Have you ever wondered what television would be like if invented today, following the proliferation of the personal computer and Internet? Practicalities aside, if given the chance to remove the shackles of TV history, how different would our modern creation be?
Would we create a linear viewing experience like we have today? Or would the interactive nature of the Web drive us in a different direction? Would we be tied to scheduled programming or would we jump directly to on-demand content? Who would create and control the content we'd consume? Would it be a few major providers or a few hundred with far fewer restrictions?
In other words, if given the opportunity to reinvent the television, knowing what we know today, would we even bother? Or would we just evolve our computers, mobile devices and other platforms to deliver the content and experience we want?
Although it may seem a silly exercise, the questions reveal what we as consumers and advertisers would want our television experience to be, regardless of the limitations of today. Knowing our preferred destination makes getting there far easier, while also revealing the experiential gap that must be overcome.
Ever since broadband Internet was made available to the general public, many people (myself included) have been anxiously awaiting the evolved television experience, one that's networked, rich with on-demand content, able to dynamically deliver relevant advertising seamlessly into the viewing experience and, if that's not enough, is available whenever and wherever desired. Clearly, no small feat.
To get to this evolved state requires a three-part solution. One part technological innovation, one part business plan resolution and one part motivation. Surprisingly, the technology part has come far easier than initially expected and has taken many forms over the last few years, such as TiVo and the introduction of time-shifting, Slingbox and place-shifting, and Appletv which brought us the missing computer-to-television link and on-demand access to high-definition content over the Web. Although far from complete solutions, each of these innovations has shown the potential of the evolved TV.
One of the latest entries of interest in this evolutionary path is Boxee, a free software program that provides aggregated access to Web-based video content from a wide variety of providers, including MTV, ABC, BBC, CNN, YouTube and even Netflix, where Boxee can stream movies directly from your "Watch Instantly" playlist. Although Boxee also provides an aggregated view of your local content and can even be installed on an AppleTV device, what's most interesting is the issue that Boxee highlights: the need for simplicity. In order for the evolved television to be successful, it must make accessing content, including Internet-based content, as easy as selecting a channel. Anything significantly more demanding is likely to fail in the long run.
Of course, the technology is not much good if there's no content worth viewing on our evolved TV. The major networks have remained fairly apprehensive about handing over the keys to the content castle. The biggest issues continue to revolve around the revenue model and how to provide access while not losing control.
Just as with the technology advancements mentioned earlier, content has seen its own evolutionary stepping-stones, including ABC's "Full Episode" player and Hulu. Both properties provide excellent quality and full-length episodes for viewing on your computer, but may turn out to be the proverbial tip of the iceberg of what's to come - at least if Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner's CEO, has anything to do with it.
Announced earlier this year, Time Warner's initiative, dubbed "TV Everywhere," would seek to put all cable programming on the Web, providing access to any broadband-connected PC or mobile device for those who can prove they've paid for it. Although championed by Bewkes, the goal is for the initiative to be industry-wide with hopes of maintaining healthy business models while also making content available at no extra charge.
Although the logistics of the initiative have not been fully revealed, this massive content influx would further fuel the storm of convergence between the Internet and the television, likely driving additional software and hardware innovations that could bring the viewing experience closer to where it needs to be for mass adoption.
As for the final part, motivation, that turns out to be the easiest of all. With billions of dollars of potential ad revenue on the line, companies of all shapes and sizes will be looking to establish their place in the evolved television experience. Now, don't you want your E-TV, too?