Everything That Rises Must Converge
SXSW 2000 Interactive Festival
The New NetworksMod: John Geirland
Television of TomorrowMod: Gregory Kallenberg (Austin American-Statesman)
Panelists: Pete Fernandez (PSW), Keith Kocho (Extend TV), Mark Meadows (Xerox-Parc), Suzanne Stafanac (Respond TV)
If variety is truly the spice of life, then the future of so-called Internet TV will yield a limitless capacity for entertainment exceeding even the diversity of Chef Emeril Lagasse's largest collection of culinary seasonings. From independently produced animated shows to daily soap operas in which you-the-viewer can choose different endings to game shows in which online watchers buzz in and keep score against live contestants, the possibilities are limitless -- or so we're told. No doubt this is all fairly heady talk in light of today's sparse TV offerings, not to mention bandwidth limitations which continue to hamper video-streaming for the masses, but the consensus of the panelists who met to discuss "The New Networks" is that this utopian vision of Net TV is much more realistic than anyone might guess. The real surprise here, though, was the revelation that the U.S., widely perceived as the world's technological leader, is not the real roadrunner when it comes to the future of high-speed entertainment. "The Europeans are going to head the pack in providing ... because their broadband is bi-directional, which allows for fast uploads, as well as downloads," panelist Rob Campanell of Blastro.com predicts. And since current U.S. regulations prohibit bi-directionality, Americans may not be able to get their Net MTV as soon as they would like it. Until then, viewers may have to make do with the promises of a new brand of traditional TV that employs more sophisticated remote controls in lieu of a mouse, along with "set top boxes" which allow for such conveniences as clicking a remote button while a Domino's commercial runs and having a pepperoni pizza automatically delivered to your home. But as "Television of Tomorrow" panelist Pete Fernandez of PSW argues, "there are still great challenges regarding the technology and hardware," warning about such potential dangers as 911 phone lines going down because, for instance, too many people ordered food during the half-time show of the Super Bowl. Of course, with powerhouse players like AOL, Time Warner, and Scientific Atlanta already developing set top boxes that will integrate the traditional TV with the Internet, today's technology challenges will turn into tomorrow's profits. Profits that will be driven by catering advertising to a brave new world of consumers who may one day realize that commercials have been hand-tailored to reach a target demographic of one: you the individual. As Suzanne Stafanac of Respond TV points out, "One hundred and fifty billion dollars was spent in direct marketing last year," a number which will undoubtedly rise with the advent of these new mediums to exploit. All of this hoopla and promise of enhanced entertainment of course prompts the question: Which technology will win the final victory for viewership -- the PC or the TV? The answer is not an easy one and will depend upon newly emerging hardwares which will retrofit your traditional boob tube, but as Stafanac points out, "A television is limited to what it broadcasts." It doesn't know your buying history or personal tastes (which are tucked away in files know as "cookies" stored on your hard drive), and your TV doesn't greet you by first name when you surf your favorite channels. And least not yet.