In an interesting essay on the convergence of TV and the web, Terry Heaton writes:
Convergence was a popular word among internet prophets a decade ago, but the dream never materialized. That's about to change in a big way as the explosive growth of web video migrates to platforms that bring it to the living room. Big and small screen manufacturers will begin coming out with computers already built into flat screen and projector TVs early next year, and the connector in the back won't care whether its content source comes from cable TV or broadband. Real convergence is months away, not years.
I agree that convergence will happen, but not so fast. As I see it, before we are all consuming web video on the TV, three things need to happen:
- There needs to be enough bandwidth. That's nearly there
- The last ten feet need to be bridged - i.e. we need devices that will stream video from the net to the TV set. There are already some devices that can do this, but they are still nascent
- A necessary consumer practice needs to emerge. That's years away
I wrote about the third point in my previous post. In a nutshell, what is needed is not just a way to deliver content to the TV set, or a way for consumers to find content while sitting on the sofa. What is needed is a socially shared practice that relies on web video content and the TV set.
To illustrate, consider, as an example, the practice of watching YouTube videos. This practice contains, among other things, the practice of receiving a link to a noteworthy clip while you are at work, watching it (quickly, so it doesn't look like you are wasting time), and then forwarding the link to a friend. It is this, and other practices, that make YouTube what it is--not the technology or the content, although without these there would be no practice. The product is the practive, not the artifact.
So what would be a similar practice once convergence has happened? Receiving an email while you are watching TV is out of the question - it would interrupt the evening and ruin the mood. So perhaps you would receive a link the way you do today, watch a grainy clip at work, and then the long-from, high-quality version once you are at home, perhaps with your partner.
Of course, this is just speculation, and the example above might well never happen. My point is that it is practices like these that will shape the new medium, and it is very hard to predict what these will be.
It won't help for big players (whether software houses, telcos or whatever) to come up with these use-cases. No matter who hard they think, or how well-designed their products are, if the web gives us any lesson it is that these things emerge chaotically in a disruptive way.
It's impossible to tell how these practices will emerge, but by looking at the history of the web it's possible to speculate:
First, there needs to be a general-purpose browser-type application, like NCSA mosaic was for the web. This needs to be highly visual, require little text, and rely on a simple remote control, possibly with voice recognition. This will require open standards (since mass adoption is crucial: it means the difference between a mere habit and a social practice), and one or more low-level hardware and software ('middleware') platforms on which to run. These platforms will need to be open, in the sense that any developer should be able to write software for them; and they need to be cheap, so that anybody can try that software. There will be lots of failures before anything crosses the chasm and becomes mainstream.
Only once all this is in place will we see complex new propositions and business models emerge. Some (video rentals, dating) can be predicted from here, but many other will emerge that we can't even think of.
This proces won't be as slow and unpredictable as it was on the web, because the TV web will rely heavily on the old (text- and browser-based) web: it will use its content, its infrastructure and some of its use-cases.
But the end result is no mere extension to the web as we know it. Once convergence has happened, the new medium will be as big (in terms of revenue) as linear TV, and not just a fraction of it. Preparing for this process is the main challenge for media organisations in the five years ahead. What we've seen so far on the web is just a warm-up.
: With thanks to Dennis Haarsager for pointing out typos