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There's a new competitor coming to your viewers' TV sets: the Internet. No, I'm not talking about the Internet being viewed on a computer; I'm talking about your audience being able to watch Internet content on their big-screen televisions.

It's been possible to connect the Internet to televisions for several years, but the technology hasn't been user-friendly. That's about to change.

Beginning with the January CES Show, several TV set manufacturers have demonstrated high-speed Internet connectivity combined with an array of on-screen widgets to support online viewing. At the NAB Show, Adobe showed a variety of widgets and content tools to support Internet viewing on Samsung televisions.

Yahoo! has developed what it calls Internet@TV, a service supported by set makers LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio. This service will display Yahoo!'s Widget Channel, but with such portals will come Twitter and eBay along with a host of other things viewers may not want on their TV sets.

The goal of these vendors is to eliminate the need for an external set-top box (and, of course, to control the interface) for the delivery of broadband content. The solution will eliminate the requirement for a Roku or Blockbuster box to rent movies from the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Blockbuster, or to watch Internet content, which could include YouTube's new HD videos.

The latest aspect of getting Internet content onto televisions is the introduction of widgets. A wide variety of companies want to provide these connectivity gizmos on your TV set. In addition to Yahoo!, other players, including Intel and MySpace, have plans for widgets that let viewers chat and send messages through their televisions. Disney is reported to soon be incorporating widgets as clues into shows such as “Lost.”

But with all the snipes, scrolling tickers and logos that already appear on-screen, are widgets something that viewers will embrace? These vendors think so.

Unfortunately, along with all the hoopla there remains that pesky issue of compatibility. Sony calls its Internet service Bravia Internet Widgets; Samsung calls its solution the Internet@TV content service platform; and Panasonic offers a service called VeraCast — three similar, but likely incompatible, services.

Further complicating the rollout is that Panasonic and Sony TV sets won't display all Internet content. Their sets can tune into only that content specifically selected by the respective manufacturer. Not surprisingly, both companies want to remain gatekeepers.

Broadcasters are intimately familiar with what happens when you have conflicting standards. Once quad tapes died, there was little compatibility between broadcast products. Even today, files often must be converted to another format before they can be edited or transmitted.

For the geek viewers, purchasing one of these new TV sets and expecting a seamless experience will be more akin to hoping your computer's operating system won't at some time bite you. It will.

Even so, broadcasters need to recognize that the Internet is coming to viewers' TV sets, and they will have to compete on those terms. If stations want to play in that space, they will need to provide more content and metadata in an Internet-friendly format.

I can hardly wait to click on some widget and watch the hourglass spin and spin until I'm presented with: Abort, Retry, Ignore.

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