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The Internet should swallow TV whole, says Raja Khanna

If another broadband video site launches in the night, does anyone watch? The answer seems to be yes, though one could wonder why? Lousy production values, the majority of content is terrible and the services are run by Internet people – what do they know about TV?

Kids are starting to spend more "screen time" on the net than on TV. Online viewing is rapidly growing (already at 2hrs 19m a month and climbing for ages 2+, according to Nielsen). In the US alone, over 119 million people watched 7.5 billion video streams online in May 2008, and that’s before the Olympics brought online video watching to the mainstream.

So what’s going on? There are powerful forces at work.

Our experience suggests that the Internet generation prizes two things in media above all else – immediacy and relevance. The Internet provides both far better than television does today.

Immediacy can be broadly broken down into two themes: convenience and ease of use. Watching video on the net is the ultimate in media convenience. You can get to it anywhere, anytime, on anything with a screen and an internet connection. Moreover, you can bookmark content, embed it, share it and save it. There is no traditional TV service that even approaches this level of convenience.

Then there’s ease of use. The Internet has been engineered by folks who spend a large part of their time thinking about usability. Its genesis was driven by user experience and the ability to quickly connect ideas and share information. Cable or satellite VOD services on the other hand, tend to be slow and awkward.

Relevance of content has always been crucial, but even more so now. Let’s say for the sake of argument, that 90% of the content online is unwatchable. That still leaves 10% of a seemingly limitless supply of programming that is relevant to any single person’s passions, likes and dislikes. Though the quality may not be quite as high, you just can’t get it on TV. In addition, TV viewing choices are mainly driven by recommendations from communities such as friends, families, and co-workers. But on the Internet, that recommendation comes with a link to the content. No video store, no programming your PVR – just perfectly relevant content already vetted by a friend, one click away. Despite the 500-channel universe, TV simply cannot compete with that kind of social promotion.

So where does TV go from here?

It could be that Internet and broadband video services (and their related venture capitalists) are taking all the risks and driving innovation. Perhaps the time has come for TV to harness all of this learning and re-invent itself. Or, could it be that the Internet is so far ahead (more content, more relevance, more immediacy, easier to use, better technology, more innovation) and TV is so stuck in its old ways and old relationships, that at some point the Internet will just swallow TV whole and that will be that. Either way, the many advantages for consumers that the Internet has pioneered will find their way into the TV room, one way or the other.

One thing will always remain true: people love leaning back and watching programming from the comfort of their living room. And TV still owns the couch, but for how long?

Imagine sitting in your living room flipping through your 18 million-channel TV set with integrated search while recommendations come in from your friends and family. Imagine clicking on "add to favourites" every time you saw something you like or having a personalised "favourites" TV channel made for you. How about watching an entire channel of user-generated videos from the concert you were at last night or watching video blog channels of someone who shares your passion for kite-skiing. Imagine only having to watch one channel, except when you were in surf and discover mode.

Hollywood does not have exclusive rights to the couch. People want all sorts of programming, from high budget to user-generated. Content, innovation, and usability have to come to the living room and for that to happen a new breed of broadcaster and cable company needs to emerge that embraces the best of Internet video and technologies; one that is not afraid to evolve. If it doesn’t, Apple or the legions of innovative, digital media start-ups broadcasting to net viewers around the world will find another way to sneak onto the screen and take over.

Raja Khanna is CEO of GlassBOX Television