Everything That Streams Must Converge

A favorite part of my job is connecting the dots, whether that’s connecting a marketer to a piece of content or a media owner to a piece of technology. And this applies equally to trying to divine trends and even tipping points for how we consume content today and into the future.

Two different data points emerged over the past two weeks that show how rapidly our various viewing methods are converging and have implications for the future.

First, during the turkey holidays, while the economy continued its downward spiral, the wily media wizards over at Sling took the wraps off the beta of its video site sling.com. More recently, in discussing its Internet-enabled Bravia TVs, Sony alluded to brokering a deal with Comcast to allow for a more seamless integration to allow that product to really flourish.

When Sling, makers of the Sling Box — a.k.a., the consumer electronic device of the media elite — announced it was creating an online video portal, those of you who let loose a collective yawn can certainly be forgiven. After all, YouTube has the mass (50 percent and growing), and Hulu, with its strong base of Fox and NBC content, looks to be cornering the market on premium content. What could Sling, now no longer an independent but a wholly owned subsidiary of a satellite company of all things, possibly do?

Well, take a look. Sling.com feels more like what a TV experience online should be. It’s slicker, more user friendly, and affords better branding opportunities for marketers and content owners than Hulu.

So in addition to having made a deal with Hulu — which means all Hulu content is available at Sling, it has made deals with a wide variety of small and large content holders, including CBS, BBC, Sony, and MGM, as well as Web faves, The Onion and College Humor. And as it is in the business of consumer electronics and distribution versus content ownership, its third-party status gives the enterprise the true feeling of “we’re just here to get the content to you,” as opposed to being the online extension of a media owner.

The big difference at the moment for Sling.com is that people who own both a Slingbox and a PC can stream TV content directly through the Sling portal. Though this involves a kludgey device (Slingbox) and requires a broadband connection on both ends, this is still one step closer to true convergence. Premium content from CBS, NBC, and Fox, plus Internet content like the Onion and blip.tv, recorded on a TiVo will all be delivered in one place, through one interface, without one having to troll around or open new windows.

Instead of content from TV appearing on your PC, the flip side of this involves PC content appearing on your TV. That’s where the Sony Bravia Internet-linked TV comes in. (My hat goes off to Saul Hansell of “The New York Times” for picking this up.)

Stan Glasgow, president of Sony Electronics, says Sony has been working with Comcast to have Internet-related content appear in the same onscreen guide as TV content. Here’s the money quote: “If you have to ask a consumer to switch sources constantly between cable and another source, it is not the normal consumer experience,” he said. “There has to be a more integrated way to have cable and Internet content on the same user interface.” And though he says it may not happen until 2010, it clearly is happening.

So with Sling you’ve got all your TV content on your PC, in one interface — admittedly with too many devices. With Sony, you’ll get your Internet content seamlessly integrated into your TV viewing experience. Now if that’s not true convergence, I don’t know what is.

Today’s column originally ran on December 9, 2008.

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