TV, meet the Internet

A lot of news is coming out of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show about the convergence of the Internet and TV. I so totally called it. But you’d have to be an imbecile who’s been living underground on a deserted island in the middle of the South Pacific not to know this was coming. Then again, Hollywood has been acting like that for years.

A smattering of the big-media coverage (with accompanying snark on its not infrequent cluelessness):

From Reuters:

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Walt Disney Co on Thursday threw its weight behind a new Intel chip that lets TV viewers interact with their favorite programs, underscoring a continuing effort to merge computers and media.

How much “effort” is really needed? It’s not like this is a technological issue — it’s a matter of corporate stonewalling. Broadband speeds way faster than anything we enjoy on a widespread scale in the U.S. are available in Europe (and for less than what we pay for slower access). And today’s LCD TVs are basically big computer monitors, anyway. The user interface would need some work, but it’s hardly an impossible mountain to climb, more like a gently rolling hill.

And ABC may also develop an application specifically for the series finale of “Lost” next year that could heighten the audience’s involvement, say, providing clues to the plot.

This is what the future of Internet TV will be (in part). Where now digital cable users click on the Info button on our remotes to find out what we’re watching, soon we’ll point the cursor at that guy playing the cop whose name we can’t remember, and his IMDB page will pop cup. We’ll point at the leading lady’s blouse, and a shopping link will pop up. And yeah, we’ll interact in real time while an episode is “airing” (which will one day be a weird synonym for “streaming” that kids born 10 years from now won’t understand where it came from) with other viewers and speculate whether it’s Kate or Sawyer who’ll die by episode’s end.

From Businessweek:

Once again, Yahoo (YHOO) hopes to blaze trails, this time in bringing Internet content to TV. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the company announced a range of televisions and related products loaded with software—developed by Yahoo and Intel (INTC)—that would let users call up popular Web pages and tools right alongside programs they’re watching on TV. Intel and Yahoo first demonstrated the technology, called TV Widgets, in August, but elaborated on it at CES, where they named hardware partners and a host of TV-friendly sites and other tools.

Many consumers of online social media regularly find themselves in front of the TV, laptop flipped open, responding to e-mails, updating social network profiles, or finishing work or studies. Done right, TV Widgets would help users handle multitasking with greater elan.

Well, that’s me, for certain. In fact, it’s an oddity when I sit in front of the TV and do nothing else at all (well, except eat Chinese food and/or drink wine). But I don’t think about it as “multitasking.” It’s just, you know… living.

Users will get scaled down versions of popular Web pages and applications rather than full-blown sites. “Vendors need to remember that TVs are not PCs, and consumers are not looking for the same type of information on a TV screen that they get when they are connected to a computer or smart phone,” says Michael Gartenberg, vice president of mobile strategy at technology researcher Jupitermedia (JUPM).

Mmmmm… I’m not so sure about that. TVs aren’t PCs, but hobbling the Net just because someone is accessing it over their TV doesn’t really seem like a smart move.

From The Los Angeles Times:

Granted, the sets typically limit consumers to a “walled garden” of sites chosen by the manufacturer.

Yeah, that’s what I mean. That makes about as much sense as offering a computer that can only access AOL. Our parents and grandparents might like that, but everyone else is going to laugh it off the playground.

Online video sites such as Hulu are already aggregating popular broadcast and cable TV programs, which they deliver mainly to computer screens. Once the average living-room TV can tune in those sites as easily as NBC or Comedy Central, viewers may be hard-pressed to justify paying $80 a month for the few shows or networks they can’t stream for free from the Net. And cable and satellite operators may find themselves having to cut rates after having increased them steadily for years.

And there’s the nub of the matter, the thing about the “effort” the convergence is requiring. Everyone’s afraid of new competition. And they’re not wrong to be afraid. The automobile put stableboys out of business. The telephone put telegraph operators out of business. And the Internet is going to put the network out of business… but only as a delivery service. The networks will become Web sites, brands that are only about the programming, not how the programming gets to you.

The cable and satellite operators? Well, they may well go the way of telegraph operators. Dem’s the breaks. Or maybe they could actually offer some real competition regarding Internet access.

From The New York Times:

there is a darker side, too, for the companies that make the devices. If the most exciting thing about your phone or truck or TV is the Web sites you go to and the software applications you download, then the device itself is less important.


Of course, that’s the case now, too, when it comes to TVs. Once a certain bare minimum is reached regarding sound and picture quality — and we’re beyond that bare minimum now — then it’s all about the programming we receive on the TV. Maybe they’re be a difference between TVs the way there are between Macs and PCs — one for people who just want to get their work done, and one for tinkerers — but the point is going to be, I want to download/stream the latest episode of ‘Doctor Who’, not, I want to use my Sony brand televisual Interneter connector to divert myself for a few hours.

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