Do you really want the internet on your TV?

TVs with network connections are all the rage; they’re not actually that new – I looked at some for RegHardware a while back – but this year’s CES show brought forth lots of new ones, and updates to existing ranges. Google is trying to get in on the act too, with some TVs and set top boxes featuring it’s Google TV system (which has not, it has to be said, been universally well received).

And, doubtless I, and many of my colleagues on various technical blogs, as well as marketing people, will be extolling the virtues of these ‘net connected’ TVs, possibly even referring to them as “Internet TVs.”

In some ways, I think that’s a potential mistake.

The internet? Really?

It’s very easy to get carried away with the technology; I’m sure plenty of people will, and there are plenty of sites where those of us with a detailed technical interest will be poring over the details of new TV sets, wondering if they support SMB as well as UPnP for network media playback, and whether they can be controlled as DLNA renderers by other devices.

But ordinary members of the public aren’t like that. And I think that if you said to many of them “Do you want the internet on your TV?” the answer would probably be “Good grief, no.”

Why’s that? Partly because some consumers have been here before, with other devices. Internet on your mobile phone? Thanks.

Oh. It turned out to be just WAP.

For the average consumer, even a modern touch screen phone can still be a bit disappointing, and that’s if they even try using the net functions – many probably don’t bother, after the first flush of playing with a new toy.

So, outside the core tech-savvy market, I think that there are a lot of people who will be resistant to the idea of something called an “internet TV”; they’ll view things that they do on the net as largely being separate from things they might want to do on the TV with other people in the room.

That’s not to say that connected TVs are pointless, by any means. Just that I think how they’re actually described to ordinary people is crucial, not just in terms of whether or not they buy them (because, like HD Ready, in a few years, most TVs will probably have a network connection on the back), but whether or they actually use those features.

I’ve heard from people, for example, who have friends or family who have been delighted to discover that actually, their TV had iPlayer or LoveFilm built in, and they just needed to connect it up and learn how to access it. But they only learned that when a friend or family member explained it, rather than from the person selling them the set.

A few months ago, Humax talked at the unveiling of their Freeview HD recorder about how to get the message across in shops, especially when some of the first products with all these features are going to priced at a premium. Some of the UK’s high street chains, like Currys and Comet, offer awful and misleading advice, and I’m not convinced they really will be able to explain these products to people.

Keep it simple

Outside our bubble of people really interested in technology, it’s important to remember that there are plenty of people for whom things like Twitter are utterly irrelevant. The thought of using YouTube comes pretty far down the list too. Most TVs probably aren’t bought by net-savvy people in their 20s and 30s.

There are people who want to watch TV; they might have an internet connection for email or Skype, but the idea of “internet on the TV” will leave them cold, if that’s how it’s presented by the pushy salespeople of big high street retailers.

What’s going to make people think this is worthwhile is not the technology. It’s what they can do with it – and that means, in the UK, things like iPlayer, 4OD and ITV Player. It means other concepts they can easily understand, like film rental via LoveFilm, or perhaps access to sports events without having to take out an annual subscription.

Though technical evangelists might like the play up the argument that internet delivery lowers the cost of entry, and can bring lots of niche content, there’s a reason it’s niche. Not many people are interested in it.

This is, essentially, another version of the ‘content is king’ argument. Ordinary people want their familiar TV shows; they want to know that that’s what the Ethernet socket on the back of their TV gets them, and they might be interested in some extras, if you explain in terms they understand.

And, incidentally, I think this is one reason why YouView is likely to do fairly well, by integrating catch-up TV in the EPG, rather than burying it away as a separate function, or talking about the internet.

Words matter

I really think that talking about “Internet TVs” or even “Connected TVs” isn’t actually going to enthuse huge portions of the buying public. Focussing on app platforms for the TV might appeal to those who have an iPhone – but the vast majority of people don’t; they don’t even have a smartphone.

The technology can be clever as you like, and often is. But unless you talk to people about it in terms that really mean something to them, you’re going to have a hard job persuading them to buy a “connected TV,” let alone actually connecting it up when they get it home.

4 Replies to “Do you really want the internet on your TV?”

  1. You are so right, Nigel.
    There may be something I’d use the Internet-TV connection for, but it won’t make me go out and buy a new TV. As a long-time cabled household, I have a Virgin broadband and TV package, but mostly I prefer to use my Toppy for catch-up TV rather than the Virgin offer. Possibly because I’m in charge, possibly because it will still be there if I don’t get round to it quickly, but mostly, I think, because it just feels right that way.

  2. This is the classic high tech marketing mistake. Product marketeers want to talk about the great features they have built. Customers are only interested in the benefits the features bring.
    As you say, the new TVs come with the ability to watch those programmes we missed and to rent movies without the trek to Blockbuster. All without a separate box and satellite or cable subscription. It just needs plugging into your broadband.
    Internet TV? nah. Good job it didn’t happen a few years ago or it would have been called e-telly.

  3. I think that you can bring the benefits of a connected device to as many people as possible but you certainly don’t want to be browsing the web on TV. Manufacturers can take advantage of connectivity to bring more content and choice into the home but you don’t need to make it complicated.

    In my fortunate position I have been using a product with experimental portal for some weeks now and it is a great little addition but I certainly wouldn’t say that it has revolutionised my watching of TV. I use the home networking/DLNA more than the portal web services for certain. None of these features requires a great leap of technological understanding (beyond perhaps the sometimes challenging first connection) and I am confident that most homes could figure out how to connect their TV device to their home broadband.

    But I think you have to keep the offering simple and despite what some of the minority plead for no manufacturer should offer open web browsing without first seriously considering the consequences for support and confusion.


    Bob @ Humax

    1. I’ve played with a couple of TVs that had full web browsing, and it was a pretty dispiriting experience, with things like CSS-based site menus not working properly, and embedded multimedia not available; it’s just the sort of thing that I think will make people give up and feel disappointed, just like WAP and other early attempts at the internet on the phone did.
      Technology on the web tends to advance quite quickly in some areas, and even a browser that works with all the main sites now probably wouldn’t in just a couple of years, not to mention that full rendering of complex pages means beefing up the processing power in TVs beyond what’s really needed for everything else.

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