Thursday, January 8, 2009

Post-CES Hoopla: We’re Still Not Connected

The big void in 2009 connectivity is centralization that allows consumers to discover and coordinate every kind of content and communication in one place. That means filtering TV programs and films, music and text, maps and data through universal templates that provide the same common functions, socialization and commerce everywhere.That means seamlessly moving all things digital from mobile to home TV to PC and back again.

Despite the announcements this week from players as diverse as Microsoft, Netflix, TiVo and Yahoo to bring more interactive access and choice to the living room TV, home connectivity remains a disjointed, even dysfunctional goal for the average digital consumer. Ultimately, it requires ubiquitous software interface for disparate platforms and devices used in and out of the home.

For now, companies generally remain in their vertical fiefdoms: from cable and TiVo set-top boxes, to game consoles and digital TVs, to computer-savvy phones and PDAs. They sort of interplay with each other.

Netflix jumped ahead of Internet streaming rivals like Apple and Amazon by integrating its software into some LG and Sony plasma and LCD high definition TVs. TiVo is providing search. Apple iTunes is offering DRM-free content to iPod, iPhone and home, but still no social networking. Yahoo’s widget engine built into TVs like LG, Sony and Samsung is helping to usher into the home an Internet ecosystem of services from MySpace, eBay, and Flickr to Amazon VOD and Blockbuster. Boxee has the software that unites social networking with streaming Internet film, TV and radio content on home TV or PC hubs. The endless list of Consumer Electronic Show interactive video announcements, while impressive, represent diffused solutions for consumers who don’t want to work so hard at bringing it all together.

The logical next move is for smart TVs (mandated to be digital this year) to access and download all streaming video, as much from and YouTube as from branded aggregators. There must be more consistency among diverse home devices—from DVRs, cable set-top boxes and on-demand services, game condoles and Blu-ray disc players. Amazon has the cloud access, infrastructure and social community elements to facilitate universal video exchange. Still, there are too many content libraries with limited offerings, high fees and garden walls to make consumer selection and sharing less complicated and costly, especially in a recession. By and large, consumers remain suspended in the industry’s shift from disc to digital, and from home anchored TVs and PCs to all things mobile.

Consider some of the numbers: nearly 80 percent of Americans have cell phones, which is more seven times the number of cable subscribers. Millennials (ages 14-to-24-year-olds) prefer the PC to the TV, according to Deloitte. The majority of 140 million US consumers paying for mobile broadband by 2013 will want texting, video streaming, and easy interface, according to the Pew Internet Project. Even now, three-quarters of Internet users watch video on their PCs, according to IBM, and half of all mobile users want phones with better Internet capabilities including streaming video and GPS, according to the Kelsey Group. More than three-quarters of of domestic mobile users rely on their phones for social networking, 26.3% for video and photos, and 21.5% for texting, according to comScore.

So, before media-related companies start planning for next year’s CES, they should stop and listen to the marketplace. The company that figures out the ultimate universal dashboard software that eases pain and price of being a digital consumer wins the whole shooting match.

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