• Broadband Video on TV is a Mirage

    In yesterday's WSJ, Nick Wingfield wrote a lengthy article outlining the 5 key challenges encountered by the myriad devices aimed at bringing broadband video to TVs. He lists them as: consumer resistance to adding another box, complications in setting them up, cost, lack of content and slow downloads.

    The article has a generally optimistic tone, posing "solutions" to each of the challenges. You're left with the impression that mass-scale broadband video on TV could actually happen sometime soon.

    At the risk of being the "skunk at the picnic," I have recently come to believe that broadband video on TVs is a mirage, tantalizingly close yet in reality nowhere on the horizon. Unless there is some new box or approach I've yet to hear about, I've regrettably concluded that broadband video will be tied to computers, and select mobile devices, for a long time to come.

    The minority of consumers who will actually see broadband video on their TVs will either (1) shell out big bucks to buy a broadband appliance such as Vudu or Apple TV, (2) tackle the challenge of connecting their TVs via wireless networks (3) use a device built for another primary purpose, such as Xbox 360 or TiVo, to selectively augment their viewing with broadband-delivered choices or (4) use a service provider that has decided to throw in a few morsels of broadband video.

    Those of you with good memories will remember that in a Broadband Directions newsletter at the end of 2007 I wrote bullishly about Apple TV's ability to become the breakout convergence device, if only Apple opened up the box to all broadband content. Instead Apple has kept the box closed, available for iTunes downloads and selected YouTube videos. Consequently it has been a flop.

    To help explain why products succeed or not, I tend to reach for Prof. Clayton Christensen's abiding lesson that people "hire" products to do "jobs" they have to be done. In other words, products that meet the buyer's true desires are the ones that succeed.

    For me, the "job" that consumers increasingly want "done" is to be presented with an integrated, easy-to-access service (not just a new box) that offers all video programming they value in an on-demand manner and priced appropriately. That's a tall order, but ultimately one which will drive wide-spread success of any new product in this space.

    Some of the possibilities include TiVo, which believes in this "seamless" philosophy, though it is still dependent on current service providers (cable, satellite, telco) to deliver programming. ICTV has a very interesting approach, though it is also reliant on existing service providers. Building B is taking a bold approach that seems to meet the full test for success, though it's still too early to know whether they can successfully execute on their vision.

    But hodge-podge, costly broadband appliances just create new inconveniences while only partially addressing true consumer needs. As a result, they're not going to find a broad market. And so, barring some other new innovation, most of the world will still be watching broadband video on their computers and some mobile devices for a long time to come.