NAB 2011

Connected TV Is Bigger Than The Web

Smart TVs will understand the viewers’ needs and choices well enough to make useful suggestions on content and services.

After the first few minutes, the NAB’s Monday panel on Connected TVs made it clear that in the very near future, every set will be connected — and not just to the Internet. TVs will all link to a fast-growing ecosystem of devices, networks, program formats, technical standards and complex business models.

Moderated by Will Richmond, president of Broadband Strategies LLC, “Connected TV: Smart Devices, New Strategies” tackled its topic from several perspectives.

Rejecting the label “connected TV” as already outmoded, Wilfred Martis instead proposed “smart TV.” As general manager of Intel’s Digital Home group, Martis emphasized that smart TV connotes “the experience, not just the specs of a particular device.” Smart TVs, Martis said, “understand the viewers’ needs and choices well enough to make useful suggestions” such as additional content, services or purchases.

Comcast VP-GM of Content Services Richard Buchanan emphasized the critical role of content partnerships and the complex challenge of pleasing all participants. “The toughest decision in this business paradigm,” said Buchanan, “is what do you sell and what do you give away? And right from the start, you better get that right. A good partner in the [content] ecosystem rewards everyone along the food chain.” In other words, everyone needs to be paid.

The panel expressed only mild concern about broadband customers canceling established pay TV service (“cord cutting”) or reducing premium services (“cord trimming.”)  But Susan Panico, senior director of Sony’s Playstation Network, warned of a growing threat from one up-and-coming consumer group: “Cord Nevers,” which Panico defined as young viewers whose first — and sometimes only — video choice is broadband. “They even get their local news from the Web,” said Panico, who admits her product may encourage that behavior. “The Playstation Network is a Trojan Horse that introduces other video content by using the Playstation as an entertainment hub.”

Not surprisingly, Jack Perry, CEO of Syncbak, disagreed. Brandishing a small “Sync Plug” converter, Perry insisted that local broadcast content was a crucial ingredient for any comprehensive video service. “We get local broadcasters into the game,” said Perry who described his service as “a private tunnel from the station through the Web to the viewer in a closed transmission path” which ensures that the signal reaches the same viewers as the transmitter. But Syncbak offers one tremendous bonus — a digital link to viewers which enables stations to mine a motherlode of consumer data. For example, says Perry, “a station in Mt. Vernon, Iowa can tell Dan Lynch Ford that my F-150 is about to hit 100,000 miles and they want to hit me me with a targeted ad.”

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Panelist Paul Wehrly straddles both the digital and broadcast worlds as co-founder and COO of Clicker.Com, a smart TV program guide recently acquired by CBS Interactive. “The reason for our existence is to simplify the process of finding the content you want. We want Internet-provided TV to be available on any platform at any time whether it’s the big screen you hang on your wall or your iPad or mobile phone.”

Intel’s Martis reminded the audience of broadcast television’s historically futile efforts to resist such innovations as cable TV, VCRs and DVRs. Martis urged broadcasters to creatively “embrace the disruption early on” — or risk repeating the mistakes of the music industry, still locked in what he characterized as a losing battle against piracy.

Comcast’s Buchanan agreed heartily: “Don’t let fear hold you back from developing a new opportunity.”


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