robertson, and Stephanie Liu.

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Which should you use: PIN or Password?

By CHAD HAMMOND, a digital security expert at NordPass

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As users of this digital age, we have many different choices. You can enable or disable web cookies, depending on how much information you want a website to gather about you. You can use encrypted services or unencrypted ones, depending on how much you’re concerned about your privacy and security.

You can also use a PIN (Personal Identification Number) or password to secure your digital devices or online accounts. However, in this particular case, the choice for most of us is not as straightforward as it seems.

The other day I also had the very same discussion among my friends with three different sides of opinion. One side was backing PINs and claiming that they are safer than passwords. Others couldn’t believe that PINs made up of four, six, or eight digits can be more reliable than long and complex passwords. And the third group was claiming that both PIN and password serve the same purpose of identification and are safe to use. All sides had valuable insights, but we couldn’t reach an agreement. Sparked by this discussion, I decided to look deeper into this topic and look for the truth.

When should you use a PIN?

PIN stands for a Personal Information Number and is used the same as a password to prove that you have the right to access your data. A PIN usually consists of a string of four to eight numbers, and it was first introduced in the 1960s together with cash machines (ATMs). The obvious drawback is that a PIN is limited to 0-9 numerical digits. A PIN made up of four numbers offers 10,000 possible combinations. That may seem like an easy nut to crack, but it’s not as straightforward.

PINs are normally used on touchscreen devices and always require manual data entry. An automated brute-force attack may not work as most of the systems that use a PIN also specify maximum attempts count before disabling the device.

For example, if your device limits PIN entry to six attempts, there is a 0.06% chance that someone will be lucky enough to crack the four-digit code. Of course, if your PIN is ‘0000’ or ‘1234,’ the probability of being hacked increases massively.

When should you use a password?

A good password is a combination of numerical digits, upper- and lowercase letters, and various special characters. It could also be a phrase made up of words with the same requirements. Like the PIN, the password concept first appeared in the early 1960s and has been used ever since. A 10-character password has 59,873,693,923,837,900,000 different variations, and most of you are probably thinking you know which of the two is more secure. However, it’s not all about mathematics.

Passwords are used online or for devices like computers, which usually don’t have any limits on failed attempts. That’s why passwords can be compromised with the help of an automated brute-force attack. Of course, not all attacks are practical, as most of them would take years to crack a strong password. Buthacking technologies are evolving fast, making such attacks more sophisticated and successful.

Password vs. PIN: the verdict

Going back to the discussion that I had with my friends, we can safely say that all the opinions were correct in one way or another. The answer to this question depends on where you use your PIN or password.

If you want to unlock your touchscreen device, the safest and easiest way is to use a PIN because of the manual entry and the attempt limit. When it comes to online accounts or computers, passwords are much safer due to the simple math of available combinations.

Also, you can enable multi-factor authentication (2FA) in most online accounts . The 2FA adds another layer of safety, minimizing the risks of automated brute-force attacks. Even if someone manages to get your strong password, they won’t be able to access your account, as the second step of verification will stop them.

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