Debate: Will Web and Television Converge?
Moderator: Matt Franklin
When we talk of convergence between computers and television, we need to
be careful to specify what we mean. In the case of this debate, we
specifically mean the convergence of television and computers, both the
media and the devices. To that end the debate will center around
two main issues:
Finally, it is important to make one final point on the debate framework.
There are always extreme points in the adoption of technology. Since
there is no technical reason why a television can't have the same functionality
as a computer, or vice versa, it is quite likely that both computer powered
TVs and computers that can display television will be around in the future.
In fact even today the Gateway 2000 Destination series is a computer powered
TV and computers can have TV boards and are able to watch television content.
There will certainly be some small number of people that adopt this technology.
On the other hand there will also be some people that will keep their 1968
television and just add a DTV decoder box. Neither of these extremes
are very interesting.
Computers and Televisions will be able to display the same media:
The unique thing about television is that television is both a medium
and a transmission system. That is to say that television is used
to refer to the screen that you watch, as well as what you see on that
screen. The Internet on the other hand is a system for transmitting
bits, and is different from the device which receives those bits, the computer.
For this debate we will consider the content of the Internet to be primarily
World Wide Web style content and an extension thereof. In other words,
you will have multimedia pages with dynamic content including audio and
So, when we say that the media will converge, we mean that current television
shows will merge into a hybrid with World Wide Web style content.
Television shows will have other types of media like text merged into them,
and World Wide Web pages will begin to be temporal entities that tell a
story. Another way of looking at this is that both your television
and your computer will be running a similar super browser which will allow
the same content to be viewed on both devices. Also,
to say that the two converge it is not enough to say that you will be able
to watch television on your computer-- that merely means that television
content is a sub-set of computer content and is already possible today.
For the two to truly converge the content that can be received by both
devices should be the same.
When we say that the media will not converge, we mean that television
shows and world wide web content will remain distinct media forms, and
that you will use your television for watching television shows, and your
computer to view and browse web content. While both media types may
have evolved, they will remain different from one another.
People will cease distinguishing between computers and televisions:
The second topic for the debate will be that the computers and televisions
as devices will merge. In this case the argument is that sometime
in the future there won't be "televisions" and "computers", but some new
device that encapsulates the behavior of both. This "viewer" will
come in different sizes and shapes, but will be thought of as one item,
just like little TVs and big TVs in people's minds are considered one type
of device. While you may be more inclined to use the "viewer" on
your desk to browse the web, and the "viewer" in the home theater to watch
movies, you would be willing to do either task on either device.
In other words, if you were at your desk working on a "viewer" and a friend
called up telling you to check out a show, you would just switch the "viewer"
to that show, rather than going into another room to find a "TV viewer".
Non-convergence in this case is the argument that, while TVs may take
on some computer-like functionality and vice versa, fundamentally the two
will be thought of as different devices. Doing research and browsing
the web will be done on a computer, and watching shows and movies will
be done on a television.
On account of this, the debate will center around what functionality
the majority of televisions and computers will have, and what types of
media will be broadcast for a majority of broadcast hours. The main
question we consider is whether televisions and computers will come to
be more similar on average as time goes on, or whether they will evolve
along mostly independent paths.
The Argument for Convergence
In order for the media to converge, two main things need to occur.
First, computers and televisions must be able to be content interchangeable.
That is, computers must be able to view and use television content, and
televisions must be able to view and receieve Internet content. Second,
people must be sufficiently interested in being able to view the same content
on both device to make implementation of this interoperability commercially
viable. The two are clearly interrelated, since the amount of interest
in interoperability people have determines how much they are willing to
pay for that functionality.
Before determining whether it is possible to make television and computers
interoperable, we need a list of what sorts of content both can, or will
be able to receive. To start, here is a list of some of the content
we might see on both the web and digital television in the future:
World Wide Web Content:
Media presentations (scripted presentations of various media objects including
text, 3-D graphics, audio and video)
Games (non-scripted temporal presenation of various media objects with
which the user/viewer can interact)
Information blocks (collections of media objects through which the user/viewer
It is easiest to first answer the question of whether a computer will be
able to receive television content. The types of content that are
broadcast over television currently, and will continue to be broadcast
if the two media do not converge, are audio/video streams. Since
the computer media already includes audio and video streams, it should
be able to decode the streams with no extra equipment. The possible
exception to this is the addition of a tuner card to decode the analog
signal into the digital stream, but this should be of marginal additional
cost considering the cost of purchasing a computer.
