Noah J Nelson on Friday, Aug. 10th
The future of technology is beginning to look a lot like the past. Specifically it’s beginning to look like television. In form and function.
In the past few years there has been an explosion in smart TVs and stand-alone set-top boxes. Nary a Blu-Ray player in sight doesn’t ship with Netflix and Pandora. Roku has a whole business based around their streaming box, and while Apple keeps calling the Apple TV a “hobby” they’re selling millions of the hockey pucks. One of the reasons that the current generation of gaming consoles has managed to last so long is because of the rollout of video features like Netflix, Amazon Video, and HBO Go to the game platforms.
All of this is just what is possible today.
By this time next year we’re going to be in the midst of a TVpocalypse. The opening moves of what just might be the Last War for the Living Room are upon us. Stare with me into the depths of the Internet and see the dread portents of the age to come.
The First Seal: Microsoft’s XBox 720 Plan
E3 failed to deliver new hardware from either Sony or Microsoft, leaving gamers hungry for news. Within weeks a marketing document leak appearing to detail Microsoft’s plans for the future became all the rage on tech news sites. The document mentioned a pay TV service called XTV and innovations like the overlaying of sports tickers at the bottom of a game window. That way gamers can keep up with NFL stats while they play Call of Duty.
A juicy biz bit: Microsoft was reportedly talking with former CBS Network Entertainment Group president Nancy Tellem. The speculation was that if Tellem came over to the Redmond giant, she would bring a level of dealmaking expertise that could take the XBox instal base and turn it into a mass audience for content. A true XBox/Microsoft network. Consider too that MS has recently pulled out of MSNBC. That’s a lot of smoke. Microsoft needs to change consumers relationship with their company if their overall brand is going to thrive. A major XBox rollout at Christmastime next year is almost guaranteed.
MS has failed to launch non-gaming media brands before. Zune was a complete dud. So the marketing people have put all their clout into the XBox brand: arguably Microsoft’s most popular public face.
The Second Seal: Apple’s Long Rumored TV
If there is one thing that says “slow news week” on tech blog is the number of posts that share rumors of an Apple branded TV set. The collective obsession with the prospect is, frankly, embarrassing; and I say this as an avowed Apple fanboy.
It speaks to the desire of many to replace the clunky interfaces that we now use to control our TVs and the myriad of devices that plug into them with an elegant solution for a more civilized age.
Gamers, particularly the casual variety, are also interested in the possibilities of an Apple TV set that could play console-style games. The current Apple TV allows for mirroring of some games from an iOS device to the television screen, but a recent patent notice has been interpreted as representing the next step: an Apple game controller.
A close examination of the patent reveals that they’re pretty much covering all possible bases of device communication: iPhone to game controller, to DVR, to Apple TV, to XBox, yadda yadda. It looks to me to be some 50,000 foot level stuff, not concrete plans for Apple’s iGame.
Yet the XBox proved to be a great stealth weapon for Microsoft’s entry into the living room, and Apple has a massive library of games to leverage. It doesn’t take much imagination to make the next logical leap, which is why pretty much everybody did just that.
Then HuluPlus, the paid version of Hulu that brings a Netflix-like library of television content- slipped onto the little black box with minimal fanfare. Minimal because that’s where it belonged in the first place.
The Third Seal: Roku Kicks Indies In the Widget
Sometimes the devil is in the details. Like when Roku pushed independent foreign programming– an early staple of the service– out of the bed in order to make room for an exclusive deal with Dish Network. That’s a major satellite programming provider making a deal with an internet streaming service in order to corner a very specific slice of the video market. Like GigaOm’s Janko Roettgers I see the beginning of a sea change in the way internet and pay-TV companies interact:
When Dish brought its DishWorld service to Roku, it seemed like the first step toward a virtual cable operator — a company that offers customers pay-TV bundles transmitted over the Internet without any physical infrastructure in place. There has been lots of talk within the industry about the possibility of such virtual TV offerings, with many hoping this would lead to cheaper and more flexible bundles and eventually more competition.
