Thursday, May 21, 2009

We want apps for TV!

On may 8th, I promised to share with you my thoughts on barriers of broadband penetration. One of the barriers I mentioned in that post was ease of use. Today, I would like to discuss how we can make it easier for people to use broadband. My short answer is "open TVs to App developers!"

Since the first TV broadcast of a commercial in the United States, in 1930, the model for controlling the television content has not changed. The big studios decide what you watch! The advent of color television revolutionized the watching experience of the TV audience, but didn't impact the model for content control. The introduction of the digital video recorder (DVR), right before the turn of the millennium, is arguably the only event that enabled viewers to be somewhat in charge. The next major event could be connecting the TV to the internet.

The TV is usually in the living room, it is intuitive to work with it and the family gathers around it. If TVs can be connected to the Internet and open up for software applications, the Internet services will be customized for the living room. You can shop online with your family, do online banking together, chat with kids' auntie, and off course, watch your customized channels sitting on your couch!

The below figure shows an HDTV streaming live video of the bride and the groom in a wedding in India. The HDTV was located on the opposite side of the wedding venue from the bride and the groom, streaming videos for guests who were far from the happenings! Consider some family members who were not able to attend the wedding; they could gather in their living room, tune to the family channel on the TV and participate in the wedding online! Today this application is possible on your PC with softwares like Skype. But unfortunately, the technical complications prevent many people from enjoying it.

You may argue that the keepers of the TV, e.g. cable companies, will not let the TV manufacturers open up their devices. I used to think like that myself. However, recently I see some silver lining for open software development for TV. I have two reasons for my belief. First, the fastest growing expense for cable companies is the cost of TV programs. The money the cable operators pay for the rights to channels like MTV, CNN and ESPN eats up almost $4 of every $10 they take in selling video service. Second, big Media like NBC, ABC, and News Corp. are considering digital medium strongly in their future planning. For more information on the digital shift I refer you to "Big Media's Digital Shuffle" article at Fortune Magazine, May 25, 2009.

This year at Consumer Electronic Show(CES) all four major TV manufacturers presented TVs with ethernet connection. The industry is still far from implementing an infrastructure that let you subscribe to applications and channels that you like, but it is at least acknowledging the demand for connecting TVs to Internet. If you are interested to learn about these products search for LG & Netflix HDTV, Samsung Internet@TV, Sony Bravia, and Panasonic VieraCast.

If one day there are TVs with open access to Internet, Samsung Internet@TV can be their possible ancestor. Samsung is integrating widgets for accessing Yahoo!, eBay and YouTube on its Internet@TV model. There are also some rumors that it is going to support a twitter widget! This is just the first baby step. The bold move is to open access to every developer to come up with its creative application for the TV! See also here.

Next week I am going to write about possible designs for interacting with our Internet TV. Stay tuned for what your future TV remote control will look like!

edited by Behnam Analui

1 comment:

  1. Hi Maryam-

    Very interesting theory. I agree that the TV will probably help access a market that considers computers complex and not easy to use! You mentioned ethernet TVs... I believe most of them are simply to be compliant with DLNA (, which allows sharing of music/video/pictures throughout the house. As for apps, Boxee ( is an interesting tool that works on Macs, Linux (Ubuntu) and Apple TV. It allows apps to be created through an API for specific content, such as recently for White House videos. Check it out at It would be interesting if TV manufacturers allowed Boxee to run on their TVs off-the-shelf.