Category Archives: technology

Tomorrow Television Will Change Forever.

A couple of years ago I wrote an entry about the future of TV. One of the major players in the prediction is the Apple TV. A device that is currently a separate box with WiFi and an HDMI connector for TVs. The catalyst of this proposed future is a device and or TV that simplifies the process of developing apps, monetizes it, and rolls it out in an ecosystem that works for the US.

Most of the major networks have an app for iPad and iPhone already whereby you can watch all the most recent episodes of their current shows. If only there was a way to access the same content on demand on TV in an similar fashion while still being able to stream live events live when the time arrives.

a mock-up of Apple's new TV set

Tomorrow is Apple’s annual Word Wide Developers Conference. At the conference Apple is rumored to announce an updated line of Mac computers and an upgraded operating system for their mobile devices. Mac rumors, a website that tracks patents and leaked news, got wind of the fact that Apple will be announcing a new operating system for their apple TV device, which will presumably be the same operating system that’s used on their fabled TV set, rumored to hit the market sometime this year. Steve Jobs’ supposed final revelation was in regards to this device. Shortly before his death, Jobs talked about the new TV with his biographer, saying that he “Finally cracked it.”

We stand on the cusp of an enormous change to the way we receive television. Tomorrow at WWDC Apple will be announcing that developers can now write apps for their upcoming TV Set. What this means is that NBC, ABC, CBS, TNT, TBS, Fox and most importantly – Disney will all be able to create apps for your TV that allow you to interact with their content as they see fit. If they want a world premiere to run live – it will. If they want to make it available for a week after it showed – they can. If you want to email a friend and have them pull up a clip of a TV show right to their TV set and watch it – shebang.

Other cool features like Skype on your TV and the ability to send video messages to friends are possible as well. Advantages like being able to have a live video chat while watching a live event are also feasible. Re-airing classic shows and movies with video commentary or live chat with the stars and creators. Imagine being able to watch something on your iPhone or iPad, pause it and then resume it in full HD on your TV.

And of course let’s not forget the gaming potential. Developers can write games that can be downloaded right to your TV. Using a bluetooth or WiFi connection you can use your iPod as a touch screen controller. You can use voice activation to command the action. You can use your existing Apple game center profile to connect with friends and play co-op games. Oops! Did Apple just merge the computer and console gaming industries – I think they did.

Perhaps most intriguing in this brave new world of TV is the fact that hierarchy will soon be gone. Much like the recording industry has become obsolete in the post-modern era of internet-based marketing and delivery, soon everyone can develop an app that can deliver TV content to the world. Youtube stars and non-profits can create a an app that can sit along side your ESPN app so you can receive new content from them the same way.

When it comes to mainstream content, thought Disney is going to be the Key. I wasn’t joking earlier when I said they were most important. Disney owns the station that most men would pay a premium to have – ESPN. They also own ABC, Disney, Disney XD, ABC Family, ESPNU, 2, 3, Classic Deportes and all associated radio stations and print media. This could be a big outlet for them so long as they can monetize it. And if there is one thing that Apple is good at – it’s making money. Plus Disney and Apple are intertwined as Apple owns the majority stock in Pixar and Pixar and Disney merged a few years back.

After that comes Time Warner and News Corp. Once CNN and Fox News are on board, all of the most watched stations currently only available on cable and satellite will be available through Apple TV. Though, I feel confident that regardless of whether they make the transition cable news stations are going to see a sharp decline over the next few years as most people under 40 get their news from social media. If they don’t adapt it’s entirely likely that CNN and Fox News could both die a slow death over the next ten years.

The biggest opponent to this change is Comcast which is about as big and evil as a media corporation gets. They’ve been under investigation by the FCC constantly for questionable network neutrality, data throttling and for their efforts to block any a la carte offerings by cable stations. Unfortunately Comcast owns 51% of NBC. The fact that NBC is the lead steak holder in Hulu.com is an encouragement, but Comcast is currently the biggest cable/internet company in the States. They might try to hold out in an effort to keep cable as king. If they withhold NBC’s content that would create a large gap in the programming. Even worse if they throw their digital weight around as such to make it harder for people to use their network to access on-demand content. (They’re already suspect of such in regards to Netflix.)

At the same time NBC has been in fourth among the major broadcast networks for several years now. And all of the broadcast stations have been in decline of viewership despite over all TV viewership being on the rise. They’ll all have to follow the audience if they hope to stay relevant. It’s questionable whether stations of any kind will be needed in this new form of TV. Studios could skip the middleman and present their content right to the audience. The structure remains to be seen, but undoubtedly there will be those who adapt and those who don’t survive.

Microsoft already announced their plans to open the Xbox platform to developers in hopes of creating a similar experience – so there is competition which will drive prices down and quality up.

