Michael McManus, DIGITIMES, Taipei [Wednesday 22 June 2011]
Digitimes Research has been publishing quarterly research reports on the ICT (information and communications technology) and FPD (flat-panel display) industries since 2004. Starting this year, the research arm of Digitimes began publishing Special Reports on key trends and topics trending in various high-tech industries. Digitimes Research's latest Special Report is an overview of the Smart TV industry. Its author, Tom Lon, explained the Smart TV trend in a recent interivew.
Q: Phrases like connected TV and Internet TV are often used in the context of Smart TV. Can you clear up the difference between the different terms?
A: Smart TV generally refers to service concepts involving the transmission of video content to a TV set via the Internet. Such concepts have been developed and integrated in both a top-down and a bottom-up manner, with top down meaning connected TV and bottom-up referring to Internet TV. Regardless of whether the issue is connected TV or Internet TV, these are the starting points for smart TV.
However, the superficial unimportance of "the transmission of video content to a TV set via the Internet" belies the fact that the involvement of the Internet makes it potentially possible to break out of the previously closed system of video broadcasting. The business models and commercial opportunities that result from this are what smart TV is really about.
Q: What are some of the opportunities provided by Smart TV?
A: Smart TV evolved from the integration of connected TV and Internet TV, but has expanded to include the greater value that will be made available to viewers in the future by the openness and interactivity of the Internet.
From the point of view of Smart TV, the switch from the broadcast transmission of video services to their provision via the Internet offers not only increased viewing flexibility and richer content, but also enables TV sets to provide entertainment services other than straight video viewing, such as complex games or voting activities matched with TV programs.
Perhaps even more significantly, this change also enables TV sets to cater for non-entertainment applications, including video calling, gambling, or even home security or medical care. The mature operation of business models for smart TV could therefore bring about cloud-based services offering comprehensive plans for every area of household activity that would be almost unimaginable for today's consumers; rather than simply offering improved TV services, Smart TV therefore offers a complete solution for the digital home based on an open platform.
The concept of the digital home has existed for a long time, but the comprehensive digital service environment for the home that people envisioned has so far remained little more than a dream. Before the Internet was introduced into the video service industry, cable operators had the best chance of becoming the engine that would drive the digital home industry, as TV was the most essential form of entertainment in the home, as well as the service for which people were generally most willing to pay. TV services allowed operators to accumulate the maximum possible number of customer groups, while giving them the opportunity to enter consumers' homes. As a result, the applications mentioned above, such as medical care and home security, could all potentially move into the home market through integration with TV services with the aid of cable operators.
However, TV operators have in the past been far from proactive about using their own networks to promote such diverse services. What cable TV operators tout as "triplay" is simply the bundling of phone and broadband services together with TV services - a far cry from any true concept of the digital home. Other firms have also tried to promote digital home services, but without sufficient scale or the necessary transmission networks or opportunities to penetrate the home.
This situation has led the digital home industry to something of an impasse. However, Smart TV offers the possibility of combining the power of the various aspects of the industry on an open platform, to penetrate the home via the openness of the Internet and to provide a richer and more diverse range of applications; this could potentially enable it to succeed in implementing digital home services where closed markets have failed for so long.
However, the feasibility of these potential applications for smart TV depends on the integration of Smart TV platforms and chip technology solutions, as well as whether it proves possible to develop business models that bring together the strengths of the various industries involved. Any company that is able to secure a key position in business models for Smart TV, or even to lead the development of such business models, has the potential to become the dominant power in the next television revolution, as smart TV gradually replaces traditional television.
It is also important to stress that while the concept of smart TV mainly refers to the use of the Internet to bring new services on to TV screens, this does not necessarily mean that smart TV involves the wholesale replacement of traditional broadcast technology by the Internet.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the integration of Smart TV platforms and hardware including chip technology solutions in, for example, a platform like Google TV?
A: Google is not launching its own end user equipment, preferring to leave production of such equipment to its designated partners. While these products, and particularly their chipset solutions, will have to meet Google's basic hardware requirements, manufacturers will otherwise be free to choose their own hardware specifications according their particular product and market positioning. The Google TV hardware that has emerged so far consists of TV sets which integrate the Google TV platform, Google TV-equipped Blu-ray players, or straightforward companion boxes providing only Google TV functionality.
Q: And what about content in the Google TV example?
A: Content for the Google TV platform can be accessed via three main routes. First, content can be accessed through apps and services from the Android Market. In principal, content providers using this route can provide services to viewers on the sole condition that they abide by the rules and regulations of the Android Market. Second, content can be accessed from third parties that have negotiated content delivery with Google TV, such as Amazon on Demand or Netflix. These services are listed on the Google TV menu and are therefore not bound by the conditions that apply within the Android Market. Third, content can be accessed through the browser; as described earlier, this means that the inclusion of a browser in Google TV makes it possible, in theory at least, to use Google TV to access the vast quantity of browser-based multimedia content that has emerged in response to the huge user base of PCs. As such content is accessed by the user entering the URL of the website on the keyboard, Google does not believe it is necessary to enter into any special agreements with providers of browser-viewable content.
However, not all video websites are as willing as Google to allow viewers free access through Google TV. Companies such as ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and Hulu blocked Google TV from accessing video content from their respective websites soon after Google TV was initally launched. Such action is without doubt a significant blow to the fledgling Google TV, which has yet to add significant amounts of content via Android Market.
Digitimes Research analyst Tom Lo
Photo: Digitimes Archive