TV isn’t digital, let alone post-digital

Of all our home entertainment devices, the TV seems the least digital, let alone post-digital. Are we waiting for a revolution, or is there a reason it has changed so little?

Of all of the entertainment devices in our homes right now, one remains distinctly pre-digital: the TV. And in many households, it's still the predominant entertainment device. And yet, it seems the least touched by the internet.

Oh, it might be flat-screened and multi-channel and “digital” in the sense that the signal that it receives is now a stream of bits, but it's not really wired. For all the growth of smart TVs in the last couple of years, the number that are actually connected to the internet is vanishingly small. Google TV has not been a roaring success, despite Eric Smidt's claims at Le Web that it would be on half of TVs by the middle of this year (clock's ticking…). Even Apple's effort, the Apple TV, remains a “hobby” to the company.

At the Financial Times Digital Media Conference this week, they had a panel on the subject – and the message seemed to be (more-or-less) relief that nothing has really changed very much. Oh, sure, the TV companies are providing some supporting social experiences for “second screen” experiences – where viewers use social media on their laptops, phones or iPads to discuss the shows as they happen.

Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing, London Business School predicted that linear TV would still exist in much the same form it does now in five years, just with some interesting things happening around the industry.

And yet, my personal experience is so very different from that. My wife and I have been using an Apple 27″ Display as our “TV” for nearly 18 months ago, while our 32″ TV sits in a box ready for our next house. We'll almost certainly hook one of the new 1080p Apple TVs to it as soon as we move in. The power of picking and choosing the TV and movies you want, when you want them, is just too darn compelling.

And we visited friends recently whose children were more interested in watching cartoons on YouTube via the computer than using the TV. They're growing up with the idea of TV on demand as an inherent part of their lives.

And even the secondary role of TV screens – as the displays for console gaming – seems to be under threat. Game industry figures are warning the console manufacturers that the iPad is overtaking them.

So, what's happening here? Is TV ripe for disruption and reinventions. There's been plenty of buzz around the idea that Steve Jobs thought so, and disclosed as much to his biographer Walter Isaccson. Can we expect a new, stunning launch from the post-digital company sometime later this year?

Or is the TV just fine in its own form, and not in any need of post-digital reinvention?