Believe me when I say tomorrow marks the beginning of the end for traditional television, and the dawn of something way cooler.

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For the next cool device, have a look see at Looxcie

The Looxcie LX1 wearable camcorder is one of the coolest devices that you never knew you needed.

Not much larger than the normal Bluetooth headset, the Looxcie is a Bluetooth enabled camcorder that records what you see. Why bluetooth enabled? Well, with the appropriate app, this small wonder can be used to record to your smartphone for easy sharing over email and social networking sites. You can also use your phone as a viewfinder to easily see exactly what your looxcie is capturing.

One of the coolest features of this device is that you don’t have to hit record to capture something. Looxcie is always recording and anytime something cool happens you just tap the ‘instant clip’ button to save a clip of the last 30 seconds. So if you see something awesome just tap the button and you’ve got a clip to share. Hold the button for 3 seconds and it’ll automatically send the clip to a predesignated email address over your phone’s data connection. You can record clips directly to your phone of up to 30 minutes in length.

At the end of the day you attach looxcie to your USB connection on your Mac (because you don’t have a PC, right?) and transfer all the video recorded that day. The looxcie records up to 5 hours of footage and when 5 hours is up it automatically starts deleting the oldest footage – so you’ll always have the last five hours the your device was powered on for. (be sure to turn it off in the restroom, just sayin.)

It also functions as a bluetooth headset for your phone and it automatically mutes the audio you’re recording if you take a call while taking video. So how much for all these features in a tiny futuristic package? This little device is priced at $199.

Downsides? I can see a few. The biggest is the video quality: 480p which will look ok on youtube, but on an HDTV it’ll look pretty poor. In the sample video you can clearly see that the tiny CMOS chip has a pretty significant rolling shutter effect, which is to be expected, but is a bigger problem than most cameras since you’re wearing the device on your head. What this means is that when you shift your head quickly in any direction, you get a distinct ‘jell-o frame’ effect that looks pretty nauseating.  At first glance the price seems pretty reasonable but its still a $200 camera that gets lower quality than most $200 pocket cameras. (a la Flip Ultra HD)

Cool things you could do with this? Many. Pretty much anytime where it’d be cool to get a person’s POV of an event you can capture it with this device. Any time you’re somewhere and something cool could happen any minute, but you don’t know when – just hit the instant clip button and you have a clip of it saved to your phone. I’d like to wear one while playing frisbee and watch the whole game from my perspective. Do a whole sunday with lots of people wearing these and intercut the footage to make a highlight video. Youth videos? Awesome. Skiing videos? Awesome. Recap videos? Awesome.

 

Some features I’d like to see added in the next version? The main thing is HD video. You can tell that they’re just trying this device out. It’ll be serious when it goes HD. Next I’d like to see an image stabilizer to make up for the rolling shutter CMOS chip.  And finally I’d like to see them make a waterproof version. Imagine swimming around wearing one of these, or taking it water skiing? Awesome. So yeah, I’m excited about the possibilities here.

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…and TV as we know it will cease to exist…

This is about as controversial as I get…

There’s been a great deal of speculation over the ‘future of TV’ and the ‘future of the internet’ or the ‘future of the internet and TV’ I went looking for some blog posts on this and the theories are both wide in their variance and numerous in count, but none of them quite capture what I believe to be one obvious theory on what TV will look like in only a short time from now.

What do others think?

Its funny to me that many “experts” try to use year-old statistics about cable or broadcast TV as proof those things will be the same in ten years. I’ve read lots of blog posts and I’ve heard people say things about how cable/broadcast TV is still the primary medium by which people get their news and how TV sales have increased over 2009. (which is a DUH by the way – I don’t know if these same people heard about a certain digital conversion that took place in 2009) TV network execs like to make a very cyclical argument that in short says “we already exist, so we’ll continue to exist – online TV basically doesn’t exist so it will never exist.” In other words they think they are ‘too big to fail’ and that internet-based video cannot compete with cable or broadcast. (Sounds similar to the record industry in 1999) One very experienced media professional actually simply said to me “The internet is a terrible delivery system for video” Its clear to me that in general, today’s TV professionals have no idea what’s coming. First off TV sales won’t stop the Internet from being the delivery medium. Second off when those ‘experts’ say “Internet” they’re thinking ‘search engines,’ ‘computer,’ and ‘browser’ – these words aren’t in the vocabulary of what internet-delivered TV will look like in the future.

So they’re just going to merge together right?

Well let me start off by saying that I heard someone say recently “these two are just going to keep growing together” which sounds like a simple answer that most people would probably agree with. This answer is totally correct in one way and totally incorrect in another way.

