If you were expecting the Internet to upend TV like it mangled the print media business, you may have noticed by now that things aren't so simple.
The Web is very good at delivering text and static images, but when it comes to TV-quality video content, it turns out that cable providers are still much better at that. Internet TV has two serious handicaps: content and the user interface. In 2012, the status quo crept forward in both areas, albeit slowly. Next year, TV will continue its gradual evolution toward something completely different from what we grew up with.
Social TV Grows Up
The term "social TV" has bounced around tech blogs and media conference halls for a few years now. Next year, the intersection between TV and social media will mature beyond stats and fads and evolve into something that makes a real impact on viewers and show producers alike.
The most telling sign that social TV is coming of age arrived just before the close of 2012, when Nielsen announced the first official Twitter-based rating system. It's not every day a technological force comes along that causes Nielsen to change what it's been doing since the 1950s. But research has shown that social chatter about TV shows actually correlates with ratings and Twitter itself has been taking its role in television more seriously through media partnerships and launching promotional campaigns for new shows.
The concept of the second screen, where additional content can be viewed on a tablet or smartphone, will also evolve in 2013. Nearly 90% of tablet owners use them while they watch TV, but content companies and app developers have had a hard time figuring out exactly how to capitalize on this. Apps like Zeebox and iTV are well-positioned to serve as digital companions to TV viewers, while services like GetGlue and Miso will evolve past the social check-in and move toward content discovery.
Meanwhile, we'll see more social media-fueled content discovery. Personalized "Flipboard-for-video" apps like Showyou, Frequency and Vodio are already changing the way early adopters find and consume Web video and technologies like Apple's AirPlay puts those socially-curated, lean-back video experiences on the TV. Expect to see this category mature in 2013 as new users flock to these apps.
Apple Advances The Internet TV Interface
Whether you're an Apple fan or not, it's hard to deny the sizable impact they tend to have on most markets they enter. Next year, television will go from being the "hobby" Steve Jobs talked about to an "area of intense interest" for Tim Cook and Apple's executive team.
Apple's HDTV won't sell at a rate comparable to the iPad's explosion. Any expectation to the contrary would be silly, considering Apple is entering a well-established market, not inventing a new one. Whatever they come up with, it will set a new standard for how Internet-based video content is displayed on a TV screen and crucially, how that content integrates with tried-and-true TV programming from traditional providers.
Internet TV's Original Programming Revolution
Original, Web-first TV programming from Internet companies was a big trend in 2012. Hulu, Netflix and YouTube all made major investments in original content, with each one experimenting with Web-only TV shows. Google has already begun weeding out the weakest offerings in an effort to fine-tune its TV-style content offering.
The biggest test for the viability of Internet-only TV content will come next year when Arrested Development returns not to the Fox network on which it originally aired, but exclusively to Netflix. This will be the first time a popular show makes the transition from broadcast to Internet-only distribution. Will the new season live up to months of eager hype? How well will the one-season-at-a-time release schedule of Netflix work compared to the staggered airing of a real TV show? Will Netflix see a bump in sign-ups?
The success of Arrested Development's new season will influence future decisions about Internet TV content, especially when it comes to beloved but off-the-air shows. If Netflix scores a big hit with the Bluth family, expect Hulu and YouTube to try and emulate its success.
Remote 2.0: The Evolution of User Controls
As imperfect as the user interface is for Internet TV, traditional television and cable set-ups aren't exactly known for their ease-of-use. Just ask my mother when she's faced with a coffee table full of remote controls.
Apple will likely lead the charge here, but either way, expect the way we interact with TV content to get simplified. Fewer buttons and a more intuitive design are coming to a remote control near you, while on-screen menus get some polish of their own. One company experimenting with simplified remote control design is Bose, whose VideoWave entertainment system has a remote that sports a touch pad and six buttons, shifting most of the commonly-used buttons to the TV screen itself. The remote works with just about any external device, from Blu Ray players and XBox 360 to Roku and Apple TV.
TV interface controls will also expand beyond pointing a remote control at the screen. In the future, we'll interact with TV content using our voices and gesture-based controls. We're already seeing a glimpse of how this will work thanks to the Kinect on XBox, the iPad and the various Siri hacks developers have created. Indeed, the inclusion of Siri is one of the most frequently-mentioned features of the rumored Apple HDTV. Meanwhile, Google has been baking its ever-more-effective voice search into more of its mobile apps.
The Convergence of Mobile and Television
In 2013, expect your TV to look more like your smartphone. The convergence of television and mobile platforms will continue next year, as TV software designers rethink the user interface and AirPlay-style functionality grows more mainstream.
As mobile video apps mature and consumers get used to the idea of wirelessly beaming their tablets to their TVs, the line between mobile and TV will blur. Ease-of-use is key here. Hassle-free connectivity of the sort offered by Apple's AirPlay will enable even the least tech-savvy consumers to connect their tablets to their TVs.
The couch is already where tablets get used the most, according to research conducted by Google. And watching video is already one of the most popular activities for which people use their tablets, according to Google, the Online Publishers Association and just about everybody else who's studied tablet usage behavior. The only missing link was the wireless beaming technology now provided by Apple's AirPlay and an eventual Google equivalent. Adoption of that feature is dependent on the growth of set-top streaming boxes or, better yet, connected TVs.
Top image courtesy of Shutterstock.