Remember WebTV? It was supposed to combine the web and television experiences into a media consumption firehose. Or something like that.
WebTV didn’t work out, but that hasn’t kept other companies from pursuing similar dreams of web-television utopia. Yahoo is building TV-based widgets. TiVo is banking on search across media types. Boxee wants to entwine browsing and viewing. Even Google is getting in on the act.
But new data from Nielsen suggests they’re all headed in the wrong direction. The convergence between television and web has already happened, but it’s not occurring in a standalone box:
In the last quarter of 2009, simultaneous use of the Internet while watching TV reached three and a half hours a month, up 35% from the previous quarter. Nearly 60% of TV viewers now use the Internet once a month while also watching TV.
There’s a couple things I find notable about this:
1. Manufacturers of televisions and set-top boxes are only now catching on to the inherent disconnect between television’s lean-back experience and the web’s lean-forward positioning. If you’ve ever entered a password through a TV remote, you know how clunky this can be. Yet, input is just the beginning of the problem. The web is a pull environment, so by default we’re more engaged. Television, beyond the guide grid, is a push environment. I believe a big reason why web and TV haven’t yet converged in a broadly adopted super device is because it’s uncomfortable — physically and mentally — to rock between push and pull. It’s a heck of a lot easier to prop a notebook on your lap while the TV plays in the background.
2. The Nielsen post includes another notable conclusion:
The research shows that Americans watch network programs online when they miss an episode or when a TV is not available. Online video is used essentially like DVR and not typically a replacement for watching TV.
This is yet another example why “killer” technologies are ridiculous. Consumers are filling in their consumption with online video, not replacing it. That’s a huge departure from the web killing cable or killing broadcast or killing … whatever.
3. Extending on that: It matters if content is consumed, not how it’s consumed. All kinds of effort has gone into bridging the web and TV worlds through brute force. Yet, the most successful cross-media efforts are the ones that let consumers interact through the tools they already use. What makes more sense: integrating Twitter into a television’s hardware or helping users tweet during a show?