From the sublime to the ridiculous, years of promise in bringing the internet to the television screen is finally starting to deliver. We've covered Sony and Samsung entering the race to deliver internet to the lounge room, now add Panasonic and Phillips to the list.
Panasonic's VieraCast will incorporate content from EuroSport, Bloomberg, Google's Picassa and YouTube, with more in the pipeline with the first sets to go on sale in the northern spring 2009. Phillips' Net TV service will also be built into sets going on sale in 2009.
In terms of marketshare, the only company missing from the list is the US number three player LG. Although they have yet to demonstrate an internet enabled television, LG is the company that brought the world the internet refrigerator, and currently supports internet access in their Blu-ray players, allowing users to stream or download content from Netflix. It's not a matter of if LG will join the party, it's only a question of when.
2009 will be the year of internet television. All major players will offer internet connectivity in some form or another across parts of their product range.
But availability doesn't deliver ubiquity.
Television sales are interesting in the context of the US downturn, actually rising as the economy slowed. Two factors today are driving sales: the affordability and desirability of large screen televisions, and the impeding switch to digital television. Both apply nearly equally across Western countries. We want our big screens, and word of mouth and clever marketing is driving demand for HD. Where as a television may have remained in the family for 20 years in the past, we willingly update our television sets every 5 years or so now to keep up with the Jones'.
The economics of replacement exist, if you don't have a big screen now you may have budgeted it as a future purchase. If you have a big screen now, you may be wondering whether it's big enough, a question I've already asked myself about our 18 month old 40" Sony Bravia. I know I'm not about to go out and replace my set, but as prices continue to fall and screens get bigger, it's conceivable that in the next 2-3 years, I'll be upgrading again.
But what defines one set to another? Sony, Panasonic, Phillips and Samsung believe that internet access will be a selling point in driving future sales. Some will offer a more open platforms than others, and users will be given a variety of choices. If considering the same sized television, with the same screen resolution, inputs, at the same price, and one has internet access, it's pretty obvious which one consumer will choose. The differentiation will then drive supply, as those not offering internet enabled televisions will scramble to match the competition. Features will improve, the range will expand, until ultimately we get to the point where every new television offered for sale will become internet enabled.
2015 will be 6 years after internet television hits the big time. Even if we take a television replacement cycle out to 6-8 years, enough people will be in the market to drive the adaption forward so that internet functionality won't be a driver, it will become just another standard feature as technology such as OLED become the new focal points. Every television set will offer internet connectivity, as those that didn't offer access have ceased selling, or been upgraded to keep up. In 2015, the idea that your new television set isn't internet enabled will be foreign to general populous.
So long broadcast television
When I wrote about the death of broadcast television, I mentioned the rise of the internet enabled television as the driver of the nail into traditional televisions nail. What I didn't know then was how quickly this change would come around, and even months ago I couldn't have predicted that in 2009 internet enabled televisions would be everywhere. I'm still putting the death at 10 to 20 years, but what we are seeing now can only hasten the downfall of broadcast television. Take it as a given that by 2014 the majority of people will have an internet enabled television, and that by the end of the decade all bar a small few will have digital delivery of content in their lounge rooms. We can look no further than the content deals already being cut with this first generation of internet televisions that cable channels in particular are scrambling to offer their content on demand digitally, and smart television companies will follow, because they will realize that to reach their audience, digital content delivery will win out over broadcast television when everyone has access via their remote control.