The race is on to reshape television programming for the Internet. Take a peek at the future and find out what?s on the horizon in this new TV land where the viewer truly rules.
Although the Internet is changing much of the traditional movie business few in the entertainment industry are willing to close the doors on the multiplex for good. The desire for a communal experience and the jawdropping experience of seeing a blockbuster on the big screen have always made film palaces special places. Traditional viewing habits remain entrenched and it might be years before moviegoers are ready to break away from the tried and true.
But for television it is a whole different story.
The growth of broadband and the ability to see content in different formats are paving the way for a world in which TV programs are no longer tied to the television set. Already shows are sold through online services such as iTunes. They are formatted for mobile devices so they can be watched in planes trains and automobiles as easily as they can be enjoyed from a couch or bed. And as TV content is delivered through digital means some are pondering whether the content itself is due for a revamp.
The Internet with its ?anything goes? kind of freedom is giving content creators a chance to rethink television while also forcing advertisers and TV studios to do some soulsearching of their own. Who cares about Internet TV? The answer: soon we all will.
Getting with the Program
Thanks to aggressive tactics by studios such as NBC and technology companies like Apple TV is beginning to proliferate across the Internet. Downloadable content means those who want to ditch work on the sly can catch a classic episode of Dragnet instead of inputting sales figures or watch ER as the coworker in the adjoining cubicle complains about deadlines.
But the TVmeetscomputing scene will soon expand far beyond watching shows from a desk chair. Internet purveyors and content creators have started pondering how the Internet?s speedfilled shortattentionspan environment can be used to whip up altogether fresh types of entertainment.
In the latest example of this phenomenon AOL teamed up with Mark Burnett the realityTV pioneer who brought monster hits like Survivor and The Apprentice to life.
The producer?s company and AOL are airing a reallife treasure hunt for the Web. Gold Rush! features ?everyday people? rather than celebrities. Clues will be placed throughout the AOL network including on sites like MapQuest Moviefone and AIM.com.
Bringing reality TV to the Web Burnett notes was inspired by the passion TV fans display on online bulletin boards. He predicts the Internet is about to become the next broadcast network and as more people watch content online prime time will be allthetime.
?If you think about the amount of people that are online all day it?s staggering? Burnett says. ?It?s an audience that?s already hooked in.?
Technical limitations might have prevented TV from being shown online in the past but many of those hurdles have been cleared making streaming video as easy as watching a TV channel. The result will be more online TV content along with the creation of more programming created especially for the Internet.
?We?re not that far from people watching TV on the same screen as the computer with interactivity back and forth? Burnett explains. ?It?s the interactivity that TV lacks right now and that is a major advantage for the Internet.?
Giving viewers the ability to ?talk? to someone on the screen or determine the course of events could result in new types of shows and give viewers more power over what is on TV than ever before.
Any change is likely to be quick. By the landscape of the TV industry could be so profoundly altered that it will bear little resemblance to the networkrun models of past decades according to Saul Berman global partner for media and entertainment at IBM Business Consulting Services.
As TV shows get tweaked for a digital audience the ways that they are distributed are likely to change as well. For the past five years in particular technology heavyweights and Hollywood have slowly blurred the line that separates TV from computers.
Mixing television sets with online activity has been of particular interest to makers of mediacenter technology as Microsoft HewlettPackard and Apple try to turn the PC into a digitalentertainment hub.
In addition major Japanese electronics makers have announced plans for a joint effort to study online portal services that will streamline distribution of online content to TV sets. Toshiba Sony Matsushita and Hitachi hope to develop a common portal that blends TV and computing.
Likely to be a bigger trend though is providing TV programs to mobile devices like the iPod.
Recently a number of wirelessequipment makers created the Mobile DTV Alliance to work toward developing a standard that could be used to broadcast TV programs on wireless devices. The alliance includes electronics giants like Nokia Motorola Texas Instruments and Intel.
As content distribution and advertising are hammered into new forms for TV programs it is likely that there will be some major changes in the look of the programs themselves. Although movies distributed over the Internet are expected to keep roughly the same look and feel TV could go through a massive transition that ultimately caters to different audiences and creates a new type of content that strays far from its origins.
For example IBM?s Berman sees a time in the nottoodistant future when ringtones are replaced by snippets of TV programs. Classic shows could be tweaked to announce calls. The image on your phone?s display for instance might be ?The Beaver? telling his brother about a swell new catcher?s mitt but the audio could be remixed to say something like ?Guess what Wally? Mom?s calling!?
The fastmoving ringtone market likely would be eager for such a change. According to Lewis Ward an analyst at the technologyresearch firm IDC ?Any type of new service is welcomed and that?s why there are so many options being given to the mobile audience. If they were offered something new and fresh they?d respond very well.?
As TV goes digital it could cease to be plain old television in either its conventional or current formats evolving into something else entirely.
?We believe your grandchildren won?t know what a TV is? Berman foresees. ?Programs will become unrestricted by becoming more mobile and programming will be freed from its constraints as well.?
Already video blogs and new ?shows? like those being produced by AOL are attempting to create programming that takes advantage of the Internet as a medium rather than using the Web as a mere distribution channel to push traditional TV shows.
With the exploitation of the medium will come change and those who try to fight the tide might end up sinking. But there is one aspect of television that is likely to linger even if the network programming model becomes a thing of the past.
?Storytelling will always be the most important aspect of a show? Burnett reminds us. ?It doesn?t matter if it?s online if viewers are offering input or if it?s bringing together different online properties. It will be the same online as it is around the campfire: if you can?t tell a good story nobody will listen.