I know: hit the power button on the remote (and I have figured that out), but that isn’t actually the question. Today’s Wall Street Journal has a good story (“Find It on the Web, Watch It on TV” ($ I assume)) on the growing market in devices to move content from the web to your television. Yes you can download Lost at iTunes, but do you really want to watch it on your iPod, especially if you have a new HDTV sitting in your family room? As television content unbundles and we all get to mix and match content from across the world, how do we get the content on our TVs?
Content on television originally was driven by the technology of broadcast and reception. You used an antenna—rabbit ears inside or a much taller pole outside—to capture the signals broadcast in the air. What you could watch on your TV was determined by how good you were at capturing broadcast signals. Early cable TV—community access TV—was just an extension of this: a much bigger shared antenna with cables sending content to individual televisions. Cable delivered—then and now—a selected bundle of channels to your TV.
I confess to having only a weak understanding of the actual evolution of ports on televisions. When did the first coaxial jack show up? When were the installed routinely? When did RCA jacks appear? (If you know, please comment.) All of this goes to how we manage interconnection between the display—the television—and the creators of content.
The emergence of the VCR and then the DVD unbundled video content. You no longer were stuck with the bundle provided by your cable company. We are now right at the edge of unbundling in even a bigger way. This is about both content and devices.
As to content, YouTube is clearly the early wave on this, though putting to one-side copyright violations, the real question will be how much amateur content people want to watch on their TVs. More interesting perhaps is The Venice Project, a new effort at building a p2p platform for distributing professional TV.
On the device side, there is a bunch of work to do. The Journal article quotes a Forrester Research study that says that 80% of those surveyed aren’t interested at any price in a device for moving content from their PCs to their TVs. That is what Apple plans to do with their still-unreleased iTV. This is going to require a slick interface—think of searching through your online cable guide now and multiply the content options dramatically—but interface design has always been Apple’s strength.