Opening television to the Internet
The letter, which comes after the 2008 CES show in which the absence of an open industry standard for accessing Internet content on TVs was made obvious, identified a few key elements of such a standard:
- Direct Network Connectivity – TVs should be connected directly to the Internet through home networks, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and Ethernet.
- Internet Media Browser – Every TV should have an Internet Media Browser (IMB) designed for finding, browsing and viewing video from the Internet. Unlike a web browser, the IMB as a standard should be designed around a narrower goal of browsing and viewing streaming video and music. The IMB would be like the traditional cable electronic programming guide (EPG) for Internet content. With the IMB, consumers should be able to browse through any media catalog published on the Internet and stream the videos and audio directly to their TV. The IMB should handle playback with standard codecs including MP3, Flash Video (VP6), H.264, and VC-1. Finally the IMB should support a simple, standardized programming model that would enable ad insertion and analytics integration through web protocols.
- Catalog Publishing – To get listings and content into the Internet Media Browsers, we will need a standard for any Internet publisher to publish catalogs of media content. Most likely using XML, this standard would provide a simple way for any website with media content to list that content along with the metadata, such as title and description, and pointers to the physical files. This standard would mean that regardless of the device, an IMB would be able to easily display the listings and access the streaming content. The relationship between the publishing standard and IMBs would be like the relationship between RSS and RSS readers.
- Registration Services – The final component is one that would create a natural bridge between web browsing on a PC and Internet Media Browsing from a TV. The core of this is a standard for registering devices with an online service where consumers can save links to the media catalogs they'd like to access from their TV. With this mechanism in place, it would be easy for someone to click a link from a web page to say, "I want to watch this on my TV," and have the video or collection of videos registered online and automatically made available on their TV the next time they turn it on. By making this an open standard, companies providing cloud services could compete in an open market place and consumers could choose the service they want whether it's from a manufacturer, social network, portal or someone else.
My thinking is simple, they will need a substantial amount of time to get their act together, (believe me I know, TVersity has been discussing ways to bring the Internet to the living room with consumer electronic companies for a long time) and then it takes another 7 years or so for these new TVs to be deployed in a large enough number of households (A typical household keeps their TV set at least that amount of time and since many just got a new HD TV they won't make a new investment for a while). Until that time content publishers won't have a critical mass of viewers so they won't bother addressing this market.
In the same time, the latest generation game consoles have been deployed in more than 20 million homes already, it has impressive Internet capabilities and at least two of the three consoles (the PS3 and the Xbox 360) were designed as multimedia gateways. Microsoft and Sony are very well aware of the Internet opportunity and are looking to capitalize on it and usurp the market long before the CE guys can make their move.
While this is all taking place, the existing rulers of the living room, the cable and satellite TV operators are not going to give up their control without a battle. Comcast's announcement of project Infinity and tru2way are two indications of it. Add to that the fact that TV operators are able to deploy new set-top-boxes faster than TVs are sold and that their latest generation HD-DVRs have updatable firmware and an Ethernet connection, and once again it is obvious that they can make a market changing move long before the CE guys.
Of-course the open letter would not have been any more effective if it were addressed at TV operators or game console companies. It is the nature of every emerging market to go through all the "unnecessary" stages of extreme fragmentation and eventual consolidation both in terms of products and standard and in terms of companies that deliver them. This market is no exception, if anything it is going to be much worse, since a lot is at stake and the players come from many different tradiitonally isolated industries (Software, TV service providers, CE companies, networking companies, Set-Top-Box companies and more).
What do you think about this letter?