Whatever happened to the internet TV?

The TV seems curiously resistant to reinvention by the internet. Is the smart TV as much as a pipe dream as the flying car?

TV is a strange thing, for something so familiar to most of us. It was the first screen to make its way into our homes, over half a century ago, but it has been the least changed by the internet revolution. Rumours persists that Apple has its sights on revolutionising the market – but they’ve never been more than rumours. Most recently, in a television interview appropriately enough, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has this to say about TV:

“When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years,” Cook told Williams. “It’s an area of intense interest. I can’t say more than that.”

A clear signal that Apple thinks that TV is something it can improve – revolutionise even – but it has yet to do so. And his assessment is right. Surprisingly little has changed in the TV interface in the last few decades, at least since the advent of highly multichannel technology. Apple has its AppleTV “hobby”, Google has had a go at the market. Even Microsoft fools around with TV through the XBox. But none of these have fundamentally changed the way TV works – even if the experience around TV is shifting.

This strange situation with the TV screen was the focus of a debate at Le Web last week, with the World Economic Forum’s Adrian Monck chairing a discussion with Vivek Badrinath, Senior Executive Vice President, France Telecom Orange & CEO of Orange Business Services and Eric Scherer, Director of Future Media, in charge of Digital
Strategy, France Télévision

There were some predictions – “The smart TV should be able know what you want to see before you see it,” suggested Scherer. “It should be able to propose the right programmes at the right time.” Although, as Rachel Clarke observed, haven’t personal video recorders like TiVo been doing that for years?

However, he went on to suggest that the TV will only truly become smart when data will flow two ways, both to and from the TV. Then TV just becomes one screen in a myriad of them.

Badrinath suggested that the telecoms operators are just in a supporting role, providing the connectivity to allow information to flow. Their point of view is that TV is becoming more diffuse – there is an IPTV proposition, there is the tablet, there’s connected TVs. They’re sensitive to the pixel flows needed for high quality pictures. They’re seeing a lot of video consumption in hotspots rather than over mobile data.

A consensus emerged that tablets will become the first screen for a lot of young people. Sure, France Télévision – in common with most broadcasters and TV manufacturers – are working on connected TVs, but they’re also interested in connected storytelling between the two devices. “TV series are the new cultural centre as movies or music once were,” suggested Scherer.

And yet, the internet has yet to change TV in the same way it did movies and music. Is it immune to change? Or has the right solution just not been found yet?

Image by Bill Hartmann on Flickr, and used under a Creative Commons licence