It is coming sooner than you think. The marriage between the Internet and television — one more episode in a grand game called media convergence — marked a key milestone last week with the launch of the Apple TV set-top device by CEO Steve Jobs.
Honestly, for industry watchers, the leap by the man who gave you the Mac and iPod is not really a technology leap, but you have to admit that the man takes big steps to hasten in terms of business models what would happen anyway, and do it in a show-and-tell manner.
The simple fact is that the set-top box that brings you direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasts through a dish antenna is like a small computer loaded with software. The Apple TV device is similar to what cable and DTH operators give, and like them, it involves back-end partnerships with broadcasters.
What Apple did last week was to drop to $99 (R4,500) the price of the device it earlier sold for $229 — a little over double that price. What makes it special is the price and the manner in which Apple is taking many popular TV shows to a pay-per-view scenario in which viewers watch their stuff at their convenience.
The device sports an HDMI connector, Ethernet (for networking) and WiFi, optical audio and USB plugs but no storage.
Apple TV is only trying to steal a march over Google TV announced this year. Google is set to offer soon its own service which will let users navigate between all their channels through its Chrome browser. Google's plan has a Web store to sell applications such as games on Google TV and a remote.
There are also players like Boxee. All you have to do is to go to the site (boxee.tv) and download its free software on your laptop or a spare desktop and connect it with an HDMI or DVI cord to your TV and you have a device rivaling Apple TV and Google TV in getting video shows that are compatible. Just check it out. You can do that right away without waiting for Apple or Google TV to arrive in India.
Imagine a future where you can watch YouTube videos, independent movies or documentaries through such a device. It is only a question of time before movie producers and broadcast networks increase their degree of cooperation to such a future. Right now, many of them are not because I think it is liable to hit their advertising revenues.
Do you remember how music companies resisted burning of songs to CDs or downloading them over the Net? Now, music companies are themselves selling songs by downloads. Steve Jobs' iTunes store had hastened the process. He may be now doing to TV shows the same.
Boxee and Google will make things happen too. I expect 2011 to be the shootout year for TV and video shows over the Net being viewed at home with a remote on a large screen. Some will be free, some will be priced but Web TV is getting real — and coming home sooner than you think.