The TV’s turn for an extreme makeover

Entertainment and Technology Summit 2011

The living room television set is starting to look a little long in the tooth.

With hundreds of TV channels to choose from, thousands of on-demand shows at people’s fingertips (plus thousands more from third-party services like Netflix and Hulu) and a near infinite amount of online content fighting for viewers’ attention, the way consumers interact with their sets is severely outdated.

It looks like change is on the way. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, user interface was a major buzzword — and there are plenty of rumors Apple is considering building a TV set of its own. But reinventing the television set is tricky. After so many years of the standard grid-based program guide, users are reluctant to move out of their comfort zone. Also, instead of working together as an industry, TV manufacturers are largely looking for internal solutions.

“Manufacturers often like to build closed systems — and that makes it difficult to integrate them with each other,” says Craig Engler, senior vice president and g.m. of Syfy Digital. “It could be that Apple does for the television industry what it did for tablets: create a new standard that everyone follows.”

Reinventing the TV isn’t just a matter of making it easier to find programs, though. The TV is becoming an entertainment and communications center for many homes, with additional functions that make it even harder to develop a solution.

“We don’t know what’s next,” says Zander Lurie, senior VP of strategic development at CBS. “Users are just thinking about that fusion of TV with movies and on-demand, but people are programming their music and security systems through their TV now too. … If 10 very smart people sat down and drew up what their ideal interface is, they’d all be very, very different.”

One trend that’s sure to be critical is social discovery, helping viewers find content by seeing what friends are watching and seeing which episodes are “trending.” With that in mind, there’s a lot of interest in Facebook’s new app structure and how it drives users to streaming services.

“The Web is one big-ass recommendation engine,” Lurie says.

Even the old-fashioned program guide is likely to get an extreme makeover. Rather than the familiar text grid, some manufacturers are experimenting with a more visual model. But that presents its own challenges.

“[Imagine a] sort of cover flow where you’re navigating through visual imagery of shows instead of text names,” Engler says. “With the Verizon FiOS iPad app, you can search through the schedule by cover art of (each) show. The problem is, many shows don’t have that cover art and certainly not in a format that can be shrunk. … So it becomes incumbent on us, the creators, to create assets that would be useful in that format.”

As more third-party content services explore cloud distribution, some think the TV will become a major part of that ecosystem. CBS’ Lurie foresees a time when the living room flatscreen will resemble a computer monitor, with content being fed to it via the cloud.

John Vanston, chairman of Technology Futures, agrees, adding he believes one key trend will be sets that allow the docking of other devices (putting users’ videos, pictures and personal calendars and more on their TV).

“The TV,” he says, “is the interface to the cloud.”


9:15 a.m.
Research: Tom Adams, director and principal analyst U.S. media at IHS Screen Digest

9:45 a.m.
Keynote Q&A: Jon Favreau. Interviewed by Steven Gaydos, executive editor at Variety

10:15 a.m.
Panel: The State of the TV Business
Speakers: Ted Chervin, head of worldwide TV, ICM; Michael Wright, executive VP and head of programming, TNT/TBS/TCM; Nick Grad, executive VP of original series, FX. Moderator: Stuart Levine, Variety

What’s Hot in Social Entertainment? Understanding How Gaming Achievement, Check-Ins, Daily Deals Integrate with Hollywood.
Speakers: John McCrea, general manager of Tunerfish, Comcast; Peter Naylor, executive VP digital media advertising, NBCUniversal; Marc DeBevoise, senior VP, CBS Interactive; Jennifer Kavanagh, senior VP of digital, Oxygen Media; Steve Ellis, CEO, WhoSay; Sally Daws, senior VP marketing, FX Network. Moderator: Eric Kuhn, social media agent, UTA

2 p.m.
Keynote: Kevin Mayer, executive VP of corporate strategy and business development, the Walt Disney Co. Interviewed by Michael Kassan, CEO and chairman of MediaLink

2:30 p.m.
Original Web Content Grows Up
Speakers: Felicia Day, creator, writer and star of “The Guild”; David Gale, executive VP at MTVX at MTV Networks; Chris Bruss, head of branded entertainment,; Mike Rosenstein, director of digital content, Red Hour Films; Milana Rabkin, digital media agent, UTA; Dane Boedigheimer, creator, “The Annoying Orange.” Moderator: Stuart Levine, Variety

3:30 – 4:15 p.m.
Trendsetters in Entertainment Distribution.
Speakers: Scott Koondel, president of distribution, CBS; David Spiegelman, president of domestic television and digital distribution, Relativity Media; Jack Isquith, senior VP of strategic development, Slacker Radio; John Penney, executive VP, strategy & business development, Starz; Erin McPherson, VP and head of originals and video programming at Yahoo. Moderator: Andrew Wallenstein, Variety

4:15 p.m.
PGA Digital 25

Percenteries help celebs surf social wave

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