When you look at the stats for video consumed on computer screens, it’s fairly staggering. Literally hundreds of millions of videos per day on YouTube alone, 26 billion videos online in the month of September, averaging about 10 hours per month per person. From one perspective, this could be considered inconsequential relative to the estimated 8 hours per day on the old fashioned TV set (though that stat is open to some interpretation). However, considering this is still the early days of quality content being available online, it’s pretty safe to say that the computer (and of course Internet) is a successful media playback device. So is the future of entertainment going to live on the 50″ HDTV display or the 15″ laptop?
The old argument: the PC is a terrible entertainment platform
At my job a decade ago I used to travel around the world meeting with virtually every company who built PCs, phones, and other gadgets. At the time the focus was on the emerging “digital home”, a wonderful place where we envisioned the PC (for sake of typing, when I say “PC” I mean “computer” and include Macs in this generalization) as the “server” device, providing media to enjoy on connected TVs and stereos. We used to talk about how terrible a laptop or desktop was as a media consumption device, and how nobody would really want to sit around a small screen to watch any kind of premium content. Other than the time I thought Amazon wouldn’t get anywhere selling books online, I can’t think of a time I was more wrong about something. In reality PCs are now phenomenal media devices. Laptops are unbelievably convenient when it comes to portable entertainment, and you can readily purchase surround sound setups for desktops.
All the ways the PC rules
The computer is unquestionably the most versatile product since the invention of the wheel, and when it comes to entertainment offerings, there’s no shortage of tools and services to enhance one’s experience. With a computer and a high-speed Internet connection, we are a hair’s width away from a true all-content on-demand any-time lifestyle (and for those willing to skirt some pesky laws, they are already living that way). Whether it’s Pandora or last.fm, Hulu or Windows Media Center (or even the remote possibility that TV Everywhere actually delivers as promised), you can have truly personalized media experience, all the time.
The kids today…
As a youth I distinctly remember our home’s expansion to a few dozen channels and our fancy remote control (which was actually wired to the cable box). By the time I was in college, we had a couple of hundred channels, pay-per-view content, and premium cable offerings. The living room was the only real place in the home for entertainment, with our CRT TV, video game console, cable box, and VCR. College-age kids today have a very different perspective. Paying for content (other than video games) is a generally foreign concept, as they’ve been surrounded by free for a long, long time. And this is nothing compared with young children who are growing up in the post-DVR, on-demand world, where programming schedules seem utterly arbitrary. People under 25 (and some above, of course) are used to taking their entertainment with them, and the only reason to bother going into the living room is to use their game console for gaming, chatting with friends, or watching movies – all activities they’d prefer to do in their own space anyway.
So is my $4000 (2000 1000 500!) high definition set with surround sound a dinosaur?
Ask me that after I watch Dark Knight in 1080p for the 3rd time. Or during the Stanley Cup Finals. Or even for an episode of Glee (yeah, I watch it, but I offset it with Man vs Wild, so back off). There’s just some content that, if given the option, I’d rather watch on a humongo-screen with amazing sound. And no matter how much time we spend watching content on our laptops or phones, it’s just a different type of experience. Further, the TV industry isn’t about to go quietly into any goodnight – innovation in televisions is probably moving faster than we’ve seen in the past 3 decades. Today you can already buy TVs with built-in Internet streaming from a variety of sources, and we’re seeing numerous experiments with 2-way interactivity and 3d displays. So the era of “making em bigger and cheaper” seems to be fading into the era of “making em do more”.
Some infallible predictions:
- The popular categories of TV sizes will remain the same for the foreseeable future
- PC/online media consumption rates will increase (rapidly) over the next 5 years
- TV viewing rates will NOT decrease over the next 5 years
- Cable attachment rates (# of people who pay a cable/satellite company) will decrease over the next 5 years, specifically due to people “cutting the cord” and consuming Internet-provided content instead
- All major sports will have full live and archived streams available online within 2 years
- At least one major sport will provide direct-to-TV streaming services within 2 years
- Blu-Ray will continue to flounder, but will show continued (mild) growth for the next few years
- Real-time interactivity will be tested on major TV shows in the next 2 years (and it’ll be more than just a twitter stream!)
- Apple will do something more interesting in this space than Apple TV.
- 3D will not drive the sales of new sets anywhere near what “the industry” hope or project
- The biggest growth area will be the confluence of laptop use simultaneous to TV viewing
- There will likely be a resurgence in more dedicated portable media players (that aren’t iPhones) with native streaming services. They will fare poorly.
- The concept of the “convergence/Internet set-top box” as well. These too will do poorly.
- In 3 years there will be 14 different versions of CSI on the air. Also, the writers of Heroes will still fail in their attempt to kill a character permanently.
I’m loving it
Let’s face it, this is an exciting time for being entertained. There are so many ways to consume content, and so many interesting experiments occurring around the industry. Further, many “standards” are pretty well in place, meaning the 720p 42″ plasma you bought 3 years ago is still going to work just fine 3 years from now. This is unquestionably a good time for innovators, entrepreneurs, and consumers alike. If you find yourself bored and you have a screen somewhere nearby, you just aren’t trying hard enough.
Disclosures: I was on the steering committee for UPnP, DLNA, I built the Slingbox, and have consulted on topics related to convergence and marketing/PR for Boxee, DivX, VUDU, Clicker.com, NETGEAR. As such, I’ve attempted to avoid anything specific to those companies in this post. In no way are any of my consulting clients related to my tech blogging, though one could argue I’ve seemed to align myself with companies who build cool stuff in the convergence space – and they would be right.