• Why Apple or Anyone Needs to Disrupt the Boring World of TV Technology

    Internet connected televisions suck. No two ways around it. Their interfaces are slow, poorly designed and hampered by allegiances to the antiquated satellite and cable television industries.

    Today The New York Times published an article exploring the lack of television applications, let alone well made ones. While there are number of companies attempting to fill the void like Hulu, Netflix, Vudu, and others, they still are beholden to the networks, studios, and cable providers. Apps like ESPN 360 on the Xbox 360, and the different sports league apps on set-top boxes, mimic their cable counterparts, and often act as complements to traditional TV viewing instead of stand-alone solutions.

    The NYT interviewed numerous network execs that realize the future of television will be based in app-like environment. However, most of these execs offered their views under the safety of anonymity fearing their comments would disturb their cable and satellite partners. The a la carte future many describe, where the consumer chooses what channels or apps they want to pay for instead of purchasing bundles, won’t be met without resistance from both network executives and consumers according to analysts.

    “But many analysts caution against predicting the near-term demise of cable and satellite delivery, pointing out that the spending and viewing habits of consumers are also firmly entrenched.

    “The model we have is the model we have, and while it’s tempting to imagine an app for TNT and an app for ESPN, that’s not the likely outcome,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. À la carte apps might seem like a bright idea, Mr. Moffett said, but it is unlikely consumers would pay $20 a month for individual channels when the traditional cable bundle provides a bargain price.” — NYT
    While this is a great point that any disruptive technology is usually meant with resistance, the executives fail to envision a truly revolutionary model for content consumption. The current business models prevent innovation in the television experience. Tablets and smartphones have changed the way we consume content and interact with our mobile devices. The remote control, and cable television user interface feels ancient by comparison.

    Even if consumers and content suppliers are satisfied with current “business” models, the way content is delivered and interacted with needs improvement. Television technology itself has been on a race to the bottom price wise for the last 10 years. Every single innovation has been along the lines of image quality, and appearance (thinness and screen size) of television sets. There hasn’t been a single television maker to release a television set with an SDK, or capabilities outside of support for a few apps at the manufacturer’s discretion. Consumers don’t get excited over 1080p, LED, LCD, True Motion, OLED, or any other tech-marketing buzzword any more. The anti-success of 3D solidified that.

    This is where Apple’s entry into the television arena could propagate a fundamental shift within the industry. Apple has the operating system, dedicated following, and most importantly money to produce televisions that change the way viewers interact and consume their content. Apple doesn’t need to upend the industry in one fell swoop by changing the way consumers pay for the content, thus changing the way distributors make money. The movie studios, cable providers, and satellite providers are a completely different beast than the recording industry. All apple needs to do is change consumers expectations of what the viewing experience should entail.

    Why hasn’t there been a television that allows users to simultaneously look up IMDB information watching a movie? Why can't I look at a Rotten Tomatoes score and reviews while scrolling through the viewing guide? Why is the remote control still a remote control? Sony tried to have live-chats with Blu-ray and make the viewing experience more interactive, but the implementation was clunky and all but abandoned by studios and consumers. In an networked society that is obsessed with social tech why is the television viewing experience anything but? Sony again tried it with their PSN home, but not enough people own PS3’s, and who wants to go to a virtual movie theatre, this isn’t Second Life.

    Television operating systems need to exist. But, the cable providers, and satellite providers want control over the viewing experience, even if it’s detrimental to their bottom line. There are a ton of technical hurdles, and the implementation would be rough no question, but there is so much information broadcast to our television sets and hardly any of it is utilized in a truly engaging fashion. You can’t tell me that the service providers have the best ideas on how consumers should interact with and consume content.

    Open up set-top boxes like Roku, and Apple TV, and OS-based television sets (if they ever exist) to developers. The executives can still distribute the content, but let developers do what they do best when given a new medium with which to play.

    Hopefully Apple or someone does something to change consumer expectations and forces the rest of the industry to reevaluate what television should be.

    Source: NYT
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