Monday, May 4, 2009

Internet Paths to the Connected TV

There have been multiple attempts to connect the living room to the Internet - the CES buzz is around Internet-connected TVs is the latest. The consumer's struggle to connect personalized content to the living room flatscreen continues unresolved (we help with those challenges every day at

Let's break down what people really mean when they say they want an "Internet-connected TV" - here are things you can do today by connecting a TV to a PC (or Mac):

  • Watch movies and TV on demand - while still only subscribing to basic cable. With Netflix and other sites (Hulu and Joost plus broadcaster websites to name just a few) offering up hours of video content via your PC for free or as part of a subscription offering you get a taste of true on demand programming that complements your DVR. (And TiVo has figured that out - now partnered with Netflix. And Disney has figured that out - leading the charge getting TV content on to the Internet and now bought into Hulu).
  • Watch any baseball game from anywhere (excluding blackout restrictions) via MLB.TV. I'm a huge Blue Jays fan and moving to California in 2000 meant being cutoff from my team - not anymore. Getting a slimline PC connected to our living room flatscreen was justified by this application alone.
  • Stay connected with the whole story - not just soundbites. The 2008 election cycle really brought politics into the 21st century. It is now possible to watch just about every major speech - in full and in high quality - via YouTube and other websites, plus leave your two cents behind as commentary.
  • Watch and enjoy your personal media (music / movies / photographs) on the flatscreen in your living room. Remember all those media adapters? Applications like turn PCs into Internet media servers.
  • Webcam calls with family and friends - Skype and other applications make it easy turn a webcam into a personal videoconference tool (which is even cooler when connected to a living room flatscreen).
  • And more... (didn't even mention gaming, for example)

The point is you can accomplish all of the above with a single device - the PC (or Mac) - or you can string together a combination of purpose-built devices.

Here's the catch - purpose-built devices, like a TiVo or cablebox or gaming console are very robust because they are purpose-built. They are not open and therefore tend to be less flexible. The latest addition to the purpose-built device realm is the Internet-connected TV (and this is round 2 - remember WebTV which morphed into MSN TV?)

Can you achieve both - flexibility and robustness? The evidence to-date is no. The cost of flexibility is more things break. The constraint of robustness is you better like what you get (because you can't easily change it) - or be prepared to have a bunch of purpose-built devices.

The debate over "is the Internet-connected TV useful?" is over. Internet-connected TVs are very useful. The only question is how to best connect the Internet to the TV - and that will be an interesting debate for years to come.

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