So, a computer will be able to receive television content for little
extra cost. Since the cost difference between a machine with this
capability and a machine without this capability will be low, even if there
is little consumer interest in this, machines will still come with this
The more difficult question is whether a television will be able to display
world wide web content. It is pretty clear that you can put enough
hardware into a television to make it able to display the media that a
computer can display. Essentially you would need to add a reasonable
sized hard disk, some memory, and a fairly fast general purpose processor.
How much would this add to the cost of the television? I will guess
at the prices of items six years from now if they are shipping in large
The total additional cost to televisions shipping in quantity to make them
fast enough to read computer content would then be about $50.
10 Gig hard drive - $10
From 1994 to 1997 1 Gig drives fell from $1000 to $100, 1/10 the cost in
three years. A 10 Gig drive is now $300, so in six years it should
be $3. I am allowing for some parts cost which may not change based
on drive capacity and saying $10.
64 MB Memory - $ 2
From 1992 to 1998 1 MB of memory fell from $30 to $1, a 30-fold decrease
in six years. A megabyte of RAM should cost 1/30 of $1 in 6
years, or a little more than 3 cents
Fast Processor (including 3D processor) - $20
This one I am guessing on, but fast 3D chips run around $20 today, so I
am guessing a reasonably fast processor (as fast as the fastest of todays
processors) won't cost more than $20. If you can get a 486/66 for
$20 today this seems reasonable.
The question to answer now is whether the average consumer would be
willing to pay $50 extra for this functionality. If so, then broadcasters
would be likely to merge the content, and manufacturers to include the
This is a difficult question to answer without actually trying out the
system with a test group. In the past interactive TV trials where
more robust media and interactivity is included in the television have
been a failure (ie. Time Warner's Orlando test-bed). The difference
now is that the new television screens will have sufficient resolution
to display text based materials without being blurry and out of focus.
What specifically might people be interested in doing on these new improved
There are many other possibilities including much enhanced travelogue,
home improvement and cooking shows. Is this worth $50 more in initial
investment for the average consumer though? If the TV is kept for
5 years, the cost is less than $1 per month, which seems like something
any consumer would be willing to pay for this increased functionality.
Advanced Commercials: Broadcasters could send six commercial
streams during commercial breaks of HDTV shows, and the viewer could determine
which one to watch. A 'X' on the remote could be hit to kill a commercial,
or another could be hit to indicate it is somewhat interesting. Over
time the set could build up a preference profile allowing users to see
the commercials they most prefer (or least hate). If hypertext is
included with each commercial, people could browse through downloaded information
instead of watching more commercials. The hard disk could also be
used to buffer the show so you wouldn't miss anything if you were browsing.
This would be a more interesting model for commercials for viewers, advertisers
A Movie Previews Channel: One channel of a station (or sub-stream)
could be a movie channel which downloads HTML like content with information
on various movies in theaters including reviews, local show times, and
trailers. By clicking on a trailer you could watch the trailer in
all of its glory in your home theater.
A News Channel: Instead of having an anchor cycle through stories
continuously, a continually updated news web site could be broadcast on
one channel. It could have local, national and international stories
as well as traffic and weather updates. Given stories can have the
full video clip story (live or delayed), as well as background text and
photos for those interested in more in depth information. This could
also be received in your car to get traffic reports which could be read
to you based on your cars current location.
So, if computers will be able to view television content, and people
will be willing to pay for television that can display computer content,
there is no reason that the two media will not converge.
With the convergence of media, we expect the emergence of appliances that
will be able to display some sort of standardized media format. These devices
will most likely vary in size, intended placement (living room, kitchen,
bedroom), and functionality, but will have the common capability of being
able to interpret the given converged media format.
Since media will most likely converge to some sort of digital stream
with packets of information embedded in it, these information appliances
will be able to provide a richer environment for viewing and interaction.
This means that the television in the living room will no longer be
just a television, but it will be an "information" appliance. In addition
to being able to display video streams, it will also be able to present
other types of information-web pages, on-line stock quotes, interactive
city maps, virtual lectures, etc.-that are encapsulated in the media stream.
