Media for the Online World: TV on the Web? Not in Our Lifetime

Some feel that it is important to demonstrate how online media is not only like TV, but that it serves as a stepping stone to the phenomenon once heralded as the only way media could go, namely, "convergence." That the online space was already well on its way to delivering on television's promise while incorporating the "killer apps" of interactivity and data-capture. It is simply a matter of the online media space maturing and catching up to television technologically for it to start replicating the television experience.

However, I believe, the idea of bringing the Web to TV is one born more of insular reasoning and boardroom belly scratching, not consumer need. Right now, I don't think most users care to see television on their computers. Why should they? If they want to watch TV, then they turn on the TV. Because the industry spends far more time talking to itself than it does to those whom it is supposed to serve, it finds itself hammering wildly to shape the square peg of the Internet into the round hole of TV. It is not the same, nor will it be.

I remember writing an article for Fungus Magazine, an underground literary publication out of San Francisco back in 1994 where I talked about the day when TV, computers, and channels of consumption would all be converged some day soon. Though I still think it will, I don't think it is going to be what we think it is now, and I'm not confident it will happen before we are all quite old.

Sometimes it is hard for us to remember, especially folks in this business, that just because we think something is neat-o and super cool doesn't mean that consumers are going to think so, too. Charles Babbage ostensibly invented the computer in the mid-19th century. Took 100 years before his idea went anywhere. People just weren't ready for it (not to mention a number of other physical limitations). That same thing is likely true for bringing TV to the web. The gadget-head might be interested, but the average Joe probably doesn't care. And that is where the real money is, with the average Joe.

I would even argue that the human being might actually NEED to have their media segmented in separate forms. After all, newspapers didn't replace signs, radio didn't replace newspapers, and TV didn't replace radio. It is because these are different devices that satisfy different kinds of human needs. There is no reason to believe that the computer is going to replace TV because the TV gives us something that we like and don't need to go elsewhere to get. Ever heard of WebTV? There is a reason that ain't around no more. Other than sports and cooking shows, who cares to "click through" to find out more?

As far as this generation is concerned, convergence of this sort is practically dead. If it's gonna happen, we're going to have to wait for today's kids to grow up and enter the age of acquisition before it even has a chance of bearing fruit. And when it does, if it does, we're going to need a delivery system far superior to digital cable in order to cram all that information through a pipe-line, not to mention an extraordinary device that can then resolve all of that data.

All of this said, I'd rather see the Internet used for what sets it apart than to see it used for what makes it alike.

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