June 3, 2013
For decades we've been watching TV. Now a new generation of televisions is beginning to watch us. Thanks to technological advances, some of the new breed of smart TVs come equipped with facial recognition technology of the kind used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to "see" the images flickering on the screen and suggest new shows based on what you've been watching.
Building on advances pioneered by the video game industry, some of the new TVs change channels with the sweep of a hand. Others allow viewers to ask, "What movies are on tonight?" and get an answer. Instead of turning on the TV in the morning and finding it tuned to the "Today" show because last night you watched NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," you'll see a tile of images presenting options that include shows you've recorded, shows currently airing and a list of options offered through on-demand services such as Netflix or Amazon Instant Video. The TV's heightened awareness of your viewing habits might send an Orwellian chill up the spine of some viewers. But manufacturers say they're solving a problem for viewers inundated with hundreds of programming choices. Some in the consumer electronics industry say the recommendation feature is hardly radical: devices and software have been making suggestions since 1999, when the TiVo digital video recorder started recording shows it assumed its owner might like.
Still, the new technology portends not only a change in the TV viewing experience but also poses a threat to cable and satellite TV distributors. Even network executives' notions about scheduling - how positioning a new show adjacent to a popular program in the evening lineup to drive ratings - look anachronistic at a time when Nielsen estimates that 47 percent of all American households have DVRs and can watch recorded shows whenever they choose, and 55 percent of broadband homes have at least one TV connected to the Internet, according to market researcher the Diffusion Group.
Video consumption is on the rise, but the audience is fragmented as never before. Some 5 million American households now get their entertainment via Internet-connected devices and, according to Nielsen, the majority of these mostly young viewers don't pay a monthly cable or satellite bill. These supercharged TVs might not be for everybody, especially those suffering from gadget fatigue. What's more, these smart TVs may look dated compared with what Silicon Valley giant Intel has in store for later this year, not to mention whatever Apple Inc. is planning with its hotly anticipated flat-screen TV. "We're in a golden era of television. Never in the history of the media has so much money been spent producing high-quality content," said Eric Huggers, general manager of Intel Media. "If you look at the technology that is used to deliver that, it feels stuck in the past. We think we need to put the technology on a par with the quality of the editorial."
Intel is testing an Internet-connected box that you could buy at a store, connect to your TV and home network and start watching shows within 10 minutes - without waiting for a cable or satellite installer to furnish the hardware and programming hookup. It will come with its own subscription service that will offer local and national programs as well as cable shows, catch-up viewing and access to online movie and TV services. Pricing has not been disclosed. "This is going to be the first true cable TV replacement service delivered over broadband," said Michael Greeson, president of the Texas-based media research firm the Diffusion Group. "It's going to tell us so much about the television industry and what relationships have been bent or broken in terms of (Intel) being able to bring first-run content... as opposed to delayed, on-demand."
There's no question that smart TVs are moving from a novelty to the mainstream, with shipments expected to grow 25 percent worldwide this year, according to NPD DisplaySearch. Some 76 million of these devices are expected to ship globally this year. Prices range from about $525 for a 40-inch Samsung TV to as much as $7,000 for a 65-inch smart TV from Sony that boasts ultra-high resolution. Gracenote is working with several television manufacturers and broadcasters to test a new technology for delivering customized ads into the home. The software incorporates information available through public databases, including credit information, home ownership and car registration data, to help brands deliver targeted messages during commercial breaks.
Broadcasters and advertisers hope that when the technology is introduced in 2014 it will deliver more relevant advertising so that consumers will be less prone to skip commercials. However, the privacy implications loom large. "Advertising companies need to be much more open about their profiling practices," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. "And consumers should have the right to know how information about them is used." Los Angeles Times
What is billed as the first candidates' forum of Pennsylvania's 2014 gubernatorial campaign may turn out to be the smallest.
Most of the more than a half-dozen Democratic hopefuls say scheduling conflicts will prevent them from appearing at the Midtown Scholar bookstore in Harrisburg on Wednesday night, when citizens will be invited to step up to an open microphone and ask the would-be governors about anything for 90 minutes while the Pennsylvania Cable Network cameras roll. As of Friday, only two candidates planned to participate: John Hanger, a state government veteran who has served as environmental protection secretary and utility regulator, and Max Myers, a minister and former Republican. Both are running their first election campaigns. "There's nothing better than a debate for voters to make judgments about a candidate's seriousness and ability to govern," said Hanger, who recently unveiled an $8 billion blueprint that he says will create more than 380,000 Pennsylvania jobs. "I'm doing everything I can to put policy first and politics second."
Myers, who advocates creating a citizen commission to seek solutions that do not require legislation or state funding, sees the forum as an "opportunity to talk to voters directly," a campaign spokesman said. The unconventional format "actually engages the public, which is what our whole campaign is about," said spokesman Patrick McNally. Harrisburg Hope, the community group sponsoring the event, invited Gov. Tom Corbett, who so far is unopposed for the Republican nomination in his expected re-election bid, but he also declined, citing scheduling conflicts. Associated Press
- Wall Street Journal: Barry Diller and CNN's Jeff Zucker on cable TV's closed system-and how long it can last (registration may be required)
- Wall Street Journal: TV Networks Play to 'Second Screen' (registration may be required)
- New York Times: Google's Washington Insider
- Philadephia Daily News: Text 9-1-1
- Associated Press: GMC TV changes name to UP to reflect programming
- Johnstown Tribune-Democrat: Wozniak may eye Lt. Gov.; touts connections in the Legislature
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Editorial: Full-time flop - In June, the Legislature punts on the big issues