03 June 2008

See this is the future of television. So why haven't the networks seen it?

Three events in the past two weeks have convinced me traditional television and traditional television viewing is being e radically transformed.

On Friday German publishing giant Axel Springer and Dutch consumer electronics producer Philips announced they had developed a system that will make it possible for television viewers to create personalized channels from their favorite TV and Internet video content.

And last Tuesday Sony, along with six of the biggest US cable operators Comcast Corp, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems Corp and Bright House Networks, signed a deal that enables US consumers buy digital televisions that can receive a cable service without a set-top box.

Finally, last week a syndicate of Japan's largest electronics manufacturers announced that it may have reached agreement on a standard for a new internet television and new set, which will let users browse websites and watch streaming programs at the touch of a remote control, could be on sale as early as March 2008.

In each case, the opportunity was clear to all but those in what is now called "heritage media". Traditional network based and free-to-air television is being increasingly forced into a wider choice set that sees the television screen as a portal for all content and interactivity - both linear and non-linear - global, national and local.

Add to this increasingly expanding opportunities for delivering content to mobile, laptop and gaming devices, and you can see why brand owners and television network owners are fast becoming small fish.

The new Phillips software-based system, called TV Digital Personal, will be available on Philips television sets in Europe in time for Christmas. It will also be available for free download onto personal computers and can be used on digital video recorders and mobile devices.

TV Digital Personal is based on Springer's digital TV guide, so in effect another walled garden with yet another EPG. The software called APRICO is not unlike TIVO and automatically learns viewing preferences and suggests additional programming based on what has already been chosen by the viewer enabling the viewer to build their own channel.

Advertising could possibly be microtargetted according to viewer selections with an opt out permissions. This will be in addition to the regular TV commercials already embedded in programs.

The Sony announcement establishes a new US technological standard to be adopted by 2009 that will enable a new generation of TVs to include video-on-demand, digital video recording, interactive programming guides and other services.

By adopting a Java-based application called tru2way as a US interactive standard, it will enable the adoption of new "plug-and-play" interactive devices that can be used with TV sets.

The technology will also make it easier for consumers to receive the full range of cable-based services on other devices such as laptops, MP3 players, and cell phones.

Japan's new internet television is the brainchild of the TV Portal Service Corporation founded in July 2007 by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co, Sony Corp., Sharp Corp., Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Ltd, set up a TV Portal Service with So-net Entertainment Corp., a Sony-affiliated Internet service provider and shareholder and is backed by the Japanese Government.

The companies aim to establish a global standard for the service and its portal, operating under the name acTVila, connects TV users free of charge to various web sites that provide consumer-oriented services, such as news and shopping.

From July Sharp will also sell TVs with an additional internet portal that offers access to Yahoo! Japan - the country's most popular website - as well as digitized print magazines and high definition video-on-demand.

In the end all of these announcements are still announcements but what they signal is indefatigable - television screens can no longer be viewed as just technology but as the conduit for an increasingly complex dialogue between media and content owners, producers, users, viewers, technology makers, brand owners and their agencies. And, if all the talk is right, the traditional television industry is showing all the signs of being undone by technology and its users just as the music industry was late last century.