Snatch up all the set-top boxes, smart HDTVs and second screen apps you want. The future of television will still, at its core, be about one thing: content.
All of the stakeholders realize this, from legacy players such as networks and cable operators to new entrants including streaming services and search companies.
If the Web is going to compete with traditional TV, it won't be so much with technology as with high-quality content that people genuinely want to watch. That's why HBO is closely guarding its sought-after programing by tying its mobile apps to cable subscriptions. It's also why Web companies are investing huge sums of money to create premium video content of their own.
Yahoo, AOL and Google have all been developing original video programming that they hope can compete with the type of content people have historically turned on their television sets to watch. Google in particular recently shoveled $100 million into premium content and has begun to reposition YouTube with less of a focus on bite-sized, viral clips and more emphasis on the quality stuff.
That investment in YouTube appears to be paying off in terms of time-on-site metrics, and the company is said to be recouping much of its expenses, thanks to ample ad revenue.
How Netflix and Hulu Are Upping the Ante
Two players that stand perhaps the best chance of making a mark have both made 2012 the year of premium, Web-original content. Netflix debuted a fish-out-of-water drama called Lilyhammer in February, right around the same time that Hulu launched its own original series called Battleground.
Hulu took things up a notch last week when it announced four more Web-only TV series, each one with its own impressive line-up of established TV-industry talent.
If any Internet-only TV programming has the chance to make a big splash, it's the long-awaited fourth season of Arrested Development. The show became something of a cult classic after being canceled by Fox in 2006 due to low ratings. Early next year, the original cast will return for a fourth season, which will be released exclusively on Netflix.
The entire season will drop all at once, rather than being released incrementally as television shows historically have been. This is the model many viewers are now used to, thanks in part to services like Netflix. Still, there's something to be said for the timed debut of individual episodes, which allows people to congregate via second screen apps and social media to have conversations in real-time.
It's still a bit early to gauge the success of Internet-original TV programming in general. If the online chatter is any indication, people have been more excited about Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey this year than they are about Lilyhammer or Battleground.
The arrival of Arrested Development in early 2013 will provide a particularly interesting test case. In the meantime, expect to see the battle for video-seeking eyeballs continue to heat up online.