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Can TV and the internet peacefully co-exist in one device?

Can TV and the internet peacefully co-exist in one device? Tom Hespos

Walking through the electronics department at Costco has gotten me really excited -- about televisions.

The fancy display showcasing 3D TV is now gone. Over the course of several weeks, I saw shoppers walk up to the display, try on the goggles, and then move on to look at televisions that weren't so cutting-edge. I'm glad to see that display go.

I'm also glad to see that connected televisions are appearing on the shelves. I'm not excited to buy one, mind you. I'm excited that these new devices have taken the premium-priced mantle away from 1080p large-screen LCD and LED sets, which is what I have my eye on when it's time to get a new set.

As you've probably already figured out, I'm not buying into the latest couple of rounds of "innovation" in the field of television hardware. To me, 3D was nothing but a short-lived joke. Those New Yorkers old enough to remember having to get red and blue glasses at 7-Eleven to watch 3D monster movies on WPIX know that the affinity for 3D viewing ebbs and flows over time. The success of several recent 3D movies notwithstanding, it's a novelty with no staying power. My Blu-Ray copy of "Journey to the Center of the Earth" came with 3D glasses -- why do I need new hardware to enjoy a few bits of content in 3D?

It's the newest "innovation" that bugs me more, though. Connected sets may seem like the next big thing, but for now, I'm lumping them into the pile of discarded, useless TV ideas along with everything from the circa 1998 convergence movement.

You see, as much as hardware manufacturers and marketing execs would like to see the internet and television come together, there are two very significant forces holding them apart.

The first is one you're probably already familiar with. It's the "lean forward" versus "lean back" thing. Most people who watch television do so in order to be passively entertained. Requiring input from people who are engaging in an activity partly because they don't want to give that input is a shaky proposition at best.

I see that behavior represented in my own consumption habits. My two-year-old wants to watch "Dora the Explorer" at 8 a.m., and I let out a sigh because it means I have to find the remote and go eight or so menus deep into the video-on-demand guide. If I miss a story on News 12 about a car accident down the block, I need to change the channel and start surfing menus. Getting television viewers to go back and forth between passive and active entertainment, when they're expecting a passive form, is a lot of momentum to overcome. Even when you're talking about just a few simple button presses.

The second force is one I think is even more difficult to overcome. It's the "private versus public device" thing. Do you have a teenager living at home? (If not, just pretend you do for a moment.) How willing do you think this teenager will be to let the entire family see their Twitter private messages on a 60-inch big screen? Assuming you can get past that, go to your Facebook account and review your last 10 private messages and status updates. Would you be as comfortable typing those out for display on your television as you would be sending them from your private computer or mobile device?

This is, in my opinion, the bigger obstacle to overcome for connected television sets. The heavy users of the apps many of them carry are probably not all that thrilled with the notion of having their highly personal information up on the big screen, even if it's in front of close family members. Connected televisions will be saddled with somehow figuring out how to turn highly personal communication into shared communication.

All of this, of course, isn't without a silver lining. Those six-inch 1080p sets with insanely high refresh rates and beautiful picture qualities are cheaper now since they're not considered cutting edge any more. One of them will look great in my basement rec room.

Tom Hespos is the chairman and president of Underscore Marketing

Follow him on Twitter (@_MarketingLLC) and follow iMediaConnection at @iMediaTweet

Tom Hespos is President of New York agency Underscore Marketing. He is a frequent contributor to industry trade publications and has been writing a regular column about online marketing and advertising since March of 1998. His clients include Wyeth...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Tom Hespos

2011, January 25

Hi Vincent - Movies are passive entertainment, regardless of which pipes are used to deliver them.

The types of things I'm talking about here - the things I think that are doomed to failure - are the apps built into televisions that seem to want to combine a passive viewing experience with an active, "lean-forward" input-driven experience.

In other words, I don't really consider picking a streaming movie to fall into this category. I've done it a million times on my Cablevision VOD, AppleTV, etc. Really, you just pick something and then settle onto the couch per usual, ready for a passive experience. Nothing's asking you for input while you're viewing.

Commenter: Vincent Amari

2011, January 25

Tom, you raise some good points but missed making any comment on the actual TV channels over Internet capabilities?

I agree on the social media user privacy concerns, but firstly that would be by choice - simply don't use your TV to twitter or Facebook - and secondly, there are many TV owners that either live alone or don't have children.

Then there is also the growing online movie rental market. Would rather watch these on TV than on my PC

Commenter: Tom Hespos

2011, January 24

That's interesting, Mitchel, but it's not the type of thing I'm describing. I'm describing the app-based stuff that we tend to already get from our computers and from our mobile devices. DVRs/listings/etc. are part of the functionality of the TV experience and don't require significant input when you're watching a show. Same goes for movie streaming, regardless of the source.

Gaming is an altogether different experience. I've got all of the "Big 3" consoles, and no game that I know of is designed for instream enjoyment along with TV content. It's a conscious decision to shut off the cable box and turn on the XBox, and you're expecting an experience that's signficantly departed from the passive viewing experience TV offers. An XBox isn't a convergence device. It's a console that happens to use a TV for its display.

The apps we're talking about are things that folks are expected to enjoy while they're watching TV. Share your thoughts on the new batch of poor schlubs on American Idol via Twitter - that kind of thing. I still don't see it flying.

Commenter: Mitchel Ahern

2011, January 24

Not only will the internet and television come together, they already have, and it's a mainstream phenomenon.

At it's most widespread any digital cable subscriber with a DVR is getting their listings and on-demand content over what is, for all practical purposes, the internet. Set-top boxes increasingly support the same sorts of apps you'll find on phones and other devices.

Gamers by the millions are playing with and talking to each other over the internet on their Xbox or other connected gaming devices, right there on the family widescreen and broadband.

And those cable subscribers are turning off their movie channels and getting streaming Netflix instead; they can do that on the Xbox too, but perhaps prefer to get an AppleTV box for $100 (no monthly) and have access to all their iTunes files as well.

I can watch classic Dick Van Dyke episodes on my big screen live or recorded from Comcast Xfinity, or streaming from NetFlix through my AppleTV; or use the same account to watch the same shows on my iPad or iPhone. I can comment on them, rate them and recommend them to friends.

That is true television/internet convergence; and it is now.