Are Consumer Electronics Makers the New Content Gatekeepers?

The new push by television set makers to introduce Internet-connected models this year could turn consumer electronics manufacturers into gatekeepers for content.

Internet-connected sets from Sony, LG and Samsung were among the most buzzworthy products showcased at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. They’ll come to market later this year with Crackle, blip.tv, the Minisode Network, YouTube, Flickr and other web services embedded into them, heralding a long-awaited step in the march toward web-to-TV convergence.

Their expanding role also raises the question of whether they might become gatekeepers for web content, much as cable and satellite operators have for decades determined which networks make the cut. Many consumer electronics makers will now also play a role in separating the wheat from the chaff by striking deals with some Internet sites and passing on others. They’ll also determine the placement for such services on the TV sets. This development can benefit content creators and consumers, because Internet-enabled TVs now represent a new distribution source for programs.

Most TV set makers declined to comment on their potential new role as gatekeepers.

Yahoo’s program to develop widgets for TV sets is open to anyone, pointed out Roger Urrabazo, product manager for the Yahoo Widget program. As part of the program, Yahoo’s consumer electronics partners have agreed to allow their consumers access to any widget in the Yahoo widget gallery, said Lucas Mast, a spokesperson for the company. That means widgets from YouTube, MySpace, Showtime, CBS and others are available on sets from Samsung, Sony, LG Electronics, VIZIO and Toshiba, Mast said.

However, Will Richmond, an analyst with VideoNuze, says the best placement on a TV set menu is likely to be awarded to the strongest brands, like Netflix, Amazon or YouTube. “These are known consumer brands, and they all have some degree of pull through the retailer,” he said.

Still, consumer electronics makers are more eager to welcome new services to the set rather than block them, Richmond said. “They are just concentrating on selling sets. The economy is hammering these guys, and they need to focus on that.”

More Internet services could be what help them move more units.

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