However, if TV providers are turning to the Internet to distribute their fare, they could also make online video look much more like traditional TV. Devices like Roku could end up looking much more like a traditional cable box — exclusive distribution agreements included.
The Fourth Seal: Ouya
Here’s some of the biggest proof that the gaming market is ready for some new console action, and that the television remains an attractive prospect for consumers even in the face of robust PC game development.
Over 637,000 people have thrown money at the Kickstarter for Ouya, a proposed $99 game console that will play Android based video games on the TV. While the console looked like it might be elaborate vaporware in the first few days the team behind the device has wisely leveraged their crowdfunding success into a series of partnerships. Both OnLive, the game streaming service and VEVO, the music video platform will launch with the console.
Small companies like Ouya show that the TV landscape is ripe for disruption, and that there are more than enough hungry players in the marketplace to help them win territory in the living room. OnLive, which makes hardware of its own as well as providing PC and Mac clients for its game service, likely sees the Ouya as an effective way to get subscribers for their service while taking a step back from the hardware business.
The Fifth Seal: Twitter Wants To Do TV
The social media service is having quite the identity crisis this summer. A deal with NBC as part of their Olympic’s coverage nearly tanked their good will with the Netterati when someone at Twitter ratted out critic Guy Adams to NBC, who then lodged an official complaint, prompting Twitter to suspend his account. Until the outcry was so great that Twitter unsuspended it and NBC recanted its suspension request.
And you thought the plot to The Dark Knight Rises was complicated.
If this is the way that Twitter deals with its TV partners needs, what are we going to face when Twitter is the TV producer?The word on the wire is that the flock is looking to create original video content and turn their platform into a tool for feeding original video to the masses.
This could mean a lot more than sneezing pandas and Jon Stewart clips. Web video is constantly evolving. While the conventional wisdom just a few years ago was that anything longer than three minutes was doomed more and more producers are playing with longer form content. Shows like Video Game High School– which mixed the tone of Saved By The Bell with the imagery found in video game ads– have a run time similar to old school Doctor Who episodes. Production values are skyrocketing. The Bryan Singer produced H+ looks like a feature film.
Twitter wants in, and like YouTube, seem to be willing to put money down to make it happen.
The Sixth Seal: HBO Go
Everybody wants it and only current subscribers have it. HBOGo is what TV in heaven must look like: pretty much every HBO show ever made, accessible on demand.
Earlier in the spring a slacktavism movement began to petition HBO to release a stand-alone version of the app, one that non-subscribers could pay HBO for directly. It was an idea that HBO quickly shot down. The petitioner’s hearts are in the right place, but the realities of cable television production don’t currently allow for shows like Game of Thrones to be produced with Netflix level cash.
Nevertheless the long-term writing is on the wall. We may not be getting pay-TV content without cable service in the next year, but the demand will continue to grow. Coupling that with our seventh and final seal gives us crystal clear reception of television’s future.
The Seventh Seal: Google FiberTV
One cable. One fat bundle of fiber optic filaments that pipe in internet and cable access at speeds not seen outside of research labs and South Korean PC Baangs. One bill that covers it all.
That’s the promise that Google is holding out with their Google FiberTV project in Kansas City. They’ve begun taking pre-orders to determine where they are going to lay down the cable. With 1000Mbps down- and up-load speeds and DVRs that can record eight shows at once the Goog is looking to become even more of an information juggernaut than it already is.
Why become a cord cutter, after all, if you could get everything you wanted for one price? When cable and internet merge, and that’s a possible next step from this initiative, you wouldn’t have to “get cable” just to get HBO Go– because you’d already have cable. In your internet. Two great tastes… you know the rest.
One box that offers up all the on-demand goodness of a Roku, all the gaming possibilities of an XBox, and DVR enabled power over live TV. That’s what we want. Is it really so much to ask?
The real question is how long is it going to take the entertainment and information industries to figure this out. That the days of premium bundles of basic cable and basic internet are over?
The TVpocalypse is nigh!