Digital Convergence: TV- or PC-Based?

For a long time, pundits have pushed the idea of convergence. In their thinking, TV and the Internet would merge, with Internet services delivered primarily through the TV. After all, the thing’s already in the living room, right?

Experiments in interactive television (iTV) and enhanced programming have brought Web-like interactivity to TV. There are new advances in digital set-top boxes and other cable industry gadgetry. Convergence seems to be moving right along.

Or perhaps not.

Since the early days of the Web, people have gone online at the expense of their TV viewing. People watch less TV and use the Web more. Break down the trend demographically and it starts to take on more ominous tones for TV advertisers. As far back as 2003, Harris Interactive and Teenage Research Unlimited found young adults spend more time in front of their computers than in front of TV sets.

Consider convergence through the eyes of us old fogies who grew up with “old media.” Of course the TV would be the focal point of information delivery and entertainment. It’s where we spent most of our time as kids getting entertained, right? Now look at convergence through the eyes of a 13-24 year old who spends more of his time in front of the computer. The idea of having to go to the living room makes less sense. Could it be the real frontier of interactive entertainment and TV programming isn’t the TV but the PC?


Viacom is about to launch two experiments that may provide some insight into this question. TurboNick, launched in beta last week (it’s set to launch for real later in July), strives to deliver dozens of hours of original programming through a Web site that allows kids to watch full-screen video on demand.

For the older set, VH1’s Vspot will deliver three different channels of music and pop programming via a broadband interface. Though it’s not yet clear whether the programming will be all original or repurposed from the cable channel, Vspot viewers will get to catch the premiere of “The Surreal Life” three days before cable viewers can.

Advertisers everywhere will pay close attention to these new offerings. The potential to deliver video content to an audience who use computers as their main source of entertainment is huge. Not only is using the Web as a delivery medium more economical than cable (no negotiating with cable providers; just put up the site and go!), but the advertising possibilities brought about by the Internet’s inherent measurability are enormous. The whole process will let networks make end runs around cable providers, allow them to own their own ads and data, and deliver content on demand straight to the audiences who are increasingly harder to reach via “traditional” media channels.

If you look at the trends (such as those published by the Pew Internet & American Life Project), the vectors all seem to point to the computer as the entertainment delivery vehicle of the future. Experiments such as Viacom’s new online channels and development of new technologies such as Microsoft’s IPTV are harbingers of our digital future. When you try to see the future, make sure you look through the eyes of those born to it.

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