The Television / PC Divide

Kodak’s technology blog, A Thousand Nerds, has an interesting post about the changing nature of consumer entertainment demand and how that will affect the way content gets delivered to its audience. It may be that we finally bridge the Television / PC divide by eliminating both from the equation:

A Thousand Nerds: A Kodak blog about innovation

What does this all mean? The TV and Internet as we know it are about to undergo massive change. TV will be replaced by connected displays able to deliver a full range of multimedia output. Sitting in front of the computer clicking away will also be replaced by new ways of interacting with these connected displays as the interaction transforms from passive consumption to two-way interaction. You can also expect more changes within the industry as companies consolidate, form new strategic partnerships, and realign offerings around multimedia.

Not that PCs will go away, or televisions either. But after decades of attempts to somehow merge the two (Windows Media Center, WebTV, etc), its seemed very clear that the two do not go together. The problem is largely one of furniture, however: people sit at desks to use their PCs and lounge on couches to watch TV, neither of which providing a comfortable environment to swap roles.

But with wireless technology and handheld devices getting ever more powerful, it’s becoming possible to lounge and surf or sit in a McDonald’s and graze television shows. Interfaces for watching media on the Internet have gotten more savvy as well, solving another major impediment to PC media, which is of course the laziness factor of television.

Television is a passive media by nature and big, overstuffed couches and remote controls have only added to this fact. When I was a tech support phone jockey for Gateway, they were trying out Media Center PCs, and the obvious conclusion of anyone answering the phones was that PC-controlled television was simply too much work for a medium that breeds couch potatoes. Using Windows menus through manipulating a pointer/mouse/remote control was simply too much.

But YouTube’s ability to pick from a scrolling window of next recommended videos is a start of an interface which combines choice and simplicity. And let’s face it: technology may be grand – it may be wonderful to watch the latest news from your phone at Starbucks – but who the hell wants to watch Lord of the Rings on a 2″ phone when your livingroom has that great 36″ plasma?

But the biggest challenge facing the digital media industry is the industry itself: media producers have had an inflated sense of self-worth for far too long, having had hard-copy media to rely on a steady source of revenue. If you’re the only company pressing Tiffany albums, everyone needs to buy your shit. Those days when media could be held and produced exclusively are long-since gone, and media companies are only just now finally accepting reality.

Now, with the huge bandwidth buyout, it’s becoming clear that media giants are beginning to embrace their role as content providers, not producers. Now that you cannot reliably count on being the sole source of a given artist’s work, it is much more important to be the primary source of content. Companies are beginning to embrace the notion that if they are the easiest and most convenient avenue of entertainment, they will be the most successful.

But the danger in that realization? Why, the elimination of Net Neutrality, of course. If content providers can make it more difficult and more expensive for little guys to provide content in any way, they continue to rise to the top of the heap. They can once more revel in their air of superiority. And once again, they do so at the expense of the general public.

So, as much as new technology means wonderful new opportunities for us as citizens of a digital age, keep in mind that it also represents a lot of money to a small number of highly-influential people. We must be mindful of attempts to use this liberating technology to once more limit our choices.

And then get back to watching bobcats pee in a toilet.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.