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Screen Break

The TV industry must adapt because viewers now see television as just one screen among many, says Jim Barton.
February 20, 2013

The video consumption experience provided by traditional distributors—TV companies—has never been further from the one consumers would prefer. The increasing prevalence of mobile devices with access to video has only widened the gulf, to the point that those old distribution models are confronting a serious challenge (see our feature on Apple TV).

Jim Barton

Rapid adoption of mobile Internet-connected devices is changing the way consumers think about and experience video. Touch screens offer a natural control surface. Browsing large collections of video content is easy, and controlling the viewing experience is simple and straightforward. Consumers want their videos to be available to them at all times, wherever they may be, on whatever device they have with them. People are also now accustomed to being surrounded by multiple screens as a natural part of life. We are all familiar with the scene of a family watching television from the couch, each viewer with a mobile device in hand.

All this makes traditional television viewing feel unwieldy. The remote control and the television-presented user interface can’t compare in ease and simplicity with control through a handheld touch screen. Well reviewed though the on-screen TiVo interface has been, for example, it’s not nearly as easy to use as the TiVo iPad application. Worse, cable, telecom, and satellite television distributors use their dominance to enforce old-style television viewing, requiring the use of proprietary set-top boxes to access programming and constraining alternative suppliers such as TiVo or Netflix. Newer products such as “smart TVs,” Apple TV, and Google TV try to translate the mobile or desktop computer experience to the TV screen, but it works poorly.

What people really want is control over their viewing experience, total mobility, and true on-demand viewing for all types of content. The current aggregators and distributors of video content seem to want just the opposite—an experience focused on the television, with a confusing array of windows and tiers for viewing, controlled by the provider. This model from the past, with its high overhead for the consumer, is increasingly difficult to defend in an interconnected, mobile world. The television is a great way to play back video, but it is a poor and cumbersome delivery vehicle for anything more. In the end, it is just one more screen.

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