Despite the flurry of announcements about new TV-tuner
cards for personal computers and the continued chatter about convergence, don't expect the
PC to become a full-fledged TV substitute anytime soon.
Differences in the style of use, bandwidth issues,
economies of scale and hardware and software limitations are among the reasons why some
cable programmers believe that video-smart PCs aren't going to replace the television
But those programmers do believe that PCs are an
increasingly important delivery medium for enhanced television viewing and video-on-demand
-- particularly short-form video.
"I don't happen to believe that in the next few years,
people will watch television the way that they watch television today on their PCs,"
said Kevin Dowdell, vice president of HBO Interactive Ventures. "I think that they
are two different experiences."
Jeff Morris, senior vice president of new media and
technology at Showtime Networks Inc.,
was similarly skeptical.
"Until, from a hardware perspective, PCs and TVs are
indistinguishable to the consumer, I don't think that they're going to be watching
long-form," he said.
"You're going to see a lot more video and multimedia
components come to the PC," said Jeff Craig, vice president of interactive technology
for Discovery Enterprises Worldwide.
"I don't think that you're going to find people watching television on their
Scott Woelfel, whose CNN.com
may be the most visited cable Web site, agreed that "the computer is still not a
satisfying experience to watch a long program."
Woelfel, vice president and editor in chief of Cable News
Network's CNN Interactive unit, has empirical evidence in that regard saying that people
are not going to watch hours of TV over their PCs. He added that CNN.com users who watch
the streaming-video feed or the VOD feed at work go home and turn on the TV for the video
component, using the Web site at home for more detailed information.
"I think that a lot of people are still doing it the
wrong way," said Todd Tarpley, director of new media at A&E
Television Networks. "People are thinking that people are going to watch
TV on their computer. They're thinking too hard about convergence instead of about what's
useful to the user."
Tarpley added, "When you try to watch TV on the
Internet, it looks bad, and the only person who will tell you otherwise is trying to make
a business out of it."
Even though he sees mergers and convergence ahead for TV
and the Internet -- and an increase in video quality -- Tarpley does not foresee a large
audience for long-form TV programming produced for the Web or for long-form time-shifting.
"I would argue that the best place to do that may be
on a digital-television tier, anyway. If I have an opportunity to watch a rerun of ER,
and I can either watch it on the Internet or on TV, I'm going to choose TV," he said.
Instead, Tarpley prefers to emphasize community and
interaction at A&E Networks' five Web sites. Keeping bandwidth constraints in mind, he
programs for the average user who is still accessing the Web with nothing faster than a
"We're middle ground. We have graphics on our pages,
we offer video streaming and we offer audio streaming, but you don't have to have those to
enjoy the site," Tarpley added.
SNI is going in a different direction of
multiplatform-content development, with the company synchronizing its Web content with
what it puts on television.
"We think that there are tremendous opportunities for
us by recognizing the phenomenon of simultaneous usage of TVs and PCs," Morris said.
He pointed to a survey commissioned for SNI's new-media
group that showed that nearly 40 percent of Internet households use the Internet and TV
Conducted by ICR Research Group, the March survey of 1,717
households also showed that nearly one-half of U.S. households with PCs have at least one
room with both a TV and PC. SNI plans to update that questionnaire.
"My guess is that we'll find that the number has
grown," Morris said. "My guess is that the potential audience for
converged-content experience is many times greater than the current installed base of WebTV [Networks, a unit of Microsoft
Richard Gingras, vice president of programming for
high-speed Internet-access company @Home Network, lives in one of those households. His
includes a home office with two TVs and multiple PCs, and a 10-year-old daughter who
habitually uses the computer while viewing TV. But he doesn't subscribe to the
"Our sense is that what people are much more
comfortable using on the PC, as far as video, is what I refer to as 'short-form TV,'"
With that in mind, @Home's
offerings include on-demand news clips, video trailers, short bits of comedy
and reviews of products.
Even if, in five or 10 years, the PC has as much video
power as the TV does and the TV has as much computing power as the PC does, Gingras
believes that people might use them interchangeably, but that they will still feel more
comfortable watching long-form TV on the sofa and working on projects at the computer.
"The most dangerous thing is to look at many of these
things as black-and-white issues," Gingras added. "This is entirely gray
Dowdell likes the idea of using the Internet to offer
samples of HBO programming. In the near future, most of HBO's featured programming will be
represented in clips available at the site.
"As bandwidth increases, and people have faster
connections, and video looks better and sounds better, we'll do more of that,"
But original programming of televisionlike content on the
web is not in the cards for now.
News channels MSNBC and Cable News Network are involved in
different efforts to merge PCs and TVs.
signed up early on with WebTV, and it is now working with WebTV for Windows, which brings
Web TV's interactive and enhanced capabilities to PCs with TV tuners and Microsoft's
Windows 98 operating system. The enhancements include data broadcasting, an electronic
program guide and interactive programming.
At MSNBC.com, Frank Barbieri, senior producer of
interactive content, appreciates the potential of producing seamless enhanced content
blending the PC into the TV and vice versa.
"The beauty of those platforms is that they, in fact,
look almost identical," Barbieri said. "The way that we're gearing our
production is so that the way that you experience it is the same no matter what you're
watching on ... They will be presented with a familiar interface, and they will get the
same kind of information that they would on another platform," he said.
He added, "You can easily picture a service and a box
that would eventually offer both seamlessly in one environment. Currently, the technology
is more geared toward time-shifting and personalization than it is toward presenting a new
metaphor for broadcast television. We've seen a hint of that new metaphor with WebTV for
But at CNN.com, the goal is to produce different content
for each medium. Currently, CNN.com produces interactive content for users of Intel
Corp.'s Intercast service. The Intercast software was incorporated into Windows 98.
"The functionality's good," Woelfel said.
He doesn't think that TVs are smart enough yet to say that
it works as well in the other direction.
But whether it's through TV tuners, or through Web-based
solutions, as download times improve, Woelfel does see a need for a hybrid product.
"The question is: On what scale?" he said.
"That's why we haven't done more -- because there is no audience for it yet."
Enhanced TV takes "an incredible amount of work,"
and Woelfel isn't sure that it's worth the money.
Craig sees the TV tuner and the Internet feed as two
completely different territories. "I think that what you'll see is more of the video
coming through the Web, versus information on the Web synchronized with the tuner. The
exception is WebTV for Microsoft Windows 98 ... What you're doing is creating a
To Craig, that's a good start, but nowhere near the finish
Tarpley summed up the confusion: "I would say that
like many other cable networks, we see the potential. We don't have the answers yet."