Today's Internet-to-TV devices are like the MP3 players of the late 1990s - no product solves the problem that cord-cutters have. There's too much content and no device captures it all into a consolidated user-friendly interface. TV won't change much until that happens.
Google's Chromecast has generated a lot of buzz this week. It makes it easier to get to services such as Netflix or YouTube by essentially turning smartphones and tablets into remote controls.
Your device functions as a remote, telling Chromecast what to stream, and it does the rest and even cleverly changes video input automatically. The rub is that there's no live TV aside from a separate remote and cable box with a vastly different interface. That's just one major downside that makes mass market adoption unlikely.
Devices from Apple, Google and Roku are also limited to whatever content and services that they offer or have made deals with. Content providers aren't making the task of integrating their programming any easier, so suppliers have more power than they did in the late 90's when CD sales were dropping and MP3s were filling up hard drive space. That's an important analogy, because I'm reminded for the pre-iPod MP3 player market.
Early adopters were buying up Rio and Zen MP3 players; those devices had limitations - people couldn't consume all that they wanted where they wanted or how they wanted. It took Steve Jobs and Apple to 'crack the code' on how to distribute it. A similar breakthrough is needed to fix the TV market. Chromecast is just the new Rio, which helped to evolve the state of the art but didn't permanently change the music industry.
There were plenty of MP3s then, just as there is ample digital media of all kinds today. Getting to content wasn't difficult then, and it's even easier today. It's just not packaged well enough for the masses. The reality is that most people aren't cord-cutters and never will be -- just as they weren't interested in the early MP3 players.
Cracking the code
My mom doesn't like changing the HDMI video input on her living room TV to operate the DVD player. Changing the input from live TV to load multiple apps on interfaces (that aren't even the same on every TV or device) while using a different remote is even more confusing. Most people just want a single device to work for them as simply as possible. The iPod did that for music.
The questions remain: who will do it for TV? Will Apple's deals with cable providers be 'it'? Will it be more than one device instead of a single "iPod?" We'll know soon enough.
Internet-to-TV market is getting much closer to the winning "iPod" formula, but there's no standout disruptive device or company - yet. However, the components are there with quality plug-in streaming devices, live TV, and technologies such as Airplay and Chromecast that include portable "screens" already on the market. All of the pieces necessary to solve the MP3 "problem" were there in the late 1990's too.
Apple missed the wave on CD burners and wasn't first to market with its MP3 player. It took the time to figure out that people wanted many songs on their portable players and great synchronization with their PCs. The iPod and iTunes took the market by storm in the early 2000's. Today's issue is how to combine many services onto many devices while making those devices work seamlessly together. Live TV and video and music stores shouldn't be separated into different apps and video inputs, and likely won't be for much longer.
The winner will be the device or devices that our parents want to use. I'll know when my mom asks for it.
image credit: CNET
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