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Here Come Broadband TVs

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broadband-plasma-hdtv-w-content Ever since I sat down with Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix (s NFLX), at our NewTeeVee Live conference this past November, I have a new-found appreciation for the Los Gatos, Calif.-based company and its plans to capture the video-over-broadband market. (Watch his conversation with Chris Albrecht and me, in which he talks about the broadband TVs, at the bottom of this post.) In his keynote, Hastings said:

We want to watch what we want, when we want, where we want, and discover the content how we want. So how well are we doing in the areas of “where,” “when,” “what” and “discoverability”? We’re about 15 percent of the way to “what you want,” 100 percent at “when you want,” 15 percent towards “where you want,” and 25 percent for “discover your want.” To get even farther we need a standard for connecting thousands of video web sites and many devices.

While the bulk of its business today comes from renting DVDs via snail mail, the company is preparing for the future and is signing up partners, such as set-top box maker Roku, that are embedding its Netflix on Demand service in their broadband devices. Netflix first introduced its instant streaming service for PCs in January 2007. Another of Netflix’s partners, LG Electronics (s LG), is going to announce a new range of “broadband HDTVs” that will essentially have a small tiny Linux-powered, Internet-friendly computer embedded in the back of the display and will be able to get video right off the Internet. These televisions will now be able to get Netflix on Demand at the click of a button on the remote control. In addition to these new broadband-enabled televisions, LG will embed Netflix’s instant streaming service in five new Blu-ray players.  And LG isn’t the only company toying with the idea of broadband televisions. Several TV makers — desperate to revive their slowing sales — are looking to embed computers directly into their televisions, making it easier for folks to stream movies or watch Hulu on their big screens.

Broadband TVs, if done right, have the potential to be truly disruptive (especially since Netflix is streaming in HD), for they will introduce online video into a whole new market. ABI Research recently predicted that Net-connected televisions would help online video viewers grow to more than 940 million by 2013, up from 563 million at the end of 2008. I’m not sure if I buy the timeline, but the general theme has a lot going for it.

With one less dedicated device to muck around with, most consumers are going to find it easier to watch video over broadband. In other words, this isn’t good news for tiny startups with big set-top box ambitions. The rapidly falling prices of memory and the availability of ever faster and cheaper microprocessors and other chips is going to eliminate the need for dedicated set-top boxes. (These set-top box makers are also facing competition from gaming consoles and new DVD players with built-in video-over-broadband capabilities.)

Broadband TVs will also give the carriers major migraines, because they’ll bring the Internet based offerings to compete with the cable and telephone companies’ video-on-demand offerings. The carriers have spent billions of dollars building out their networks and are hoping for a VOD payout. Unable to compete with Internet-based offerings because of their business models, most of them (Comcast (s CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (s TWC), AT&T (s T) and others) are embracing tiered broadband services, making it prohibitively expensive for consumers to buy video elsewhere.

The very potential of this market is why guys like Cisco (s CSCO), Intel (S INTC), and Yahoo (s YHOO) are spending a lot of their energy on broadband televisions.

Related Posts:
* 2008: Set-top boxes set-up for a fight.
* Intel, Yahoo look to widgetize the living room web.
* The battle over your TV
* Why tiered broadband is the enemy of innovation.

26 Responses to “Here Come Broadband TVs”

  1. For sure Netflix on TV is a very good idea. But there is more entertainment on the internet than the Netflix catalog offers. The Intel-Yahoo widget channel (see CES 2009) seems like a better idea in the sense that it is an open platform and embraces more. Anything can be a widget – not just the familiar suspects (weather, traffic, stock, tweets, ..) but also movie trailers, or even an entire movie store. Will yahoo succeed in pulling it off is another question altogether and probably depends on if it can find ways to monetize this.

    In any case, the yahoo widget story will not go unnoticed (in the short-term). It will be interesting to see what other innovators are planning for this piece of the pie. What would Google, Apple, Microsoft etc do? And who would CE manufacturers, (admittedly in recession) flirt with..and why? Talking of whom, the obvious question is how far is a TV from a next-gen netbook (in terms of hardware and software) ?

    2009 promises to be the year (finally!) when rich internet content enters the living room. And not via a long cable from the connected PC to the dumb TV (which sounds

  2. Jesse Kopelman

    The big issue for Broadband TV is user interface. A normal TV remote is not a good interface for surfing the web. Whatever these TVs ship with needs to be functional yet simple enough not to turn off less sophisticated customers. I predict a lot of failures in that department — especially considering that many current model remotes leave a lot ot be desired for non-Broadband TV control . . .

  3. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck. This “broadband TV” is nothing more that a set-top-box stuck inside a TV. Whether its on the inside or outside, its still a box.

    I don’t think any of these duplicate-processor solutions make sense. Folks already have an expensive box – their PCs – why buy another one?

    You can easily connect your PC to your TV with an affordable cable and bring the Internet into your living room. I watched the film “Secret Service” on my HDTV last night and it streamed beautifully (thanks Joost!). I still believe that in the next few years both PCs and TVs will come with a built-in ability to communicate wirelessly ( For now, my $25 cable works great!

  4. Another one to watch is Nintendo who are surely are going to launch a HD capable Wii in the next 3 years and i see them partnering with TV manufactures in the future because of the Wii Remote .

    The Wii will have Everybody’s Theater available as a WiiWare title later month in Japan as a pay per view video streaming service developed by FujiSoft who are licensing their video player to other 3rd party developers.
    Nintendo is also going to launch their own ad supported video channel in Summer in Japan and possibly worldwide later in the year .

  5. Any thoughts on how this plays out on Software / Platform side?

    At, our strategy has been to focus on Video Search & Discovery services. Why? Consumers with these connected TVs will want comprehensive (Mefeedia searches 15,000+ video sources), easy-to-use, video services to help discover new video content, and act as a “Web-based DVR” that doesn’t attach them to a single device or content source.

  6. WebTV had the right idea back in the mid 90’s. How long until the web and our tvs merge and we’ll be able to interact with tv programs/ads? Can you imagine touch screen tvs with real time polling or buy now buttons? How cool would that be?

  7. Nice interview! It was very informative. I look forward to seeing more of your interviews. I did not know they were making TV sets but it does make sense. I do like the external boxes such as the one Roku offers becasuse if something breaks with the box, you don’t have to repair the whole TV.