The convergence of the Internet and TV: how will it happen?


Several media executives have asked me about the convergence of the Internet and TV over the last couple of months. I now have a nice reference point for them about the short-term obstacles and possible solutions, courtesy of Nick Wingfield in an article in the Wall Street Journal titled The Internet. The TV. They have even created a brief video – as below – to provide a quick overview of the topic.

Nick frames the issue as a series of problems with potential solutions:

THE PROBLEM: Too Many Boxes


THE PROBLEM: Too Complicated

THE SOLUTION: Keep it simple

THE PROBLEM: Sticker Shock

THE SOLUTION: Set Video Free

THE PROBLEM: Limited Selection

THE SOLUTION: Open up the Boxes

THE PROBLEM: Slow Downloads

THE SOLUTION: Faster, Smarter

Thinking as a futurist, this is one of those developments that we know for a certainty will happen, but we don’t know precisely how long it will happen or the path it will take.

The very rapid rise of IPTV (TV delivered over the Internet) is resulting in a proliferation of content that people want to watch, but it’s content that they want to watch in their living rooms from a sofa rather than sitting right in front of a PC. There is no doubt that by the end of 2008 the current crop of IPTV contenders, including Joost, Babelgum, Brightcove, and Hulu, will be joined by many others, and the sector will collectively be providing enough quality content to keep the most avid channel surfer locked to their coach. The reality is that this rich IPTV content is only available now, making this one of the top issues for the industry for the year ahead.

Now that large flat screens are in a large proportion of developed-country homes, these are absolutely where people will want to view this content. In a sense, home convergence is a fait-accompli in the viewing device. However the box which converges TV signals, IP content, and gaming devices is still very much in play, slowing the overall development of the converged home.

One point to add to Nick’s excellent analysis is that once IPTV is available on people’s living room flat screens, they will get used to accessing the Internet from the comfort of their sofa, and want to do more than just watch TV channels. Indeed, Internet entertainment does – and will even more – encompass far more than video, as Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight become fully-fledged entertainment platforms in their own right. Having an easy-to-use input device and mouse that can be used seated will be essential. This could include gesture recognition, so people can simply point to the screen and snap their fingers (for example), though a Wii-style pointer is more likely in the short-term.

The only way that IPTV will genuinely take off is when it can be easily accessed in the living room. While the problems described by Nick are collectively a major roadblock to uptake, I believe the availability of content is going to mean that 2008 will be the year that Internet truly reaches the living room big screen.