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How the web consolidates entertainment

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Movie night

It’s movie night 2005.

I am woefully unprepared and need to find something to watch before my high school buddies come over. I channel surf, flip through my family’s movie collection (The Land Before Time?!), and resolve that the only movie we can watch is the first Matrix film on HBO. It doesn’t come on for two hours.  Maybe after some deliberation we can find a movie to rent from the local video store.

This is the life that many of us had a few years ago. We were at the mercy of cable providers, video stores and, frankly, our incomes.  As 2012 comes to a close, we entertain ourselves in starkly different ways that almost exclusively involve the web.

Today I don’t even look to the cable networks. I pick up my iPad or Nexus. From there I open Amazon Instant Video or Netflix and type the film I want to watch. Then I watch it. Worst case? I pay a few bucks for it.  That’s no different from renting a film (something you have to pay fuel and rental fees for). The local video store is closed anyway.

Of course the major networks still have a monopoly on original content (deep pockets help). Even so, popular shows on major networks are put online after their initial airing.  The world doesn’t wait for television anymore and, if you miss a show, they want to be sure you can catch it on your time. Networks were wise to make this adjustment.

What’s next?

Where do we go from here?  The newest wave is the further consolidation of this experience.  Manufacturers are no longer satisfied with their devices being used as monitors and are pushing Smart TV functionality.  I have my misgivings on Smart TV as it stands today, but this is a logical step.  Manufacturers such as LG, Samsung, and Sharp do not have an Xbox, Playstation, or Apple TV in another unit of their company to enhance the user experience.  The rise of set-top boxes such as Roku are also changing the game.  Television manufacturers are clamoring to include these functions as a way to make TV the center of the living room again.  Many are also trying to get a jump on Apple’s rumored television project–which is sure to  disrupt the industry with its entry alone.

The inclusion of sophisticated software in a television worries me because these new units, like computers, will face the harsh reality of software obsolescence. Unlike phones and computers, families don’t purchase expensive TVs every year–or even every other year.  Especially not in this economy. Manufacturers should be wary of leaving large swaths of their users behind with outdated software. This is a distinct possibility when considering the newness of the space.  Should this become an issue, manufacturers may actually prove as a catalyst for their own demise.

The future

The web has brought us so far in so short of a time. It’s proliferation has dramatically changed how we entertain ourselves.  Once the bastion of goofy videos and pictures, it has evolved into a powerful medium that all of our devices orbit around.  Where does this evolution takes us? I predict that, with our various devices and Smart TVs, we will increasingly push the web towards quality original content that will rival content we find on the major networks. We may initially see a buying of talent (i.e ABC hiring a popular web star), but some will stay on the web and build a following that proves more profitable and flexible online. Some may even leverage their popularity and form deals with media giants while maintaining a measure of autonomy.  As a result, the major entertainment providers will have no choice but to divert even more resources to the web.  Large investments in Hulu will show their worth even more at this time.  The future is exciting for entertainment.  I believe this paradigm shift will be great for those of us who enjoy, dare I say, “great television.”

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