It seems as though the promise of a better television experience easily excites the tech media. I frequently talk to many in the tech press about this topic and I find it fascinating that so many people want the TV experience to be disrupted so badly. It’s as though there’s an air of desperation for TV to be reborn. The question is why?
When I joined my firm Creative Strategies in 2000 to do market research, my first area of focus was on the digital home. I spent many man hours researching the market for HDTVs and the enabling of technologies like home networking and streaming media from PCs to TVs. Around that time, two interesting companies hit the scene: ReplayTV and TiVo.
I was at the Consumer Electronics Show where both companies debuted, and their booths were as packed as any on the show floor. Both offered such a simple premise: pause, rewind and fast forward live TV. In my opinion, these two companies paved the way for the disruption we will eventually see. Why? Because they showed us how much better our TV experience could be, and how crappy the technology was that our current television providers provided us with.
I remember having discussions with executives at both TiVo and ReplayTV during their startup years. In particular, I remember a conversation with Anthony Wood, one of the founders of ReplayTV and the now founder and CEO of Roku. I asked Anthony why the current TV providers didn’t think of this first. His answer, plain and simple, was “because they are not technology companies.” So profoundly true. And the fact that they are not technology companies is the simple reason so many of us in the tech industry want TV to be disrupted. We know the technology and the experience can be so much better.
Bound by Hollywood
Whenever you think about Hollywood as it relates to the tech industry, remember this point: Hollywood is run on fear and greed. Every decision the industry makes has a root in one of these things. This is why being in control of every bit of its content rights is at the forefront. Hollywood’s agenda and the technology industry’s agenda are not the same.
Hollywood legally has the rights to its content and that is not going to change. So for technology companies to have access to that content, they have no choice but to pay for it up front. This is why it’s likely that someone like Roku, Netflix, Apple, or Google will never be able to offer customers the same access to content as your TV provider. TV providers pay for the rights up front; technology companies will not.
Embracing the Second Screen
Ultimately, I believe this disruption will be led by the second screen, specifically by integrating devices like tablets and smartphones into the TV experience. This makes sense when you understand that the TV is generally a shared screen in a communal setting. Therefore, the TV is likely the wrong screen to deliver “personal” or “individualized” experiences. These experiences are fine in the case where only one person is watching the TV, but that’s not every use case.
Smartphones, tablets, and even traditional PCs are more often personal screens, making them the right screens to deliver more personal and individualized experiences. Where this gets exciting, in my opinion, is when the communal and individual TV experiences get integrated together. For example, while watching a football game on the big screen with friends, I can use my tablet or smartphone in conjunction with the game to see elements personalized to me: things like camera angles, replays, relevant fantasy league data or other stats of interest to me — not others in the room.
It is the integration of the big screen with the personal screen that is of the most interest to me in relation to how TV may be disrupted.
The Entertainment Platform
Lastly, the disruption of the TV will empower a new entertainment platform like no other. When you think about devices like smartphones, tablets, and PCs, we understand them to be largely computing platforms. Of course, elements of entertainment take place, but so do levels of creativity and productivity.
What the three platforms I mentioned have in common from a computing perspective is a software development kit (SDK), enabling software developers to write relevant applications for these computing platforms. What excites me about the disruption of the TV is the prospect of an SDK for the TV. It would transform the TV, for the first time ever, into a platform that smart developers can write unique new applications for. We have not yet even scratched the surface of this idea.
Those who have the most to lose when TV gets disrupted need not fear piracy; they should fear the SDK. When developers can take advantage of a platform, the possibilities are endless.
Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week on TIME Tech.