With the close of the Consumer Electronics Show 2011, and so many exciting and innovative new products revealed, I thought it would be appropriate to look ahead at where these technologies will take the video-viewing world, and whether they’ll have the impact their manufacturers are hoping for.
Let’s start with technology we already have: mobile video. Everyone with a smartphone has the ability now to stream any YouTube video or show on Netflix into the palm of their hand. In fact, the number of mobile views of YouTube videos in 2010 tripled over the previous year’s to a whopping 200 million views per day. With over a billion smartphones in use worldwide, not everyone’s watching – but almost. And many companies who have traditionally only broadcasted their content are now turning to mobile and other app-based interfaces for distribution.
Some – including FCC chairman Julius Genchowski – are even getting worried that the current US wireless infrastructure will not be able to handle the growth in mobile data transmission that is sure to come in the next five years. When Genachowski spoke at CES, he said that he is currently seeking approval from Congress that will allow wireless carriers to buy unused wireless spectrum from TV broadcasting companies at auction, with the government (who licenses the spectrum) and the broadcasting companies each taking a cut of the profits. According to Genachowski, all but 10% of American TV watchers get their TV by digital signal, not by transmission over the wireless spectrum, so a significant portion of it is going un-utilized.
As smartphone adoption grows, so too will their technology continue to approve. What’s next for phones, tablets, and maybe even magazines and newspapers? OLED.
OLED stands for Organic Light-Emitting Diode, which is just what it sounds like – a thin film of organic compounds which produce light when stimulated by an electric current. The big buzz around OLED is that it can be used to make paper-thin, flexible screens, as seen in Samsung’s CES demo above. Not only are the resolution and brightness outstanding, but it also uses a fraction of the power that it takes to run the LCD screens in today’s phones.
In addition to changing the face of smartphones, OLEDs could potentially be used to replace the many millions of tons of paper waste created by the magazine and newspaper industries each year – buy a Wall Street Journal OLED 2-pager (with subscription fee) and it automatically updates itself every morning (while storing a week’s worth of back issues). This platform would also allow to content providers that have traditionally been stuck in the time-consuming text-only medium to branch out and start providing vital information in video form. Sure, many magazines and papers are currently supplying iPad apps that accomplish this, but many iPad news consumers find they miss the convenience of the old form factor. Whether this tech will trend towards tablet consolidation or ePaper diversification remains to be seen.
Finally, most of the consumption of high-value content like shows and movies remains on the only medium which has utterly dominated for over 50 years: the ubiquitous household television.
And of course, the biggest change that’s coming to TV in 2011 is 3D. You’ve seen it on the floor at CES, you’ve seen it at Best Buy, you’ve even seen it in the Target newspaper insert. It seems like the entire TV industry – top-to-bottom – is going whole hog for 3D. But it isn’t without its issues. Many of the current 3D TVs must be viewed with glasses to get the 3D effect. Of the two types of glasses, Active Shutter glasses must be charged, cost over $100 each, and have been said to cause nausea, while the cheap-as-free Passive Shutter glasses take an apparently harsh dip in image crispness, brightness, and 3D “popitude”. Neither technology seems ready for every household, especially when you consider that most Americans would not be too excited about having to wear some fancy glasses just to watch The Office in 3D. That’s why I am personally excited about the forthcoming glasses-free 3D TVs (video above) that we just got a taste of at CES this year. Although plagued with a host of their own technological hurdles, glasses-free 3D seems like it has the best chance of wide adoption, due to ease-of-use and potentially lower cost.
Moving away from pure tech for a moment, I’d like to comment on another aspect of TV viewing that will grow in the next five years – interactivity. Devices like Apple TV and the Google TV-powered Logitech Revue have already added some apps and streaming-content services to our boring old TVs, allowing us to sever the cable connection. But is that enough to call our TVs truly “smart”? Music identification service Shazam is hoping that its new TV tagging platform will take that next step. Currently only available for one show on one channel, Shazam’s TV tagging will allow viewers to active the app (currently on for smartphones) and participate in social activities populated by other current viewers, such as discussions, polls, and even contests.
Broadcast organizations have been bemoaning the great migration of consumers towards online streaming content, which saps the broadcasters advertising revenue. But by linking social media with real-time broadcast (or streaming) content, broadcasters can hope to draw consumers back to the as-it-happens world of scheduled programming (and advertising). Potentially, shows could even have multiple storyline options, with the audience determining which one they want to see broadcast, which would also drive traffic of everyone wanting to see the other option to the broadcaster’s streaming site. I predict we will see a grand evolution in how we watch TV in the next five years – we will be doing much more than watching.