  • I believe that it is correct in that to the end user, the effect will still be that you sit down on a couch, Turn on your TV and be able to choose the programming in a similar fashion that you might to a DVR or a Video-on-demand service. It’ll still be on your TV.
  • I think that it is incorrect in thinking because the effect for the content producer and network execs will be totally different since it will no longer be sent over a cable TV service

…yeah so here’s where some people just aren’t going to believe me. Cable as you know it may no longer exist – possibly within your lifetime. Sorry to drop a bomb on you like that, but that’s it. I don’t make the rules. Do I think that the computer will just replace the TV? No. Do I expect that people are going to start hooking up their TVs to their computers every night to watch the overpriced movies on iTunes? No. Do I believe live television will cease to exist? No. Do I believe 24-hour TV stations will cease to exist entirely? Doubtful, though possible.

So what will TV to become?

I think in ten years you’re going buy a TV with an operating system on it with a GUI similar to Apple’s “Front Row”, Hulu’s “Hulu Desktop” or Microsoft’s Xbox 360 “360 Experience”. The TV will have a small solid-state hard drive on it, which will allow you to download ‘apps’ much like the ones everyone’s so crazy about on their phones right now. These apps might serve functions ranging from playing games to telling you the weather or helping your kid with their algebra homework. Many of these apps will simply be TV Channels. You’ll download only the channels you want – some of them will be ad supported – others will cost a premium. Some will be available for individual download – others I suspect will still be packaged together.

At the forefront of all these apps will be your queue – anytime that a new episode of the shows that you subscribe to comes up, it goes into your queue. So you sit down on your couch and turn on your TV – if you turned it off in the middle of something it’ll start playing that again as if it had just been paused. You may think that sounds just like DVR – well it does, but there’s more to it. You see, instead of receiving a stream of channels over digital cable, you’ll get it over cable-based Internet. And instead of storing that episode on a hard drive in a set-top box, you’re streaming from an online service. I do think that live events will still stream live over their respective channels- though I imagine that they will likely still be available at our convenience for a period afterwards. When you finish one Item in your queue, your TV will advance right on to the next unwatched item and so on, and so fourth. If you don’t have anything in your queue it’ll most likely select something else similar to what you’ve already watched, so in the end the effect is still the same: you can sit and aimlessly watch TV all day long. Don’t worry, there was never any chance that was no longer going to be the case.

So this is what I’m sayin’

A television device with the power of the average computer in its innards. No more flipping through ‘channels’ but rather subscribing to specific shows off of specific channels that will land in your queue. Ads will definitely still be in there – and there won’t be anything you can do about it, but they will likely be more things that actually interest you. And yes, more than likely over-the-air 24 hour local stations will still exist and your TV will allow you to open those up too. But if you’re a local TV station, ten years down the road you’d better be saying ‘we have an app for that’ to your customer so they can still tune in.

Permission to treat the witness as hostile

Why do I think this? Am I just being or crazy? No, I actually have some research to back me up. Perhaps the greatest argument is this: TV’s primary reason for existence is not to entertain, but to deliver ads. The market penetration of DVRs is steadily increasing. According to a Barclays Capitol study, a third (33%) of homes with TV now have a DVR also. Try to follow me here: according to this same study: 1) DVRs increase the amount of TV watched 2) most of these DVRs are new within the past year 3) People who haven’t had DVRs as long (2 years or less) don’t usually skip commercials those who have had it a while do skip commercials – so therefore 4) At this point, commercial viewership is still up. (I liken this to the initial increase in CD sales the year Napster was introduced) Think about it: as consumers become more savvy and as DVRs get more popular – guess what isn’t going to be watched? Ads! – People are going to be fast-forwarding right through them! An internet-based medium allows for assurance that not only are ads being viewed, but also they can be tailored specifically to the household watching. Once advertisers start realizing that thanks to DVRs ratings of TV shows ≠ viewings of ads any longer there will have to be a shift in the way people deliver those ads.

Another issue to be considered is the advent of these subscription-based and ad-supported streaming services being available on devices like the Android, iPad, iPhone and iPod as well as your netbook, notebook desktop and work station computers. It’s available in all of these places and not on the big screen in your home? Um, is anyone else seeing why this is the obvious next step? If you had one of these new subscriptions to a premium service like Netflix or Hulu Plus – you’d be able to watch it on your break at work on your desktop, while you’re waiting to pick up your kids on your phone, flying to Tokyo on an iPad or amazingly, just at home on your TV.

The third reason why I think this is so likely is because ITS ALREADY HAPPENING. I have my Xbox set up to stream Netflix movies in HD – I often use Hulu Desktop to watch movies and TV. While I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you as I am probably a little more knowledgeable than the average user, I also recently helped a couple (who would not really call themselves ‘super tech savvy’) install a new blu-ray player that has Netflix, youtube and Pandora streaming right to it. After a few minutes of watching a 720p HD show on Netflix they decided to get rid of their cable and just hang onto the internet. You know where this 30 something guy got the idea? His Dad! – His Dad who had already bought a Roku streaming device to replace his cable box. And I know several more families that have already gone this route – citing its affordable price and customizability as strong reasons for jumping on it early. I could write another whole article about how streaming video is ideal for sports fans – and how they are already using it. Most folks have at least one team that they love that doesn’t see much coverage on the major networks – imagine, you just download the “Redwings” app, pay a subscription and you won’t miss a game!