This type of scenario has several implications:
For video playback, this means the possibility of introducing different
encoding and compression schemes into the stream. This may serve to save
resources because the entire uncompressed video signal will no longer have
to be broadcast. It can also be used to broadcast content at different
resolutions, allowing the viewer to choose depending on the characteristics
of the viewing device. So a large, entertainment device in the living room
may receive a movie in wide-screen format with Dolby Surround Sound, while
a smaller device in the kitchen used to get the morning news may only receive
the bare essentials.
Consider the idea of private vs. public space. With converged media, one
can imagine a scenario in which a user is creating or modifying content
on a small "information" appliance like a PDA while sitting in a meeting
(private space). Since the device is using converged media, the user will
then be able to instantly upload this work into a public display, like
a large video wall in a conference room, for presentation.
When giving multimedia presentations that contain both digital information
and video information, it is not uncommon to use a computer to display
the slides and a VCR to play a video tape. Convergence would push for media
and devices that would be able to easily accommodate both formats, so that
switching hardware during the middle of a talk will no longer be necessary.
Right now, too many forms of media exist. Consider the genre of audio.
There are tapes, CD?s, MiniDiscs, RealAudio, MP3?s, and more. Each format
requires it?s own special device and switching from format to format is
very difficult. One needs a radio to get content broadcast over the air;
a CD player is required to play songs on a CD; a computer is needed to
play MP3?s. With media convergence, it is likely that you can take a mix
of your favorite songs and be able to play it at home, in the car, and
at work, since you are using a common media format that can be read by
Audio equipment manufacturers are creating devices that have the capability
to play more and more audio formats (some stereos have built in tape decks,
radio receivers, MiniDisc players, and CD players). This seems to be analogous
to the idea of device convergence and an argument for it.
For content providers, the switch to convergent media may initially be
expensive, as they will have to invest in new equipment. But in the long
run, it will open up more possibilities. As of now, television advertisements
are usually very elaborate, but the experience is passive. Viewers cannot
simply click on them if they want more information or want to purchase
the item being mentioned as they can on the Internet. With converged media,
it would be possible to integrate both types of advertisement into one,
allowing for both elaborate presentations and complex interactions.
For content providers, media convergence also implies that creative content
will only have to be created once, not several times for the varying media
formats. This too, will save content providers time and money in the long
The addition of informational bits to the media stream, in combination
with these all-in-one devices, will allow content to be more customized
to the viewer?s needs and wants. The device may have some sort of filtering
agent that only displays advertisements that are of interest to the viewers.
The Argument Against Convergence
TVs are consumer-level devices, which mean that they have to be cheap (for
the average Joe)
Being able to display the vast number of media types available today on
the web (Macromedia, pdf, ps, RealAudio, RealVideo) will be expensive and
challenging - you need a general-purpose CPU and stuff like RAM, OS, etc.
People will not be willing to pay, especially if they?re not really going
to use it. Perhaps Java will save convergence.
At this point in time, the TV and the WWW are fundamentally different -
TV is a broadcast medium, with virtually zero interactivity, while the
WWW is a "pull" medium, with a high degree of user interactivity required.
Things will stay this way - in the short- and medium-term, people are not
going to treat the TV and computer interchangeably.
So, is the media going to merge and drive the convergence? TV programs
with interactivity? Ads, maybe. Education, maybe. But entertainment? People
fundamentally go to the living room to be entertained - movies don?t lend
themselves well to interactivity. Nor does the broadcast model. Even with
a back-channel, 19.2Mbits/s is a one->many transmission. You can hack one-to-one
transmission, of course, but why?
Another reason why WWW and TV content will not merge is the proliferation
of handheld, portable, wireless devices that let you take the WWW (= information
+ entertainment) wherever you are. The presence of such "lite" devices
will drive media development away from integrated content and into "lite"
content that deliver concentrated doses of information. See Diamond?s new
Rio player & Cyrix?s new WebPad - instead of converging into a single
super-powerful appliance that is used for everything, people will gravitate
towards small, specific solutions
Personal vs. public - TV is an audience-based thing - many people can watch
one movie together. On the other hand, the WWW, and interactivity in general,
is personal. One person may have very different responses compared to another,
making it difficult for more than one person to surf the web together for
extended periods, or participate in an interactive program, unless specifically
designed for multiple players.
The two mediums, broadcast (TV) and WWW, are sufficiently different, not
in technical terms, but human ones, that a merger of the content is highly
unlikely. Naturally there will be some overlap & intersection, but
it will be minor. There will be no fundamental revolution and/or integration