For Smart TV, Broadcasters Must 'Embrace Disruption'

It may be a whole new ballgame, but the media industry has a spot in the starting lineup reserved for them, if they're willing to think a little differently.
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It may be a whole new ballgame, but the media industry has a spot in the starting lineup reserved for them, if they're willing to think a little differently.

That's the message from a panel of "smart TV" experts, delivered at the "Connected TV: Smart Devices, New Strategies" super session at the 2011 NAB Show.

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Traditional broadcast outlets should embrace the disruption and opportunity smart TV brings.
Moderated by Broadband Strategies' Will Richmond, the panel addressed the latest challenge to face traditional broadcast outlets—Internet-supplemented television viewing.

Richmond called upon panelist Wilfred Martis, who manages retail consumer electronics initiatives for Intel's Digital Home group, to concisely define the "connected TV" moniker, one which creates no end of confusion for TV buyers.

Martis replied that the term, now more commonly called "smart TV," refers not to hardware or specific devices but to the overall experience of television viewing supplemented by IP-delivered extras.

"It's up to us as an industry," said Martis, "to clarify and communicate to the consumer, in a way that will help them understand the new experience they're getting."

MEETING EXPECTATIONS

Comcast's Richard Buchanan, vice president for content services, noted that the definition is driven mostly by viewers themselves. In his experience, consumers "expect to find anything, in the way that they would use a search engine," and to be able to "look at it anywhere, on whatever device happens to be where they are at the time."

Within the Comcast Xfinity platform, he said, an Xfinity app attempts to leverage existing cable TV equipment to achieve similar results.

Smart TV starts as a three-party arrangement, according to Jack Perry, founder and CEO of Syncbak, between rights holders, local advertisers and viewers.

"And there's one missing component that we're bringing in," said Perry, "the local broadcaster." His company's Syncbak platform brings content from all four sources to connected viewers, he said.

Similarly, game consoles have typically earned a spot on a family's largest video display, and delivering multiple channels of entertainment content in this way is a natural fit, according to panelist Susan Panico of Sony Computer Entertainment America.

Paul Wehrley, co-founder and COO of Clicker, reminded the audience that, by its very nature, the smart TV experience isn't defined by hardware. "We take a broader view of the word 'TV,'" Wehrley said. "[It's] whatever delivers content—a TV that hangs on the wall, an iPad, a laptop in a hotel room, or a smartphone."

STATUS QUO TO GO?

Moderator Richmond provoked a brisk discussion among the panelists by suggesting that the smart TV experience might threaten the traditional television viewing paradigm.

"As the online experience moves to the living room, is this an additive influence, or a disruptive influence?" he asked.

Intel's Martis noted that, like his industry's mantra, "Never bet against bandwidth, never bet against performance," broadcasters, as content delivery channels, needed to "embrace disruption."

"We need to embrace what consumers want," said Comcast's Buchanan, while cautioning that there needs to be "value for everyone in the food chain. This has to be a business model that works for everybody."

Still, the call for broadcasters' innovation and flexibility is clear.

Martis said that local broadcasters have already developed strong, multifaceted Internet presences, proving their ability to create value in supplemental content. "The earlier the industry embraces [smart TV], the better." © 2011 NAB