The next big step in the process is going to happen soon when Apple releases its App store for the newly upgraded “Apple TV.” The Apple TV isn’t a TV at all – it’s a box that works with iTunes and allows you to play your HD content directly to an HDTV. The App store will work like the app store on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and now Mac computers. So you could download apps – like the Netflix steaming app, the Hulu app, the ABC app….are you getting the picture yet? It’ll replace the need for cable or satellite in many homes.

Apple is actually late arriving at this game, Boxee – a very forward thinking company – has developed a similar product that uses existing streaming services like Hulu and Netflix as well as services provided many sporting franchises. People are even buying cheap PCs and Mac Minis to dedicate to their internet-based TV watching using Hulu desktop, Apple front row or boxee. You can find out more about boxee by checking out their site. Mark Cuban wrote an interesting blog post entitled “the future of TV is TV” wherein he said he didn’t think these ‘extra boxes’ will catch on because they’re complicated and people like things to be simple. I agree with him – the boxes won’t last, but I think that’s only because people will start integrating the same functionality into the sets themselves. Eventually, just like the guy who decided to put a cable receiver and a TV into one box, someone is going to realize the value of having this device integrated into the TV – no extra boxes externally.

Think inside the box

Still think I’m crazy? Okay well here’s a surpise for you: What I’m talking about already exists. Samsung has integrated into their last two TV model series what they call “Yahoo Widgets” available for download to your TV – one of which is Netflix. Think that’s an outlier? Sony’s Bravia Series (already 68% of the market) now ships with the ability to stream Netflix directly. Are you starting to see a trend here? I think that the TV will still basically look like a HDTV does today, but I think that it will have a role similar to an enormous iPad – simple, yet versatile. It will sync with the computers in your house and may even have a built-in camera for video chatting (which is already becoming more popular thanks to skype and Apple’s ‘face time’ commercials) Imagine – finally being at the Jetsons/ back to the future 2 stage where your TV rings and its your grandma or your boss. It’s all the very least we could have in ten years.

But this really can’t happen in ten years . . . right?

Ten years ago I remember having to explain the idea of an MP3 player to the average teenager. I also remember people saying that MP3s would never replace CDs – I was one of them. Then in 2001 Apple introduced the iPod. I don’t know that I have to explain that any further but, what the heck; To date, Apple has sold a quarter of a billion iPods (yes, that’s billion – with a ‘b’) – I couldn’t find an exact figure but based off of the iPod’s current market penetration I think that it’s safe to say that this is just over half of the total number of digital audio players sold over the past ten years – that puts the total players (of any brand) somewhere close to 500,000,000. I could give you tons of staggering statistics about how quickly the adoption of file-based digital audio caught on – like the fact that when apple released iTunes for Windows it reached one-million downloads in less than three days – but what it comes down to is this: technology changes fast and if something is a good idea people will jump on it. If anything, I think ten years is conservative.

These crazy kids and their interwebs…

If you’re over age 60 and you’re thinking “I’d never use that! – that sounds complicated” first – I completely agree. You probably wouldn’t – but your children will. In fact, it’s likely some of them already do. Second, the iPhone is yet again an example of how if a device is way more capable in some ways, people are willing for it to be a little more complicated. You don’t buy the iPhone because its an awesome phone – you buy it because its cool and can do lots more than a regular phone can.

In Conclusion…

So, the future of TV will be very awesome for the consumer – lots more personalized and versatile.The future of TV for the professional will only be as hard as they try to make it – if they can accept the change and jump into a forward thinking group and things will be on the up and up. But if they resist, I think we’ll see a great deal of the same thing that happened to the music industry who tried to bury the MP3. If I could paint it in a word picture –its like trying to plug a leak in a cardboard boat – it won’t ever stop. People will find the content they want in the most convenient way for them.

What does this mean for you if you’re an upstart non-profit, church or small business? Awesome news! Instead of paying absurd fees to appear on cable or even more absurd fees to be on broadcast TV, you can own your own channel! You can have visibility that rivals any Turner network if you just hire a developer or get your code-monkey friend to put together an App for you. Online video services like vimeo and youtube are free, but you can even develop and host your own for only a few thousand a year. In addition, local advertising will be more accessible than ever! You’ll still be able to advertise to the local area (much like you already can with facebook) on preexisting services.

So yeah, I’m excited. TV’s only going to get cooler.

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