The thing to remember about the future of television is that, someday soon, the TV screen itself will no longer be all that important. The on-screen interaction and consumer experience is what will determine the path for the next business model of television.
This week, there were three developments related to television that offer us a glimpse into what’s happening behind the scenes and how these forces might come together - or collide - in the years to come.
First, Netflix said on Tuesday that it had reached a deal to add movies from Paramount Pictures, Lions Gate (NYSE:LGF) and MGM to its online subscription service. And while that sounds like a deal that’s more about movies and the Internet, it certainly has an impact on television. Remember, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX)- via game consoles and soon Internet-enabled TV screens - is becoming another content provider for that living room “screen.” That goes directly at the cable and satellite TV providers, who are also in the business of distributing some of those same films via PayTV channels.
Second, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and DirecTV (DTV) announced a partnership on Wednesday that allows Google to open its Google TV Ads inventory to the networks available on DirecTV. Technically, Wednesday’s news had nothing to do with GoogleTV, a new service that’s expected to be launched in the fall. At this point, Google has really only talked up the user experience of GoogleTV, which opens the content offerings to not only regular television programming but other forms of video content on the Web, as well. Still, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why Google would want to tie the content and advertising sides of the business together. After all, content and advertising on television have been working hand-in-hand since before the days of Lucille Ball and Jackie Gleason.
Finally, later Wednesday, the online rumor mill kicked into gear over a buzz about a long overdue update to AppleTV, which reportedly could include apps and the return to an old name (iTV) but won’t be upgraded to stream 1080p HD quality programming. For years, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been referring to AppleTV as a hobby and, despite a not-so-impressive upgrade last fall, the company hasn’t said much about where it might take the product/service in the future. Still, the company hasn’t dismissed it, saying that there’s a there there somewhere. A report on Engadget yesterday, which cited a “trusted Engadget source” offered only a few details and basically said to keep an eye out for AppleTV/iTV news later this year.
Now that Vizio is doing for High-Definition television what Dell did for the PC market - making it affordable to have one in every home - the companies behind the content and advertising business can finally start rolling out business models to take television as we’ve known it for the last 60 or so years and really give it the 21st Century makeover that it needs.
What will it look like? That’s hard to say, obviously, but it seems that Google has an approach that’s likely to ruffle the fewest feathers - at least on the content side. GoogleTV is aggregating content from across local, cable/satellite and Web (think Hulu, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), YouTube and the network sites) to give the viewer the ability to truly watch anything he or she desires with a quick search. Throw some ad dollars into the mix - without actually changing what consumers are already accustomed to - and it could set the stage for victory in this space.
But that’s not say that Apple couldn’t make a strong showing in this space, too, especially when you consider that the iPad is almost like a portable TV screen that can stream video. Can the company find a way to apply the app model to AppleTV, or will it continue to be an extension of iTunes the way the older model is? I won’t even begin to guess what Apple has up its sleeve - but I will go out on a limb to note that whatever Apple comes up with, it’s likely to have a user interface that resonates well with users.
As the competitive landscape heats up, it will be interesting to watch as Silicon Valley, not Hollywood, takes on a bigger role in the transformation of TV.