Harlan Neugeboren / 04.11.2007
Internet TV: Coming to A Screen Near You...
Although my column is about newsroom technology, I have written the last few articles about other forms of distribution to reinforce a point I made a few articles ago.
Making video for the Internet, cell phones and iPods is not merely about putting the video you put on air through an encoder and compressing it. That's only a small part of it. Having more and differentiated content is the bigger part, and most of us in the news business are focusing on the wrong end of the pipe.
It's all about content.
So what does this have to do with Internet TV? A lot. Over the past few years, viewers have gotten used to viewing certain kinds of content on their computer and iPod. However, when it comes to watching traditional TV programs, newscasts and sports, most viewers prefer their television set.
There have been a number of trials where cable providers have streamed 30 to 40 channels on their broadband service. Most of these trials have had little success because people haven't watched TV on the Internet... until now.
At this year's CES and Macworld, a number of products were announced that bridge the Internet TV gap. The first was Apple TV. The other significant one was Sony's Bravia Internet video link.
Both of these devices connect to the Internet and interface directly with a television via HDMI, and you can use a TV-type remote to navigate the screen. Also, Digeo announced their Moxi Muti-Room HD DMR.
INTERNET TV GEAR
The Apple TV device currently only allows you to view iTunes content. Rumors are that Apple will open this up to other Internet content in the future.
You set one computer in your house as the master library and the Apple TV looks at this for all its content. You also can add other computers in the house, but only one computer will be the master that syncs with the Apple TV. This is all done via 802.11b, g or n.
What makes Apple TV so great is the user interface. It is very similar to Apple's Front Row. It is very simple and straightforward. There are big bold categories, and when you drill down, the selections are clear and easy to select.
What Apple has done with Apple TV is what I call "User-interface Nirvana." They have the same interface on your Apple desktop, your iPod and now your Apple TV. No more learning different things for different devices. Add to that the coming iPhone with its icon-based navigation and you have the perfect storm.
At this year's CES, Sony showed an Internet TV box for its line of Bravia TVs (for now). It is a slim unit that hooks to the back of a Bravia and connects via HDMI. Content is currently limited to AOL, Yahoo and Grouper video, but the box is capable of streaming live HD content.
Given that Sony is a music and movie company in addition to an electronics company, it has the potential to offer a robust programming lineup. Beyond video, RSS feeds can be used, allowing for custom "channels" of news, sports, and weather information.
The Internet user interface is integrated into the TV's user interface so navigation is easy and you don't have to learn another way of looking at content on your TV.
Digeo has been supplying its software and boxes to cable companies, mostly Charter. The box is called Moxi and here is how they describe it:
"Meet Moxi. A media center featuring a superior user interface with a two-tuner HDTV DVR unit. Moxi makes it easy for users to seamlessly record television programming to an internal hard drive so they can watch what they want, where they want."
At this year's CES, Digeo announced that it would begin selling Moxi, which can connect to cable (if the provider supports it) and broadband connections. Again, the same interface is used to look at cable content and Internet content, making it easy to use.
In addition to watching news on cable and satellite, viewers will soon be able to watch Internet news on TV. Notice I didn't say they could watch your news content from your Web site over the Internet. Your stories will need to be formatted for a large screen. Also, you will need to provide the necessary metadata, and to understand the user interface on these devices to allow your viewers to easily navigate your content.
The operative word is "easily"--content providers who make it easy will win.
We all need to take the time to learn more about these devices and how they will affect the way we produce and deliver content.
If you think that viewers will continue to watch TV the way they've been watching it for years, on a TV connected to an antenna or cable box, you may start losing viewers to those who decide that they can get all they want from the Internet. Although it may not a significant issue now, it soon will be...