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Web-connected TV: Dream or disaster?

When I first entered the television business, not so long ago, I worked at one of the three (total) TV stations in Wichita, KS. Shortly thereafter, a public station went on the air bringing the total number of OTA broadcasters to four. It remained a competition between those four stations for years. It wasn’t until cable entered the market in the late 1960s that Wichita viewers had more than these four stations to watch.

Today, Wichita viewers, and most around the country, can select from perhaps more than 200 channels of programming delivered by cable and satellite. Broadcasters who work in Wichita no longer have three competitors, they have hundreds. Soon there may be thousands of channels from which to choose.

The year 2010 may turn out to mark the wide-scale introduction of Web-connected televisions. Yahoo recently announced it had formed partnerships with multiple television and video device manufacturers to deliver Internet content to viewers’ TV screens.

Yahoo plans to install Internet widgets to support what it calls Web-enabled televisions. The service, called ConnectedTV, will enable video on demand, social networking, games and online shopping. It was just a year ago that Yahoo announced partnerships with Samsung, LG Electronics, Sony and Vizio. It recently announced additional agreements with other companies including China's Hisense, ViewSonic, MIPS Technologies and Sigma Designs.

Yahoo’s ConnectedTV will provide a series of "web widgets" located along the bottom of the TV screen. With a remote control, the viewer will be able to click and move to the Internet to watch YouTube videos, access MySpace, track stocks and sports teams, buy and sell on eBay, blog on Twitter, or view photos at Flickr.

Even Verizon FiOS customers will soon be able to connect to the Web through the set-top box (STB). FiOS STBs will be upgraded to display basic weather and traffic information. Third-party developers will be encouraged to develop applications. The company says YouTube and other Internet applications will be implemented soon.

According to an article from, viewers “want to watch” Internet video in a lean-back experience on their big-screen TV sets. No longer does watching Internet videos and Hulu content require hunching up to a laptop or desktop computer. “As the quality of Web video improves, more people want to watch it on the big TV in the living room,” said the writer. Shown to the right is a table illustrating current TV sets and add-on boxes that enable Internet TV viewing on televisions. According to the table, new add-on electronics make it easy to view Internet video and other Web content on home televisions. (Table courtesy

The playing field in which broadcasters must now compete is being unavoidably altered by these new products. According to BusinessWeek, by the end of this year, more than 2 million Web-enabled TV sets will be in U.S. homes. In addition, there will be a range of STBs, game consoles, DVRs and add-on boxes that support Internet viewing. Some of the new products include Vudu, which was just acquired by Wal-Mart. Internet VOD is even on the horizon as Boxee claims that its platform will let developers charge for programs through the TV.

Finally, that Internet monster, Google, has teamed with Intel and Sony to build a TV platform called Google TV. The new product will enable a whole range of Internet products and channels to be easily displayed on televisions. Google will release an SDK to developers shortly, and working products could be available this summer. Industry observers say Google wants to see its Android operating system installed on set-top-boxes along with the company’s Chrome Web browser. Other partners in the project appear to include Dish Network, which recently completed limited tests.

Broadcasters have never faced such daunting challenges. In my brief television career, I’ve seen viewing choices grow from three TV stations to now having hundreds, and soon thousands, of options. These changes make identifying a golden broadcast opportunity in this new environment difficult at best. Finding success will require smart executives with the courage to implement new ideas quickly — before the competition does.