I spent two days in New York, attending the 2007 Media Summit. With Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller as keynote speakers, this event was bound to attract the top people in the traditional media business. I am talking about Television and Advertising. And they were all there in suits. A small handful of us, representing silicon valley, were there too, trying to understand how traditional media saw the world. As soon as the conference started it became abundantly clear that guys in the Internet media camp, and guys in the traditional media camp see the world in very different ways indeed.
On both days of the conference I was a panelist. One of the panels was titled "Reinveting Advertising: Broadband, Social Media, Mobile, VOD & DVR - New Platforms, New Paradigms". I was sitting between the Sr. VP Corporate Strategy at Disney and the Dir. Bus. Development at Charter. The former represented the content owners, the latter represented distribution. The conversation inevitably came to interactive TV. The paradigm where you can click on things you see on TV and get feedback and interact with the device.
I very thoughtful question was asked. It went something like this: "I've been waiting for interactive TV for 10 years, and I had given up on it. Are you guys saying that Interactive TV is finally coming?". Now watch the answers, it clearly reveals how each constituency sees the world.
The answer from Charter was: "Interactive TV is not coming, it's already here. We've been trialing it in this town XYZ, and getting great reaction from the viewers who can click on ads and interact". This is the typical answer of the cable company: "It's coming, it's almost here". But it never really is. The fact is that the distribution guys want to do nothing unless they absolutely have to, and they have to feel the pressure from somewhere. Unfortunately, satellite has no prayer of delivering interactivity (no return channel) so there is no real impetus to deliver it.
The Sr. VP from Disney answered the question revealing how content owners look at interactive TV. The answer was: "technology can do anything and everything. This is not a technology question. Interactive TV will come when customers want it". Let me decipher this to my readers. The answer really is: "I don't give a sh.. about interactive TV. I sell content. As long as people want to be entertained they will buy my content. I don't care how you package it." How can you disagree with that?
Then it was my turn. I said: "Let me answer your question with a question. Why do you want interactive TV?" There was a silence in the room. "If you want to interact with your TV, why can you switch your bigscreen TV to the PC mode and get all the interactivity you like from the Internet. When you are done, go back to your TV." 10 years ago people used to say, "the TV is a lean back experience and the PC is a lean forward experience". Hence there was no way to use the PC while in the living room. I think the PC has become a lean back experience in a big way. Look at what's happened: 1) TV screens are big enough and with enough resolution that you can surf the web fantastically lying on a couch 2) Laptops are smaller, cheaper and can be easily hooked to your big screen TV with a long enough VGA cable or hopefully one day with wireless HDMI. 3)Products like Apple TV bring your PC content on to your TV already 4) The game consoles are PC's that are hooked up to your TV.
So while we were waiting for interactive TV, a massively interactive device, your PC, has found its way right next to your PC, and it's game over. You can get HD content on your laptop. You can get, or will soon, all kinds of on demand content on your PC, and over time the quality will get better and better and better.
Point is that, while big media is still thinking that they can reach out to consumers via their TV's consumers are electing to turn their TV's into monitors for their PC's. Moore's Law is making this happen, and there is no coming back. The sooner big media realizes this the better it is for them.