At last June's D8 Conference, Steve Jobs made some astute remarks about the TV industry's seemingly insurmountable roadblocks to innovation. Critics and fans alike posited that Jobs was posing as a decoy, while Apple geared up for a sneak attack into the TV space.
"The problem with innovation in the TV industry is the go-to-market strategy," he said. "The TV industry has a subsidized model that gives everyone a set top box for free. So no one wants to buy a box. Ask TiVo, ask Roku, ask us... ask Google in a few months.
"So all you can do is ADD a box to the TV. You just end up with a table full of remotes, a cluster of boxes... and that's what we have today.
"The only way that's going to change is if you tear up the set top box, give it a new UI, and get it in front of consumers in a way they're going to want it. The TV is going to lose in our eyes until there is a better go-to-market strategy... otherwise you're just making another TiVo."
Now, let's fast-forward nine months later, to March 2011.
First, in a little-noted PR release, a Tampa Bay-based company, Savtira Corporation, announced that it had reached an agreement to provide set-top boxes to America's Center, an IPTV provider to small to mid-market residences. A revolutionary attribute of the Savtira set-top box reportedly will be its ability to provide subscribers with access to Savtira's new cloud-based video game library, e-commerce platform and Entertainment Distribution Network (EDN). Further substantiated by a release yesterday concerning Savtira's alignment with Juniper Networks, Savtira imagines a world where set-top boxes compete directly with game consoles and personal computers, once again reigning supreme over the clutter of boxes vying for the scraps of a TV's limited inputs:
"All types of software and digital media (business applications, games, music, movies, audio/ebooks) are available to consumers on a rental or subscription basis. Not only is no download or installation necessary, but consumers will also have the ability to seamlessly switch between devices, pausing media on one device and resuming it on another as all data, state and configuration is stored within the cloud."
Then, last week, 4G penetration gained further momentum, as AT&T announced its T-Mobile acquisition plans. 4G poses the first real wireless threat to traditional cable and satellite delivered TV content; indeed, a 4G-version of a cloud-enabled IPTV box, like the one Savtira has announced, could ultimately decimate corded TV content delivery.
Meanwhile, the air attack continued today, as Amazon announced its intention to enable Cloud Drive, enabling cloud-based music streaming of one's own purchased music library. Almost immediately, insiders opined that video streaming would not be far behind, with music industry and Hollywood already rattling sabers in an effort to stop the rain of music and movies from the Amazon Cloud.
Finally, reports have surfaced this week that Apple's AirPlay -- proprietary technology currently licensed only to connected device makers, to enable streaming audio -- may soon be licensed to "electronics makers" so as to enable streaming video to devices such as web-connected TV's. This would make getting multimedia content from an iPad, iPod, iPhone, and potentially a myriad of other non-Apple devices, directly onto an AirPlay-ready TV set, without needing a Mac, or special input cables.
Based on the ideas of March, Steve Jobs' observations nine months prior appear to have birthed an aerial attack on the TV set. With limited inputs and sorely lacking processing power, today's TVs increasingly seem to be relegated to merely serving as the biggest, but not most important, display in the house, with every new box resembling an electronic remora, seeking to cling to the TV shark, while simultaneously nudging out another weaker and more obsolescent box.
Beyond adding wireless connectivity, and enhanced, passive 3-D viewing characteristics, innovation in TV seems to be, at best, up in the air.