Apps, apps, apps. They devour our free time, our battery life, and our data plan. Increasingly, they’re also devouring our TV time, either by putting TV on your personal “second screen,” or simply by keeping your attention diverted from the first one. How is our TV experience evolving now that we have a constant digital companion that can do so much, and with so much more engaging interactivity?
At first, watching TV was a focused, “theater-like” experience, and the programming was a commonly-shared social touchstone. As the number of channels grew and new generations grew up assuming that TV was a standard part of the home, the multitasking began; doing chores, doing homework, talking on the phone, or trying to read with the TV set on. Even with our focus squarely on the screen, few can resist the impulse to channel surf, especially with picture-in-picture enabled.
Several decades later in the 1990s, we had the first real glimpse of TVs future. TV tuner cards made it possible to watch channels on your computer’s desktop. Laptop computers gave you an interactive second-screen that you could bring into any TV room. SMS appeared and cell phone capabilities started to go beyond just talking. These diverse experiences increasingly began to cross over, to interfere and complement each other in various ways.
TV’s Little Helper
Even in the infancy of the Internet, television had a presence. Official channel and show sites, fan sites, channel listings, and multimedia clips have enhanced the TV experience for at least two decades. As early as 1995, ventures such as WebTV and Gateway’s HTPC systems provided consumers with a way to do both on the same screen. Although there was still a major separation between the Internet and TV experience, people became more used to doing things like switching over to IMDB to see what other shows an actor has starred in, or looking for more product info than a tantalizing 30-second commercial could give them.
Once bandwidth allowed, streaming video became available, first for desktops, then laptops, then mobile devices. The Video iPod in 2005 was the most significant forerunner of today’s TV app age, giving users a conveniently portable second-screen experience that had previously only been possible with more cumbersome laptops. By 2009, all the major mobile operating systems had TV streaming apps of some kind — a year before tablets and Android were even on the map. Once the larger screens and more hands-on interactivity of the iPad entered the mix, apps had begun to play heavily into television’s fate or future.
There’s no doubt that we’re increasingly distracted from the TV; as we’ve seen, advertisers are anxious that every commercial is an excuse to switch to our ever-present smartphone or tablet companions. On the other hand, some advertisers and programmers are rising to the challenge by syncing the television and mobile device experience, through QR codes, live social media engagement, and even participatory Augmented Reality apps.
Just as cell phones have begun to replace landlines in more homes, some are concerned that mobile devices will ultimately usurp the TV-as-furniture paradigm. After all, why would you go somewhere to watch TV when you can watch TV wherever you are? Over a million households gave up on TV altogether in 2011 alone, and those that didn’t are watching them for fewer hours of the day. Yet actual viewing has increased, accounted for by more time spent watching TV on computers and mobile devices.
For now, screen size and data limitations (bandwidth, connectivity, processing power, etc) mean that the TV “installation” will be with us for some time to come. TV, STB and Freesat Box manufacturers (Freesat boxes are available at John Lewis) as well as media boxes such as those from Apple, Roku, Google and LG are rapidly coming up with ways to put the apps on the big screen instead of having them take your attention away from it. Meanwhile, live and recorded TV programming is being delivered and enhanced by apps such as those from from TiVo, Dish Network, providers such as Time Warner, and even individual networks like CNN and HBO.
This is all great news from the point of view of consumer choice, although TV providers and advertisers will undoubtedly be forced to innovate to replace their decades-old paradigm. While the old guard digs in (or files lawsuits) to stop the revolution, more media content, advertising, and provider industries are learning ways to accommodate and integrate second screens and divided loyalties.PS: Digging this story, news or review? Let us know! Comments open.
About Jakk: Jakk Ogden is a professional self-employed blogger and the founder / owner of Technology Blogged. 22, with a love for good writing, you'll find me playing 'Drag Racing' on my HTC One X and rocking a pair of Grado headphones. If you love technology, be sure to subscribe to my feed for unique editorials. Find me on Google+. View author profile.