8 ways that watching TV will be different in 2020

Yesterday I finished reading Mike Proulx‘s book, Social TV. It’s a great primer on the past few years of connecting TV to social media. From reading it, you can get a pretty good picture of how you’ll watch TV in a few years. Let’s say 2020 just to be conservative.

Every TV will be wirelessly connected to the internet
This almost goes without saying, but any “TV” you acquire will configure itself to connect to the internet to update itself and stream content from any number of content services. You’ll be able to choose to subscribe to services like Netflix or Hulu, Verizon or Comcast, but it will be based on which service provides you the best content at the best price.

Every TV will be a computer; every computer will be a TV
You’ll be able to watch TV on all your devices, whether it be a phone (they’ll all be smartphones), tablet, laptop (desktops will be gone) or an actual standalone TV. We’ll finally be past the silly licensing issues that allow you watch content on one device, but not another. (See Hulu vs Boxee for an example.) That also means that current TVs will have to get a lot smarter. Manufacturers will stop wasting time on gimmicks like 3D TV and instead install Android or Apple’s iOS directly into their TVs. There will be no need for a set top box or game console because every screen will have a computer inside that is capable of those functions.

Almost all TV will be on-demand
While TV shows may still have an initial airing time, like 8pm on Thursdays, they will be immediately available for watching on any device on-demand thereafter. Live events will still be live (awards shows, breaking news, sports, etc), but most TV watching will be for shows that initially “aired” sometime in the past. Networks will realize that tape delays are subverted by social media and stop using them.

The DVR will disappear
The DVR has always been an interim solution for video on demand. If you can watch any show anytime, anywhere, why would you bother programming a DVR? Instead, your TV will be a lot smarter about presenting you with options on what you should watch. Imaging turning on your screen and being presented with the latest episode of a show you watch regularly, a movie a friend recommended and some other suggestions based on your past viewing history.

Every show will have bonus content that augments the experience
Think Pop-Up Video on steroids. As you’re watching a show, you can either overlay additional information about what’s happening directly on the screen or onto a secondary screen, like a tablet. That content will include facts, polls, quizzes, links to buy items in the show, behind the scenes photos, commentary from your friends, actors and general social media, all synchronized with where you are in the show. People will get very good at consuming both of these streams at once. The current Tower of Babel of different apps and platforms will settle on an HTML5-based standard that will run on any screen.

Remote controls will be obsolete
Remote controls have always been ugly, unintuitive and limited. You’ll control your TV with hand gestures, your voice or a far more intuitive and dynamic interface on your secondary screen. This is already happening with the XBox Kinect and Samsung’s latest TVs.

TV measurement will take into account social data
Today ad buyers and TV networks use services like Neilsen almost as a currency to determine how much to sell their ads for.  These buyers and sellers will have incorporate data about what people are saying about their shows as part of their worth calculation, as determined from measuring how people talk about it on social networks, not just how many people have watched it in the past.

All ads will be personalized
Every ad will be tailored to your interests or at least be customized to show local information, like your local car dealer’s contact information. If multiple people are watching, it will be customized to everyone in the room. Ads will be served dynamically, just like the ads you see on web pages today.

So where are we now?

The most interesting thing about this list is that there are no technical reasons why this couldn’t happen today. It’s all a matter of companies changing their business models to¬†accommodate internet-connected computer/TVs and breaking the dominant model of buying a TV subscription from whoever your local cable company is. To get there, TV networks and show creators need to open up their licensing to on-demand internet viewing.

For an example of the change we’re going to see, let’s take my TV cabinet. It has 4 internet-connected devices in it right now:

  • A DVR that’s good at recording shows and watching live TV
  • A Wii that’s good at playing games
  • A WD Live box that plays video files and streams from services like Netflix
  • A Pioneer receiver that amplifies sound and switches between the other devices

Of course, my TV can be connected to the internet too, but I don’t bother leaving it connected, for the same reason I don’t watch Netflix on my Wii – it kinda works, but it’s terrible. All of these current devices do one thing really well and do everything else terribly. With a computer built into the TV, all of them become useless except perhaps for the receiver if my TV’s speakers aren’t great.

Interestingly, Apple seems to be in the best position to lead this market change. They already make the small-screen devices like the iPhone, iPad and laptops. Those devices already play games, video files and streaming services. All they need is a big screen version that can also show live TV. And that’s exactly what’s rumored to be coming out at some point.

I pay about $70/month today for Verizon FiOS TV for only one reason – it’s the only way I can watch Red Sox games live. While MLB.tv provides a service that would allow me to watch games on any device, I cannot watch in Boston because of archaic licensing restrictions designed to preserve the existing cable subscription business models. As soon as that changes (I’m not holding my breath), I’ll gladly pay for MLB.tv and only the other internet streaming services I really want.

I can’t wait.




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