It was way back in 1995 that the US start-up WebTV first began promoting its idea for a web-connected television experience. It probably wasn’t the first, and it certainly hasn’t been the last. But 15 years later, for most people their Internet and their TV set remain sadly isolated. There have been some attempts to bring them together, such as Microsoft’s Media Centre and Apple TV, and recent hook-ups such as Foxtel’s deal with Microsoft’s Xbox. Intel also had a run at it with its Viiv technology. But nothing has achieved broad consumer uptake, and the television remains mostly used for what it was originally intended for.
The latest annoucements from Google and Sony will also take a while to have an impact, but should lead to some interesting developments, and potentially a slew of similar announcements from rivals. The two companies have teamed up to create a series of entertainment products based on Google’s Android technology and Chrome browser. Viewers will be able to use the devices to access all of their regular TV channels as well as web content and applications. The Sony Internet TV will be the first device to incorporate the Google TV technology, and is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2010.
Internet telephony and video-conferencing service Skype is also reshaping what we do with our TVs by also partnering up to launch a series of Skype-enabled televisions that will enable people to make video calls from their couch. LG, Samsung and Panasonic already have models in the marketplace. The ‘movie of the week’ has already succumbed to changing media trends – perhaps in the future its replacement will be the Sunday night high-definition videoconference with the relatives overseas?
Entertainment is one of the industries that has been most impacted by the advent of digital technologies, and that impact will only increase as broadband connections become faster, and fast connections become more ubiquitous. Choice for consumers has already exploded in terms of the number of media services they can access through the web, leading to audience fragmentation. When sites such as YouTube and Vimeo make the leap from the small screen to the lounge room TV, that fragmentation will accelerate rapidly, leading to an ‘interesting’ future for traditional media owners, and advertisers.
It will take some time for these new devices to get out into users hands, but it may not be too long before watching scheduled programming is just one of the many things that we do with our televisions.