It is Time to Hack the Future of TV

Television is perhaps the most passive way to consume media. With mobile devices edging into content creation and consumption, though, the era of passive television is about to change. 

The Internet is an ocean of content. All types of content: videos, articles, pictures, presentations, music, lectures, social media. Whole industries have sprouted around the Web for the creation, dissemination and tracking of content. Before the Internet, content was contained in silos on different types of devices. You watched video on your television, listened to music on a radio, read articles on a PC, or in a newspaper or magazine. Now mobile computing is destroying the the silos. Content can be consumed and interacted with across platforms of varying form. 

You can start reading an article on your PC, leave the house and pick it up on your smartphone or tablet. This notion of content shifting started with the fundamental concept of moving content from the PC to a mobile device. It showcases one the fundamental strengths of the mobile revolution.

The next battleground in this dawning era is the television. And the future is not in the hands of network television conglomerates, reality stars or video-streaming services. 

It is in the hands of developers.

Think about it. The TV is the last great untapped platform. Some efforts have been made to create smart, internet-connected TVs, but no company or developer yet has had any meaningful success developing for TV. That is going to change. During the past several years, large companies have been laying the groundwork for an explosion in applications developed not just for televisions as singular devices, but for connecting those devices to smartphones and tablets. 

Both Apple and Google have moved into the TV space. While consumers and pundits get caught up in the quarterly assessments of how well their TV products have fared, the transformation of television is still in the early stages. 

The Apple TV can connect to Apple's mobile devices through the AirPlay wireless multimedia streaming protocol. Google TV is built on top of Android, with sets built by third-party manufacturers. Google has announced the Nexus Q, which will enable content from Google Play - music, movies and television shows - to be connected through mobile devices and streamed to speakers and TVs. 

When Google announced the Nexus Q last week at its Google I/O conference, it was with a wink toward the developers in the audience. Without directly saying so, Google expects developers to hack the device. They might turn the Q into a device that automates home utilities, or creates dynamic media experiences that connect smartphones and tablets to the television. Developers have not embraced Google TV, but maybe the potential uses of the Nexus Q will motivate them to come up with something the public will love.

Many developers have already started doing this on other platforms. Take, for instance, the cloud content company Brightcove. Earlier this week, the company issued updates to its App Cloud platform that let developers create dual-screen television apps for iOS that connect to Apple TV through AirPlay. 

The App Cloud Dual-Screen Solution for Apple TV “enables media publishers to develop rich content apps for the iPhone and iPad that simultaneously control content, data and information presented on an HDTV while displaying synchronized content on the iPad or iPhone,” according to the company's announcement. Interactive content could include actor biographies, trivia, social media, photos and so on.

That is just the beginning of the potential in connecting mobile devices and TVs. The idea of the “super remote” is still in its infancy. Imagine an iPad or Android tablet that replaces the classic remote that comes with every cable box across the country. AirPlay and Nexus Q already make this possible, but they only scratched the surface.

Just as developers have created innovative applications for smartphones and tablets that nobody could have imagined 10 years ago, in coming years developers will turn the TV into a dynamic platform that will bear little resemblance to today's TV sets. 

“Our goal is to give developers the tools and APIs to create applications for the TV and set them loose,” said Brightcove’s chief marketing officer Jeff Whatcott. Developers: The tools are available, brimming with potential. How will you hack them to create the next generation of content for the TV?