Smart TV Makers:  It's Time to Be More Pro-Active on Interactive TV

By Tomorrow Will Be Televised Archives
Cover image for  article: Smart TV Makers:  It's Time to Be More Pro-Active on Interactive TV

If the subject of interactive television had come up for public discussion a year ago during New York Television Week, the primary talking point could have been this:  Will we ever see it happen in a big way in our lifetime?  That’s an obvious inquiry, given all the ventures from Qube to Full Service Network that took a shot at it and flunked over the last half-century due to technology glitches, consumer-unfriendly features, national rollout problems or all three. 

As attendees assemble for NYC Television Week 2019 during the next few days, that attitude is no longer legit.  Instead of wondering if interactive TV will ever catch on, the top-of-mind question now is:  How fast and how far will this medium go?

That’s quite a turnaround in one short year.  But there are several factors to consider.  First, the majority of U.S. households are now watching and using TV via smart sets and connected devices.  Second, the easy and exploding functionality of these products have given viewers the ability to shift program storylines, order products and services and control other elements of their home or apartment.  Third, the success of individual ventures over the past year, such as Netflix’s Emmy-winning Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror and unscripted series You Vs. Wild, or shoppable, interactive commercials on Hulu and Walmart’s VUDU video-on-demand service.  One more thing, as Apple management loves to declare:  The pace of recent ITV venture deployments, such as games-oriented Apple Arcade and last week’s premiere of Food Network Kitchen.

All of this makes even more puzzling the inaction of smart TV set and device makers to extensively promote their interactive TV initiatives.  Time after time in recent months, natural opportunities to generate press and public attention for these services generally go, to put this kindly, bust.  Consider a few examples:

  • Samsung’s presentation at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn two months ago was big on new Galaxy phone developments, and zip on new smart TV set features and progress with Eko, the interactive TV platform the company is backing financially (with MGM, Walmart and venture capitalists).
  • Most smart TV set and device makers were nowhere to be found at technology showcases staged for press and analysts in New York, Los Angeles and other cities.  TCL, whose smart sets have Roku as their operating system, was the only exhibitor in this category at Pepcom’s recent Holiday Spectacular in New York.  Nvidia, another exhibitor there, did not use their space to demo new features of its Shield connected device.
  • Google’s “Made By” event earlier this month in New York was a mixed bag.  The good news: Google led off its mostly Pixel smartphone-centric affair announcing Stadia, their new interactive game venture available on Chromecast, with viewers able to play the games by voice or with a controller.  The bad news:  Nothing else was said about the status of Chromecast and its newest features, and journalists covering TV were not invited to see Stadia and Chromecast for themselves.
  • Amazon’s handling of efforts on behalf of Food Network Kitchen, playing on its Fire TV operating system and connected devices.  The company buried initial news of Kitchen inside its presentation in Seattle last month devoted to new Alexa developments, without circulating media alerts of the news or issuing a press release on Kitchen’s existence.  Food Network parent Discovery Inc. was left to publicize the formation of Kitchen and its many interactive features on its own in a press release, and instead of doing a same-day or next-day conference call or live event somewhere with reporters, went with an investor call the next day.  Result:  A big absence of initial newspaper, TV or online coverage.

Elsewhere, Facebook has yet to schedule any public or press events on next month’s debut of Portal TV, a connected plug-in device for video chat and other advanced services.

What makes Amazon’s situation so stunning is that earlier this summer, it provided a perfect example of what all smart TV set and device makers should do on behalf of their ITV features.  In partnership with Dolby, they created a two-weekend Fire TV exhibit, open to the public and press, in Manhattan’s Soho district (see Smart TV: What Lies Ahead For 2019).  That space drew crowds of all ages to see how, using Fire TV and Alexa-equipped capability, they could sing along with music videos, order merchandise or change the color of their room lights on the spot.

There is no longer any question as to whether Americans are ready to accept what interactive TV can bring to their quality of life.  It’s high time for the smart TV set and device makers to get motivated and take advantage of every opportunity they can to move the interactive TV needle forward.

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