Can We Get Smart About Covering Smart TVs?

By Tomorrow Will Be Televised Archives
Cover image for  article: Can We Get Smart About Covering Smart TVs?

Let's begin the second half of 2017 with a double-edged declaration: We're living in an era of plentiful television -- especially of a scripted nature -- and an era of smart TV sets and attachments that produce smart TV capabilities.  Here's the issue: The era of plentiful (a.k.a. peak) TV gets dissected, discussed and showcased all over the place.  The era of smart TV does not.

Recent findings from Nielsen, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and other sources paint one clear picture:  At least 60 percent of all U.S. households own a smart TV set, made by Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Sharp and Vizio, to name five heavy weights in this arena, and/or a device on the order of Apple TV (with more than 10,000 applications), Chromecast from Google, Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Shield from Nvidia. In a press briefing this spring, Nielsen estimated that usage of these sets and devices is accelerating, on the order of 19-20 days per month, 2-3 hours per day.  At last month's Cultural Insights Forum in New York, Horowitz Associates suggested that multicultural Millennials are a fast-growing portion of the smart TV/device population, using them to stream and watch what they want from Netflix, Hulu and other programming sources.

"Streaming has become the new normal," acknowledged Horowitz executive Adriana Waterson, adding that six out of every 10 Millennials of color participating in a recent company survey stream four out of every 10 hours of content they watch via TV.

What's more, what smart TV sets and devices can offer 24/7 has expanded in radical fashion over the last two years alone.  Depending on what set or device is operating in their homes, users can play more advanced video games, read e-books or arrange services from AirBnB, Zillow or Home Advisor, and order pizza from Papa John's or tickets from StubHub.  In recent months, Amazon Prime customers picked up the ability to order any Amazon merchandise -- any -- from Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV-equipped TV sets or plug-ins.  Samsung now offers Glimpse, an independently created app giving viewers a graphic way to track the whereabouts of friends or family members (with their permission).  Increasingly, viewers can exercise their vocal chords and request the programs or apps they desire via Siri, Alexa and other artificial intellegence-powered devices.

Some of the newest smart TV sets available for sale build Siri, Alexa and others into these sets.  Also, because these sets and devices are software-centric and can be upgraded in rapid fashion, no one knows their ultimate capacity and capability.  Virtual and augmented reality services represent two of the possibilities that may get realized.

One could easily conclude these developments would provoke local and national newspapers and newscasts, or segments of CNBC, Fox Business Network and Bloomberg Television, or ongoing coverage in technology oriented Web sites like Techcrunch, Recode and News.com.  Instead, the opposite is happening.  There us little or no coverage whatsoever.

What prevents journalists on each level from taking this subject on, especially when there's no shadow of a doubt the public is adopting this technology in fairly quick fashion when compared to other landmark products?  Why the absence of discussion about the current and future smart TV environment at most TV industry and consumer electronics industry conference and events?  It's incredible to fathom that these gatherings can't make time for at least one panel on this topic.  Over the last four years, CE Week (scheduled for July 12-13 here in New York, with hundreds of journalists and industry analysts attending) has avoided the subject, after several years devoting considerable time to smart TV.  Again, there's no panel in 2017 -- and there are no major smart set or device makers taking exhibit space.

That's one huge reason for the lack of extensive coverage -- smart TV set and device makers keeping mum in public about their latest features.  When these companies don't talk, or avoid friendly venues that provide an excellent forum for what they're up to, such as TV industry conferences or one-night events from entrepreneurs like Pepcom, journalists move on to other matters.

And then there are the blown opportunities to take full advantage of the spotlight, such as Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference keynote presentation by CEO Tim Cook last month.  With thousands of app developers on hand in Silicon Valley, other app makers watching from afar and journalists looking on either way, Cook had the perfect stage to update everyone on Apple TV and what's coming there.  Instead, with a "The Future of TV" slide behind him, Cook devoted less than 90 seconds near the beginning of a two-hour keynote to Apple TV.  His boiled-down message: Amazon Prime will join Apple TV's lineup of features later this year, and I'll have more to say about Apple TV later this year.  That's all.

Did anyone suggest to Cook that millions of people use Apple TV, and that maybe this was an outstanding time to share the kind of apps available at present and in the near future?  How about encouraging all those app developers out there to keep innovating and fire up new services? Apparently not.  After spending less than 90 seconds on Apple TV, Cook devoted more than 15 minutes to the Apple Watch -- with new apps demonstrated. As a result, we were hard-pressed to see or read anything on Apple TV anywhere.  Even more unbelievable, there was no follow-up reporting or critique of Cook's presentation.

A few weeks earlier, Google's annual i/O conference keynote, also live from Silicon Valley and directed at Android-following app developers, spared no time on Chromecast.  None.

When 60 percent of U.S. households have crossed a threshold in adopting a product, that product is overdue for a greater level of attention than ever before.  Smart TV sets and devices could end up the most important and impactful media/consumer electronics/TV/technology reaching mass acceptance this decade, and maybe this century.

Attention from all corners, as Arthur Miller once declared, must be paid.

Until the next time, stay well and stay tuned!

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