How Will That Connected TV Future Look? Hard to Imagine

 We’ve gone from calling TV the “idiot box” to hoping for its future as a “smart TV.”  The bet is that millions of video consumers and the advertisers that support them will make this whatever-screen-you-choose universe happen.

But like every other change in media, connected TV and smart TV probably won’t work in ways we know about yet.

One thing is for sure.  “The death of TV has been greatly exaggerated,” says Waikit Lau, senior vice president of business development for Tremor Video, who, among other impressive credits, is a member of the advisory board of Harvard’s Digital Community and Social Networking Group.  

“A short term evolution has been overestimated, but I also think the longterm evolution will be underestimated.” (In the very long term, he thinks the TV will control every function of a household from heating to security.)

What we are seeing now are signals of change of a connected TV future, but not much change. Lau says, for example, “I think in the last few years you see the cord-cutting that’s happened and  I think all those figures have been exaggerated.”

Those cord-cutters, often young, will probably be back, even as we suspect that absolutely everything young consumers do augurs a trend rather than a phase.  But it’s possible that when they rejoin the TV viewing world it will be on different terms.

“I think we’re heading for a technological shift [led by] people like like Apple," he says. "It’s those big changes that will show how people will react.”

That future is one in which a TV-like experience might be seamlessly integrated with Internet enhancements--like watching a football game and being able to easily access relevant statistics.

Roku, Xbox360, Boxee, Apple TV and many others, not to mention the new TV sets that now come with Internet capability, all hold the opportunity to take Internet video content and slap it on TV screens, but even bigger, to contort what, where and how consumers and advertisers the very idea of content.

Right now, Lau says, those smart TVs just aren’t smart enough.  “You can bring it [Internet video] to the screen. It’s just too much of a bother. It’s a pain in the ass.”

And part of the pain is that there’s too much Internet out there, and that will be a problem that will be solved, he thinks, by providers that learn to present a “best-of” experience rather than the whole YouTube-menu of video possibility.

 “What is the strength of online—the diversity of the content—is also the weakness because eventually more choice is ultimately bad.”

Lau spends time on this subject and admits predictions can be ridiculously inexact. “The products [whose success] is hardest to predict are those that require you to change behaviors,” he says.”I’m generally bearish on products like that. Most of them only appeal to early adopter and peter out there.” So change comes in tiny steps rather than leaps, most of the time.”

The business end of change is not much different. Measuring the effectiveness of media and programming is still affected largely by what brands and advertisers expect are “good” numbers.

“For connected TV is to work, it has to conform to how buyers already buy for TV,” Lau says.   I think that’s true because ultimately the TV budgets are the big budgets-- several billion dollars compared to what from online?  So in order for it to the work, I think the advertisers and platform makers and technologist must speak the lingo of the advertiser. They have to speak day parts, they have to speak reach and frequency, and they have to talk demos.”

Tremor has interesting stats about how connected we are already. Research it did with Frank N. Magid Associates shows that 21 million viewers are already spending 12 hours a week watching video with connected TV gotten through devices ranging from Playstation 3 and smart TVs to Apple and other devices, far more than they spend with video on a PC or any other device. But most of them aren’t watching anything with commercials in a traditional sense.

There’s a lot of growing to do. Advertisers follow the numbers. NPD In-Stat last year says there will be 100 million smart TV’s by 2016. It estimates about 12 million households right now have their Web-capable TVs connected to the Internet, although—tellingly---about 25 million TV sets are out there capable of it. That about half aren’t even bothering says something about Lau’s belief that consumers aren’t enticed by the idea, at least not in the way they understand it right now.  That will change. Somehow.

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