Friday New Tools Feature: Watching the Tube, Through the Tubes

Some of you may remember that, way back in April, Simon and I checked out the annual Cable Show here in DC, where the cable industry shows off its latest and greatest. Back then, I wrote,

Perhaps the biggest theme of the whole show was convergence, and the many ways that entertainment, information, and communication are merging. Streaming and downloadable movies and shows, IPTV, advanced DVR and Network PVR technology, 3-D home theater (available this year), networked video sharing, online video syndication, a huge variety of set-top boxes, mobile VoIP, fully integrated household systems, and many other technologies were being combined in myriad ways. 

Without getting bogged down in the details, the key takeaway of the show was that cable is no longer a broadcast technology; it has become flexible, customizable, and interactive to a striking degree in just a few years time, and with ever-increasing bandwidth (one provider boasted "wideband" download speeds reaching 50 mbps), this trend is sure to accelerate. 

A few months later, and that vision is quickly becoming a reality. This week, Verizon announced a trial of it's FiOS TV Online service, and TimeWarner and Comcast also announced trials of their TV Everywhere services. Here's an excerpt from the TimeWarner press release:

Through TV Everywhere, Time Warner Cable video subscribers will be able to access content online on the networks' websites and on Time Warner Cable's web properties. The programming offered through the TV Everywhere trials will include many shows currently unavailable online and others that will be made available on the Internet more quickly following their original airdates than they are currently. The trials are a big step toward fulfilling Time Warner Cable's vision for making content available on any screen, any time and any place its customers want to view it.

The evolution will be a gradual one, but I feel that the separation between TV shows, movie rentals, and the internet will quickly erode over the next few years until there is no longer any solid distinction. We're not quite there yet, but the latest generation of HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connectors include a built-in ethernet connection. What that means for next-generation devices:

The HDMI 1.4 specification will add a data channel to the HDMI cable and will enable high-speed bi-directional communication. Connected devices that include this feature will be able to send and receive data via 100 Mb/sec Ethernet, making them instantly ready for any IP-based application.


The HDMI Ethernet Channel will allow an Internet-enabled HDMI device to share its Internet connection with other HDMI devices without the need for a separate Ethernet cable. The new feature will also provide the connection platform to allow HDMI-enabled devices to share content between devices. 

With the lastest generation of TVs already supporting built-in movie rentals over ethernet cables, the next-gen HDMI will simply accelerate the trend towards high-definition IPTV. And if you're a consumer, that's a good thing - you'll have more choice and more control over what you watch and when you watch it. Politicians, though, should be prepared; this is going to be a very different media environment than in the past, requiring different strategies to message effectively. It's not necessarily bad - the level of customization will also allow for much better targeting (think search ads for TV), but those unprepared for this shift will be at a big disadvantage within the next few years.