“Future of TV”: Friend or Competitor?


Whenever the first words of a television commercial include “the future of television,” I pay attention, curious to see what someone in “the industry” is telling viewers what they’ll be watching someday soon.

Hence I was looking up frequently during the past week as a local Washington-area TV retailer ran a spree of commercials – as did many other merchants nationwide – offering big deals on big screens prior to the “Big Game” (the term they had to use for Sunday’s Super Bowl, since they were not officially licensed sponsors.)

Curiously, these commercials about “the future” were almost totally bereft of TV shows (including big sports events) as we know them past or present. The 30-second commercials (from the Big Screen Store,  a Baltimore-Washington retail chain) were adapted from a Samsung SmartTV commercial that debuted last year, touting the “wonder of Samsung.” Those wonders include “new ways to share,… to explore … [and] to stay in touch”; you see examples of multi-screen experiences, video-conferencing and photos plus gesture control and interactive content discovery.

Usually such “future of TV” commercials on DC channels feature a serious, deep-voiced narrator reminding us about threatening and/or promising issues as they try to convince policy-makers about the necessities of pending television legislation.

Not this time. Nothing’s urgently on the table beyond the usual regulatory skirmishes and the distant threat of Telecom Act revision.

Nonetheless, this local “future of TV” commercial was particularly timely, because its appearance coincided with Samsung’s new agreement with Verizon last week, actually an expansion of a deal that puts the Verizon FiOS channel roster on the Samsung Smart Hub platform.  Just a few weeks earlier, during CES, Samsung and Comcast unveiled their “TV app,” an enhancement to TV Everywhere that lets Xfinity subscribers navigate channels without a set-top box, including access to DVR and video-on-demand functions.

Hence, Samsung’s commercial encompasses services and apps that will be available thanks to cable delivery.  Yet the emphasis – as should be expected from a TV set manufacturer  – is on the future of what its equipment can deliver, rather than on what most people think of as “television” today, namely video entertainment and information from networks and local providers.

A Samsung spokesperson told me that this commercial is not currently running nationally, nor was she aware of any other local retailers using this “future of television” message in recent campaigns.

The commercial, with its emphasis that “the future begins now with the new Smart TV from Samsung,” is a strong reminder that TV makers are shifting the value of their products. No longer is the emphasis solely on the ability of their screens to show highest-quality images for prime-time entertainment and sports events.

Now the future is about delivering non-traditional, value-added services. Samsung’s recent deals with Comcast and Verizon come on the heels of other pacts, such as an agreement a few months ago to put Yahoo’s Connected TVplatform/software on Samsung SmartTVs. 

Although some of the Yahoo content is tied to programming from cable networks, such as National Geographic, HSN and Showtime, the growing emphasis on TV apps – including Netflix, Flixster and other over-the-top services – is a reminder that Smart TVs’ expanding presence is not about TV as we knew it.

When Samsung and other TV set makers (including LG, Sony, Vizio and Panasonic) advertise their capabilities to offer far more than delivering conventional TV programs, their messages emphasize their great expectations for a different “future” than we’ve seen in the past.

The only question is: How near is that “future?”